Time to Enjoy the Benefits of White Space

As most of us shelter in place and practice social distancing, one of our most stunning lifestyle changes is a calendar full of white space.

Like many of you, almost all of my away-from-home activities have been suspended or canceled altogether.  Unlike a typical break or vacation, I can't just meet a friend for coffee, go out to see a movie with my husband, or take my grandson to the California State Railroad Museum, one of his favorite places.  I'm sure many of you will miss visiting the gym, the library, your church, or your favorite restaurant.

In design, white space is not merely empty – it has a purpose.  White space holds all other elements in balance, enabling them to stand out and be appreciated.  White space is calming; it lets us breathe.

I don't want to downplay the economic impact of closed businesses, or the sense of isolation that can result from canceled events and services.  But during this unprecedented time, we have a chance to enjoy a Sabbath rest from our over-busy schedules, and even though it is mandated rather than chosen, we can embrace it and appreciate the benefits.

white space

4 positive results of a Sabbath

1.  It can strengthen ties.

When we choose to take time off work, we could spend all or part of that day with family and friends.  We could take time to listen and play with one another, and add depth to our relationships.

But more often, time away from work is filled with other commitments, housework, shopping, sports practices, classmates' birthday parties, or that big game on TV we don't want to miss.

During this COVID-19 event, however, most of those other activities are unavailable.  If we don't allow ourselves to fill the time with online shopping and overuse of technology, we actually have an opportunity to spend quality time with our families.  We can visit with friends over the phone.  We can encourage our children to play with each other, something they may not have done since school and after-school activities began to dominate their lives.

2.  It can uncover resourcefulness.

I created a delicious soup last night with a can of chickpeas, a can of tomatoes, a can of vegetable broth, an onion, a carrot, brown rice, and a bunch of spices.  All of this was stuff I had on hand – no frustrating grocery store visit required.  Empty store shelves are disconcerting, but before you panic (or shop online), check your pantry and get creative.

Are you a parent suddenly spending lots of time at home with your children?  Instead of turning on the TV or letting them binge on video games:  

  • break out the paper, crayons, scissors, and glue  
  • use Lego and Matchbox cars to create a city  
  • challenge your kids to write a play (costumes can come from the dress-up box or your closet)
  • play a board game  
  • glove up, and take a walk around your neighborhood to pick up litter
  • take a bike ride if weather permits  
  • cook or garden together  
  • try a decluttering challenge  
  • read aloud

If we decide that limitations present an opportunity to be inventive, rather than a reason to be fearful, we'll find our imaginations kicking into high gear.

3.  It can increase gratitude.

Personally, I don't care to listen to the repetitive fear-mongering that generally passes for news.  I can stay informed with a quick look at the California Department of Public Health website (your locality may have something similar), and then get on with my day.

Now's the time to focus on all we have to be thankful for.  

  • We've recently had a few days of rain, after a bone-dry February.
  • I can't visit the library, but I can still borrow e-books through the library website.  
  • My 90-something parents-in-law are quarantined in their home, but they're well, they have some good neighbors they can call for help if necessary, and my husband and I can be in touch via phone or video chat.  

These may seem mundane reasons to be grateful, but they're exactly what we tend to overlook when we get too busy, or when we focus on the worries (legitimate and otherwise) and inconveniences of this time.  The fact is that pessimism and complaining get easier with practice, so it's worth taking the opportunity to develop gratitude.  Even trying to think of things you appreciate forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life.

* Download this tutorial for making a family gratitude jar from therapistaid.com.

4.  It can reaffirm your values.

Blogger Emily McDermott reminds us that when our routines are disrupted and we're faced with uncertainty, it's easy to reach for what comforts us.

  • Can't go to the gym?  Maybe you're tempted to skip getting any exercise at all.  
  • Fresh fruits absent from the grocery?  Maybe you're drawn to that bag of potato chips instead of the available frozen fruits and vegetables.  
  • Lots of time on your hands?  Maybe you're binge-watching Netflix or YouTube rather than finding a project that engages your mind and talents.

I've been sleeping more than I need to, and spending more time in my pajamas when I'm awake.  It might be comforting today, but these are not good habits for the long term.

During involuntary downtime, we can search for escape, or we can take the opportunity to affirm what's important to us.  Reach out to a friend for support and accountability, search for your healthiest options, set an intention, and stay true to your long-term goals.

Be well!

Updated March 2023


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