By Guest Contributor Katia Vlachos
While it might feel counterintuitive to be reading an article about finding home in times of social isolation and home confinement (aren’t we all stuck at home?), the reality is that house and home are not the same thing. For many of us, home confinement actually prevents us from connecting to the people and feelings that represent home for us.
Home is a fundamental human need
Most of us, to a greater or lesser extent, need to feel at home – feel like we belong. And most of us have different ways of fulfilling that need, because our concepts of home are as unique as we are. That said, while we all perceive home in different ways, in my research, I have found that peoples’ concepts of home converge around three broad themes: home as place, home as feeling and home as people.
Home as place is the traditional – geographical – definition of home. Home can be our passport country; the city, town, village, neighbourhood where we grew up; our physical childhood home; our current home. Home as feeling is a state of mind, which can include a sense of comfort, familiarity, safety and security, belonging. Rituals and routines are instrumental in creating the feeling of home, as are relationships. The third dimension of home is rooted in people that give meaning, fulfilment and emotional sustenance to our lives – our family, our friends, our ‘tribe’.
How the pandemic has changed our concept of home
The pandemic that has taken us by storm in the past few weeks and months has upended everyone’s concepts of home. The relational dimension of home – home as people – has been hit the hardest. Because of social distancing, we may be with our immediate families but unable to be with the other important people who have become home for us. Travel restrictions have forced some of us to be separated even from our life partners, our parents and children, if they are working or studying in different countries. For some of us, who are single or self-isolating because of health risks, this has been taken to the extreme. The more globally mobile our lives have become, the more we feel the impact of this pandemic, given how severely it has restricted our mobility.
In addition, an important aspect of home, our daily routines, has changed dramatically – from having to work from home, to home schooling our children, to looking for creative ways to stay healthy and fit, as our existing physical fitness routines are no longer feasible. Finally, as uncertainty, anxiety and fear feature more prominent in our daily lives, they challenge our internal, emotional definition of home – our ability to find calm and home within.
What we can do
However, even in the midst of this coronavirus-induced disruption to the elements of home for many of us (and, for some of us, the foundations of our globally mobile lives), it is still possible to intentionally establish a sense of home and belonging for ourselves. Our concepts of home don’t need to change, but we can be creative in how we go about realizing them. We can do that by:
Physical distancing doesn’t have to mean emotional distancing. We can stay safe without becoming isolated. We can nurture the relationships that constitute home for us if we make a conscious effort to connect with the people in our lives using the technologies that now are available to us. This may mean cooking ‘together’ or sharing meals virtually, bringing together family from different locations to celebrate a birthday or creating an online co-working space.
Finding home within.
In addition to virtual connections, we can focus more on nurturing our internal home, especially – but not exclusively – if we are self-isolating. What can we do for ourselves to feel more grounded and at peace? What helps us manage our emotions when we feel unsettled? Part of the answer may be reaching out to others, but part of it may be movement, meditation, reading, learning, personal development or other forms of self-care.
Adapting our routines and developing new ones.
From my work with expats, I know that creating new rituals and routines helps us feel at home faster when we move to a new location. Similarly, adapting our routines to the requirements of our new reality is a form of re-creating home. We can’t have dinner parties any more, but many of us are already organising regular virtual parties with friends. We can’t do our regular workouts, but we are creating communities that motivate each other by exercising together – online. As we have more time at home with our family, common meals – which might have been rare in the past, when everyone was busy with their respective activities – suddenly become part of our daily routine.
Whichever approach we take, it helps to base it on a deep understanding of what home means to us and what we need to feel at home. Within that context, it is also important to focus on the opportunities for creating home that this unprecedented time is bringing our way, rather than the barriers it raises.
This coronavirus pandemic will change the world and, in the process, also change us. I believe that it will make us more adaptable, more resilient, more compassionate, more connected and more at home – in ourselves and others. Everything we need to get through this is within us.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Katia Vlachos’ professional background is in policy analysis. She holds a master’s degree from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a Ph.D. from the RAND Corporation. Katia is a seasoned expat herself, having lived in eight cities, seven countries and three continents in the past 20 years, and currently lives in Zurich, Switzerland.
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