“Shouting ‘self-care’ at people who actually need ‘community care’ is how we fail people.” ― Nakita Valerio

Coronavirus cardio. Lockdown lettering. Flatten-the-curve face masks.

If you’re a human with an internet connection, you’ve most likely had someone suggest ways you can practice self-care while social distancing. (It might have even been IGNITE!)

And, that’s great. You should be practicing self-care. A bit of reprieve from our society’s work-until-you-drop mentality is one of the few silver linings to this COVID-19 cloud.

A cartoon man smiles contently as he smells a hot cup of coffee while sitting in a red recliner.

However, self-care has an often-overlooked counterpart that, right now, is just as important. Community care, in essence, is any action performed for the benefit of those around you.

The basic principle of community care is far from radical: helping people is good. Yet, this concept goes beyond that. Experts like Nakita Valerio, a writer and community organizer from Edmonton who specializes in dismantling cultural prejudices, assert that community care can also serve one’s self-interest. When it’s practiced consistently by a group of people, each member feels secure knowing when they are in need of care, the other group members will provide it.

It’s like the Friends theme song says: “I’ll be there for you, ’cause you’re there for me too.”

Courtney Cox, Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, Mat LeBlanc, David Schwimmer and Matthew Perry converse and interact playfully on a couch in a park in the title sequence for, "Friends".

Why it matters

Good things come in small packages

Much like self-care, acts of community care can fall anywhere from formal to informal. They can be performed on a large or small scale. A classic example of a formal, large-scale community care effort is a protest—a group of people gathering to fight for a cause they believe in.

But, contrary to the popular saying, bigger isn’t always better. Community care can involve as few as two or three people and be as simple as checking up on your friend over text or making breakfast for your roommate.

Small, interpersonal acts of empathy are at the heart of community care, and they’re just what we need to get through this hard, strange time.

A cartoon heart that looks like two figures hugging and holding a thumbs up with the words, "I got you".

The golden rule

Practicing community care is a textbook way to engage in altruism, which is a selfless concern for the well-being of others. Altruism has been shown to improve social skills and boost mood; it helps us feel connected when social distancing mandates have eliminated group gatherings and physical contact.

Community care is powerful because it can accomplish things self-care can’t. It has the ability to address things like systematic discrimination; when we prioritize the welfare of others, we can call out injustices and protect them from bigotry.

Valerio, a Muslim woman, says, “I might be getting a pedicure but it’s not going to stop someone from coming up to me and asking me why I’m wearing a hijab.”

Money can’t buy happiness (or connection)

Rachel Dratch as "Debbie Downer" on "Saturday Night Live" says, "Not buying it."

Community care is distinct from self-care because it’s harder to monetize. Open Instagram and scroll through your Explore page. How many ads do you see for meditation retreats, body scrubs, and self-help books?

The wellness industry is estimated at $4.5 trillion. Yes, that’s trillion, with a T. There are billionaires whose primary source of income is your desire to treat yourself to a fancy new moisturizer. It’s much harder to put a price tag on the act of vacuuming for your grandma.

Max Fuller from "Fuller House" reclines in bed while pulling a paper bill.

Of course, that’s not to say self-care doesn’t have its place. I’d be lying if I said I don’t indulge in the occasional frivolous purchase to make myself feel better. The key is balance. Apply your face masks, do your home workouts, binge your Netflix shows. But, also, take care of those around you. When you need it most, they’ll return the favour.

And we’re all in pretty serious need of compassion right now.

How to start

Social distancing means a lot of the ways you might normally care for people—going for coffee or giving a hug, for example—are off the table. That doesn’t mean community care is impossible, though. We just need to get creative. If you feel stuck, just remember the five love languages:

1. Words of affirmation

Patrick Star from "Spongebob Squarepants" holds a bag of chocolate bars and smiles while saying, "I love you."

As the title would suggest, words of affirmation involves using words to express your love for someone. It can be as simple as, “Wow, your hair looks great today!” or saying, “I love you,” before bed.

This love language is also a great way to show affection for long-distance friends and family. Since you can’t go visit your sister, give her a call while you both eat dinner. FaceTime your work buddy as you both try to keep busy all day. Go the old-fashioned route and write a letter to a grandparent, who is probably very lonely and worried right now.

The simplest way to tell someone you love them is, well, to tell them.

2. Acts of service

Snow White from Disney's "Snow White" sweeps while surrounded by little woodland animals.

You can practice this love language by helping someone with a chore they’d rather not do. Empty schedules are pretty common right now, so use your extra time to lend a hand to a family member or roommate!

Did dad make dinner? Offer to do the dishes. Mom isn’t feeling well? Help disinfect her bedroom so she has a clean place to rest. Roomie’s working from home? Do a load of laundry so they have a closet full of clean comfy clothes.

The possibilities are endless here. Spending a few minutes cooking, cleaning, or otherwise chipping in can do wonders to cultivate community care.

3. Gifts

A man wearing a bright pink hooded sweatshirt and puffy white vest smiles while holding out a box of doughnuts to the camera. The words "For you" appear in the upper right corner.

This one can sometimes get confused with acts of service. The key difference is that acts of service are something you do, gifts are something you give.

So, when practicing this love language, you might make dinner for dad. Instead of cleaning mom’s room when she’s feeling sick, you could drop her off some supplies (at a socially distant length, of course). Rather than doing your roommate’s laundry during their at-home workday, maybe you bring them a cup of coffee. Get the gist?

Gifts don’t have to be fancy, and they certainly don’t have to be wrapped up or tied with a bow. This love language is more about showing people you care about them with small, accessible offerings.

As they say, it’s the thought that counts!

4. Quality time

Sheldon Cooper and Leonard Hofstadter from "The Big Bang Theory" sit next to each other at a movie theatre with an arrow labelled "6 ft" between them.

If there’s one thing we all have a lot of right now, it’s time. Spend it with your loved ones! Just be sure to stay the recommended six feet apart.

Quality time is an incredibly effective way to create feelings of connection. You could play video games with your sister on opposite ends of the couch, bake muffins with your brother from different sides of the kitchen, or get the whole family together for a movie night with everyone sitting in a private spot in the living room.

And, for people farther away, you can never go wrong with FaceTime.

5. Physical touch

Tichina Arnold and Vanessa Williams on "Daytime Divas" awkwardly attempt to hug each other without touching

OK, OK. I know what you’re thinking.

“What do you mean, ‘physical touch’? I thought we were social distancing!”

And you’re right. We are. But hear me out.

Physical touch is the fifth love language. That’s because it produces a hormone in the brain called oxytocin, which helps with emotional bonding and makes us feel happier. But, studies have shown there are other ways to stimulate the release of this so-called “love chemical”—for example, eye contact.

Don’t worry, I’m not saying you should go around staring at people in the name of community care. Instead, try logging off Instagram for a few hours and having a face-to-face conversation with someone at home. Or, offer a genuine smile to a stranger while you’re stocking up on groceries. It isn’t much, but it’s the best we can do right now.

Also, doctors have found pets cannot transmit COVID-19 to humans. So, if you’ve got a furry friend at home, hug away! It will increase oxytocin in both of you.

Happy pet, healthy family. What more could you ask for?

A man rests his head on his dog's stomach while the dog strokes the man's head.

There you have it. Self-care is important, but community care will get us through this high-stress, low-contact period. And, by thinking outside the box, you’ll find there are plenty of ways to display affection while adhering to the advice of health professionals.

Keep compassion high on your list of priorities. We need each other.

Now more than ever.

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