So we’ve come to this: a strange, terrifying and unexpected moment in history where we need to change the way we live our lives. We need to change rapidly, and we need to do it rationally. The problem is change is hard: it makes us feel uncomfortable and awkward, it makes us feel vulnerable and, often, self-conscious. One of the best ways we can help this process of change is to quickly normalise behaviours that would have seemed extreme only a week or two ago: the more we see someone else doing something new, the less weird it seems for us to do it ourselves.
And, in that spirit, here are some of the ‘weird’ changes I’ve made in the last week.
Dropped the handshake.
I’ve had two meetings this week where a handshake would have normally been part of the proceedings. I was, naturally, a little anxious about how to avoid doing the handshake, but it was all fine. In the first meeting the other person was clearly as uncomfortable as me about the prospect and offered an elbow bump instead, which immediately broke any tension. (This is now my favourite way to greet strangers). In another meeting, the person offered their hand and I simply didn’t return the gesture. They immediately understood and realised the fault was theirs (for falling back on automatic behaviours). Hopefully, in turn, that person will think again before offering a handshake (or accepting one) at their next meeting. In short, two potentially awkward moments resolved swiftly, politely, and with all involved already understanding that it’s time to drop the handshake.
Pretended my face doesn’t exist.
Seriously, not touching my face is the hardest (and I know this is a universal challenge). Your nose and mouth are gateways to viral paradise, and your hands are one of the express lines to get there. Tips from a friend include grabbing a tissue to scratch your face with (and then disposing of the tissue), or using your shoulder to get a good rub in. I’m trying to remain conscious of whenever I come close to touching my face, and getting used to leaving my face to itch in peace (as much as is possible). I’ve considered shaving my beard, as I have a compulsive habit of fiddling with any hair I can find on my face and head. Anything! I’ll try anything!
Washing hands; all the time.
This one was easy, I’ve been reasonably ok at washing my hands in the past although, again, far from perfect. It’s also an easy change: people are more likely to scrutinise you if you *don’t* wash your hands now, so don’t be that person. I’m just putting it here to reinforce the message: everyone’s doing it now, so please wash your hands.
Don’t touch anything!
I’ve become highly conscious of everything I touch in a typical day, and how many other people might have touched that same thing. A few of the methods I’ve adopted for minimising this contact is to use my knuckle instead of my finger for pressing buttons; use my foot, elbow or fist for opening doors, or hook a single finger around the door handle if I’m on the other side. In some shared bathrooms it’s all well and good washing your hands, but then you have to turn the tap off and pull the door open; both of which could potentially undo all that good hand-washing. For this scenario, I’ve started using paper towels: one to turn off the tap (and then in the bin), and the ones I use to dry my hands then get reused for the door handle. These things feel a little strange the first couple of times, but they become second nature almost before the day’s out.
Wiped a trolley.
While I’m a relatively clean person, my approach to hygiene can be scattershot. Consequently, I’ve never been one to use the free wipes that are provided for wiping down supermarket trolleys. That changed this week, to the extent where I took my own wipe in case there were no free ones left. I honestly felt quite self-conscious about it, but told myself that anyone watching may well think about their own behaviours and feel better about taking the same step next time they have to go shopping. It’s a very simple precaution that could help make a big difference. For smaller shops, where I would normally just grab a basket, I’ve also looked into buying my own basket, or simply carrying my purchases in my arms to the till. Anything to minimise touching things that hundreds of other people have touched, or may touch after me.
Not gonna lie; given the above two challenges, I’m thinking very seriously about wearing gloves when I go out (and have to touch things). Disposable latex gloves. Washable cotton gloves. Just whatever does the job. Do whatever you need to do to feel better about being out there (and think whether you really, really have to go out there in the first place).
Disinfect! Disinfect! Disinfect!
The best way to not touch dirty things is to keep things clean. I’ve also become aware of how many things there are around my home that get touched all the time, and rarely get cleaned. Phones. Cards. Light switches. Remote controls. Door handles. We use them every single day without really thinking about it. Disinfectant to the rescue here. I’ve started wiped everything down. I even took the cases of all of our phones and washed them in hot water. Again, things that would have seemed borderline deranged to me last week now feel like perfect common sense.
Staying at home.
I’m making preparations for working from home. I’m preparing to cancel, or decline any upcoming events—and ideally switch them to online events (because it’s still important to do things with your friends). I’m almost certainly going to keep the kids off school next week. I’m lucky that I’m in a position where I can make these choices, but keeping away from people, at least for a while, is the key to stopping this thing spreading and I’m trying to do whatever I can to reduce the risk of anyone getting sick (including myself). Outrageous choices become much easier in emergency situations. And that’s where we are.
So, if you’ve been holding off making changes because you think it’s too soon, or because you think you’re being extreme: it’s not, and you’re not. If you read this and it makes you feel more comfortable about the change you need to make in your own life, remember: you’re not alone, we’re all in this together, and that’s how we’ll get through it.
Now, go forth and sanitize! Or rather, stay at home and sanitize!