Most of us have done lots of waiting during COVID-19. We’re waiting for shelter-in-place to end. We’re waiting for the schools to reopen, to travel again, for a vaccine. Maybe we’ve even waited for a truck with toilet paper to arrive at Jewel. 

“Waiting” is not a particularly active verb — it implies the absence of something rather than the thing itself. It’s also a breeding ground for anxiety, as many of us have experienced.

There’s plenty of ways to distract yourself while waiting: watching TV, reading, doing home workouts. These distractions can certainly be restorative. But if you’re like me, anxiety and helplessness are often waiting to pounce right after that Schitt’s Creek episode is over. I might not be good at waiting, but my anxiety sure is. 

Unlike waiting, volunteering is inherently active. It can also be healing. Irvin Yalom cites altruism as one of 11 factors that makes group therapy so effective. Helping others helps us because, as Yalom puts it, “people need to feel they are needed and useful.”   Helping others — whether it be friends, family, or our community — is also a value most people hold. Acting according to our values challenges the notion that we’re helpless.

Below are some ways to help. A caveat: Doing more of these activities isn’t necessarily better. Ask yourself what you have the capacity for — in terms of infection risk, other obligations, and comfort level. Getting outside of your comfort zone can be great, but keep in mind that we’re spending a lot of time there already. 

Ways to Help During COVID-19: 

 Oak Park Community Response needs volunteers to help meet essential needs for seniors. The volunteer interest survey can be found at 

 Greater Chicago Food Depository is in urgent need of volunteers between the ages of 18 and 60 to pack food at their warehouse,

 Chicago Mask Makers is organizing an effort to sew masks for health-care professionals,  

 Catch a Fire matches professionals looking to volunteer with nonprofits. Many virtual volunteer opportunities exist, 

 Write someone a letter! Writing by hand can be therapeutic and receiving something unexpected in the mail could make a friend or relative’s day. 

 Scroll through your contacts. Is there someone you’ve been meaning to reach out to? Someone who may be having an especially hard time right now? If you’re craving a little more structure before picking up the phone, check out 1:1 Connect’s guide, including some questions to get you started, 

I tried my best to figure out who first said, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” Obama said it in 2008. It appears in a June Jordan poem from 1978. Other sources say it originated further back than that. No matter who first coined the phrase, it feels visceral now. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the ones who will get ourselves through this.

Laura Nessler is a therapist at Thrive Counseling Center in Oak Park. Thrive Counseling Services is offering phone-based counseling and medication management to address our community’s needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Crisis Intervention Services are still available by dialing 708-383-7500. The Front Desk team is ready to assist you as well, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., with requests for referrals or new services and to reschedule or cancel an appointment. Call 708-383-7500. 

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