Lending a hand can be a low-cost and supremely efficient way to relieve stress. Many studies show that people who perform routine acts of kindness on behalf of others experience real mental health benefits in return. One study from researchers at Oxford noted that, "as social animals, humans possess a range of psychological mechanisms that motivate them to help others, and they derive satisfaction from doing so."
As the COVID-19 crisis continues to develop into a challenge on par with world wars, taking action may feel impossible or futile. However, not only is civilian action desperately needed, but serving others can help you feel better and manage your own stress and anxiety.
Here are five ways to make a difference immediately during the coronavirus pandemic.
Over 4,000 blood drives have been cancelled due to coronavirus, leaving stocks desperately low. According to the American Red Cross — which has ramped up its safety protocols — healthy people may donate blood, as "there are no data or evidence that this coronavirus can be transmissible by blood transfusion, and there have been no reported cases worldwide of transmissions for any respiratory virus including this coronavirus."
Millions of people depend on blood products for surgeries, cancer treatment, chronic illnesses, and traumatic injuries. Every two seconds in the United States someone needs blood, and your one donation can potentially save three lives.
The nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) is a serious problem for healthcare workers and others who are in close contact with other people. The CDC has said that homemade masks may be used when no other PPE is available. The organization also recently recommended that all Americans wear a mask when out in public, citing recent studies that found a significant portion of those with coronavirus may never get symptoms, but may still be able to transfer the virus to others.
If you're crafty, or if making things with your hands relaxes you, you can sew your own facemasks and donate them to your local hospital. Hospitals all over the country have put out calls for DIY mask donations. There are specific guidelines that must be followed in making masks and these may vary by organization, so it's best to check the website of your local healthcare facility for instructions. (Here's a sample guide from Deaconess Hospital in Indiana.
Because hospitals everywhere are currently overwhelmed with COVID-19 planning and treatment, check with your local hospital on whether they want you to donate directly or go through a third-party such as GetUsPPE, which offers a location-based service to help identify local places accepting donations.
Unfortunately, this healthcare crisis has led to an economic crisis. Unemployment numbers have skyrocketed, and the stock market has plummeted. The upshot is that millions of Americans are either out of work or working with reduced wages, and many were already struggling before the pandemic. Here are a few ways to help those in need, and to get help if you yourself are struggling.
If you have free time and a reliable vehicle, you can do local shopping for elderly people in your family or community. According to CNN, picking up a takeout meal for an isolated friend is still a relatively safe option. If you're getting groceries, try to order online for curbside pickup. Many grocery stores also offer special hours for senior and immunocompromised shoppers.
If you're not sure where to start, log on to the app Next Door (which connects people in nearby neighborhoods) or call local aid organizations.
Join (or start) a local mutual aid network. Mutual aid is not charity, nor is it connected to the government. It's people in communities sharing resources and distributing goods and services to those who need them. If you used to rely on gig work, such as driving for Uber or shopping for Instacart, there is a specific mutual aid tool out there for you. If you need resources or inspiration for your own mutual aid efforts, check out this list of mutual aid groups contributing to the coronavirus response in NYC.
Send a Paypal or Venmo tip to your local service providers whose businesses are on hold. Your hairdresser, your bartender, your housecleaner, your babysitter, your barista, your massage therapist, your waiter, and your bookseller could all use goodwill and quick cash right now. If it's a possibility in your area, buy a gift certificate online or over the phone to your favorite restaurant; this can give them an injection of much-needed cash.
Do What You Do Best!
As we saw with the opera singer who serenaded fellow Italians from his balcony, individuals can share their talents to alleviate the stress and despair caused by the pandemic. You don't need to have expertise in anything to offer yourself to friends and family via Zoom, Facetime or Instagram Live. Friend groups around the country have started organizing virtual show and tell parties and virtual happy hours as a way to come together.
Examples of everyday people teaching their skills online include beauty and cooking tutorials, drawing classes, online book readings, tarot card readings, and more. There's an array of healers, teachers and personal trainers offering services online for free during the pandemic.
Know & Acknowledge That You Are Making a Difference
This is both a terrible and fascinating moment. We're being asked to serve our country by sitting at home watching Netflix and ordering takeout from a local restaurant — but we can do so much more.
If you're feeling stressed or anxious (or even bored), consider harnessing some of that energy to help someone else. You might be surprised at how much better you feel.
Even though we are isolating, we're all in this together.