COVID-19 Shabbat is reminder to unplug to recharge

In the public relations industry, it is vital to be on top of the news. My team and I monitor every news trend, constantly assessing for areas where we can create an opening to help our clients effectively tell their stories. So it is unusual, to say the least, that I would advocate for actively avoiding the media.

But, as we have heard so often lately, these are unusual times.

It is a difficult balance to strike, even outside of the public relations world. How much news is enough to be informed, but not so much that it feeds into constant anxiety? While I have always strongly believed that it is important to be plugged in, now more than ever I am finding it desirable to unplug. And I am grateful that I have a built-in method for doing so, one that has lasted for millennia and will continue far and beyond the COVID-19 crisis: Shabbat.

My family and I typically light the candles, say the blessings and enjoy challah, but that is as far as we go in terms of our religious celebration of Shabbat.  But in the age of coronavirus, we have found it to be especially rejuvenating and refreshing. We may not put down the phone entirely, but instead of using it to constantly check email and frantically read the latest updates on the modern-day plague, we use them exclusively for their original purpose: to meaningfully connect with friends and family.

The benefits of this practice have manifested quickly. On the one hand, we have gotten a much-needed respite from the barrage of bad news and stress. While we unplug, we are able to recharge and forget if only for a short while the chaos sown by this pandemic. It allows us to live fully in the moment instead of fretting about the future.

And on the other hand, we are better able to enjoy this time together as a family – in our household and beyond. Speaking with our loved ones on the phone and over Zoom allows us to bridge the physical distance between us. The ability to connect over technology is amazing and one we do not take for granted.

At the same time, it has shown us the true value of home hospitality. An internet connection will never be a true substitute for connecting in person. And I know that we all look forward to the time when we will be able to gather again in-person with family and friends.

This past Shabbat, I put my phone away and rode bikes with my children through our neighborhood. We walked over to a nearby park with an idyllic covered bridge and simply appreciated our surroundings. Then I came home and spent quality time with my wife and dog, one of whom is elderly and both of whom unfailingly loyal.

By not checking my phone for a full day, I was able to leave the noise of the outside world behind for an entire Shabbat. For those 25 hours, the world shrunk down to my immediate surroundings.

It was reinvigorating, and a reminder of the importance of being with other people. I found that avoiding the news created a space for appreciating so much more – the laughter of my children, the chirping of birds, the relaxation of curling up in bed with great books.

Of course, when I picked up my phone at the end of Shabbat, the outside world was still there. There was still a pandemic, and the news articles were still rolling in with the latest grim statistics. But that break allowed for a day of relaxation and appreciation that will go a long way toward helping me through the rest of the week. In the age of COVID-19, Shabbat is more needed than ever.

About the Author
Evan Nierman is Founder and CEO of Red Banyan, an international public relations and crisis management firm. For the past 20-plus years, he has helped leading companies, governments, business leaders and high-profile individuals accomplish their goals using strategic communications.
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