Unmasking the art and science of living in a pandemic

UAlberta Occupational Therapy chair provides tips on finding meaning through activities when self-isolating

Rob Curtis - 13 May 2020

As grocery stores start to sell out of flour and Facebook news feeds are filled with pictures of homemade bread, the question arises: why is everybody suddenly baking? 

Mary Forhan, chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, University of Alberta shared her expertise with an audience of more than one hundred viewers in a free, live-streamed presentation as part of the Rehab Med Live series created by the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine as a way of connecting the public with the expertise of its faculty and alumni. 

“Engaging in an art or a craft is therapeutic; it’s a means to an end for people,” says Forhan. “Crafts historically have been viewed as a way to maintain self-esteem, build skills and distract from pathological thinking.” 

At the beginning of the COVID-19 response, many people were thriving by keeping up with their activities. “During the first few weeks, we saw a strong sense of community connection. It was typical for us to see a higher level of occupational enjoyment and satisfaction through activities such as checking in on a neighbour or delivering food and medicine to people that can’t get out.” 

Changes to our activities have also led to frustration, a feeling of loss of control, and of vulnerability. Tasks that used to be routine, such as going to the grocery store, now need to be done in a different way. “We’re all experiencing this in our own way, and everyone needs to find their own way in terms of what works for them,” says Forhan. 

As the pandemic response continues, we’re entering a phase of occupational liminality—that is, a state of transition from one stage to the next. Forhan suggests finding a routine that works for you, and remaining flexible or trying new activities. 

 “Activities such as crafts have often been used to help with focus, skill development, opening lines of communication, sharing emotions, building trust and building self-esteem,” Forhan notes. “This is a therapeutic practice that goes back more than a century.” 

To register for future presentations, or to view recordings of past streams, visit bit.ly/RehabMedLive.