Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 August 2020

7 habits I've picked up in isolation: mixed-emotion supermarket trips and neighbour fence chats

If it takes 21 days to form a new habit, these are the behaviours I've formed since I began social distancing

Visits to the supermarket have become a highlight, but a strange one. Pawan Singh / The National
Visits to the supermarket have become a highlight, but a strange one. Pawan Singh / The National

There’s a commonly held belief that it takes 21 days to form a new habit.

And while there’s some debate among scientists as to whether this can be treated as fact, it’s undeniable that patterns of behaviour will change if new habits are repeated for extended periods of time.

So, now that it has been over 21 days since the UAE grounded flights, initiated a country-wide sterilisation program and began restricting the movement of residents, what new habits have we been forming? What does our new normal look like?

Here's mine...

1. Being okay doing nothing

How many times has someone asked you how you are, and your response has been: “busy”. We live in an age where the glorification of busy has been taken to unprecedented levels.

There’s a whole world of ways to keep fit at our own pace, in the comfort of our living room. Although I've now realised there’s absolutely no excuse not to work out, which is upsetting

We are constantly connected and endlessly productive; we strive for success and self-improvement; we juggle careers with child rearing and packed social calendars. And we spend a lot of time feeling like we are falling short.

And now, all of a sudden, we are having to adapt to stretches of time where we have nothing to do. People are still busy, of course – homeschooling children, working from home, trying to keep businesses afloat – but there are also extended periods of inactivity. Long evenings after the kids are in bed or gaping weekends that need to be filled. We have gone from wishing we were less busy to trying to keep busy, and for many, it has not been an easy transition.

But if we can all come out of this with a greater appreciation of being quiet and still, of stopping to take stock and not feeling guilty if not every minute of every day is filled with higher pursuits, then maybe that's one sliver of a silver lining.

2. Not hearing my own voice for hours on end

Apart from attempting the odd conversation with the dogs, I can go hours on end without hearing the sound of my own voice. The de facto sound of communication is now the tapping of keys as we share thoughts via Slack, email and WhatsApp.

Once a day, I make a point of calling someone (anyone) just to keep my vocal chords functioning properly.

3. Getting my Zoom game on

“Not muting your mic is the new reply all” is one of the many memes to come out of the current crisis. We’ve all had to learn some lessons in video conferencing etiquette in the last few weeks.

In my first attempt, I didn’t even know there was a mute button, so a serious company-wide discussion about future plans was interspersed with the sound of birdsong from my garden.

Mental health experts recommend making virtual communication a part of your daily routine. Courtesy Zoom
Video conferencing is facilitating much-needed human interaction. Courtesy Zoom

I’ve had to up my game since then. We all have. We’ve learnt how to change backdrops and angle our laptops to hide our double chins. We’ve learnt that it’s best to brush our hair and change out of our pyjamas – whoever we’re talking to. And we’ve learned that video conferencing is our savior as we all yearn for any form of human interaction.

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4. Planning ahead

The tiny local shop around the corner from my house currently has a three-day wait time if you are trying to order via Instashop.

Online purchases from larger grocery stores have to be scheduled weeks in advance. And in Dubai, you can only go out to buy groceries every three days. Trips to the supermarket have become something we all look forward to, because it’s our only escape from the confines of our homes – and then instantly regret, because it’s a reminder of how weird the world is right now.

As a result, even the most haphazard among us are having to plan ahead. We’ve started plotting out meal plans, being strategic with our grocery purchases, and stocking our cupboards with trusty grains and canned goods. Hopefully, we are becoming more mindful of what and how we consume, and less wasteful as a result.

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Long-term social distancing and ethical choices: How grocery shopping will change in a post-Covid world

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5. Treasuring any form of human contact

The only outside human interaction we have at the moment is with our neighbours, over the wall that separates our gardens. We weren't particularly close before all this began, but now we check in at least once a day – normally when they head out to do a daily workout in the garden at 5.30pm on the dot, and guilt me in to doing some exercise myself.

It was their daughter’s 7th birthday this weekend, and so they left us a piece of cake on the wall, which we dutifully retrieved while maintaining a respectable distance. I am thankful for even this tiny sliver of actual human interaction.

6. Raging against Netflix

More times a week than I care to admit, I turn on Netflix and avidly scour the listings for new releases. And then I rage against the fact that the streaming service is not adding content at the same rate that I am devouring it. I would also like to get those three hours of my life back that I spent watching Too Hot to Handle last night.

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7. Working out at home

Who knew that the gym membership I’ve had for the last six years was a colossal waste of money?

As we’ve been forced to keep active at home, we’ve discovered live streamed workouts, dance tutorials on YouTube and Chris Hemsworth’s exercise app. There’s a whole world of ways to keep fit at our fingertips, and we can do it at our own pace, in the comfort of our living room.

Although I've now realised there’s absolutely no excuse not to work out, which is upsetting.

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Updated: April 19, 2020 04:37 PM

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