Rituals, resilience, and Hope in Times of High Stress

Kpoti Accoh

The Novel COVID-19 virus and the pandemic it has occasioned have become such central aspects of our lives that their effects are likely to affect our emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental health for many months if not years to come. It goes without saying that such stressful circumstances are not the first nor the last in human history, but they do mark a turning point in regard to traditions that have purposefully shaped our understanding of social interactions and relationships for centuries. As of November 9, 2020, the CDC reported that the number of positive cases in the US was 9,913,553 and counting; with 237,037 deaths; and the transmission rate following a steep climb, with more than half a million lives lost to the virus worldwide.

With the idea that science is not a perfect tool, and that the methods around COVID-19 are continually changing and developing, even with the hope of a vaccine by Pfizer Inc. in sight, it becomes undeniable that as a species, we are likely to adopt a new normal or redefine our entire way of life for many years to come. What that means is that everything we have always taken for granted are now scrutinized through the visors of COVID-19. Many individuals and families have seen their lives turned upside down with many aspects of their lives becoming precarious, including their finances and mental health. Redefining what it means to stay connected to oneself and others however is still rooted in the interdependence of humanity as agent of continuity and the concept of activity: rituals.

Flourishing as an individual and a society during hard times, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, might require that we fall back on the rituals that drive our hopes and maintain our resilience: a rekindling of the old and the new. There  is certainly no one way to contemplate what this means to us, but according to Confucius, it is characterized by a set of internal as well as external sets of rules and norms. So, as you navigate the proprieties surrounding the maintenance of a balanced lifestyle during the pandemic, ask yourself what rituals are primordial to you, and how to prioritize them without risking your health or that of your loved ones. And more importantly, contemplate how to safely navigate the pandemic without putting your rituals on hold as “these traditions bind us to our groups and can help calm us.”   


CDC. (2020). Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#cases_casesper100klast7days

Gupta, S. (2020). Why do we miss the rituals put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic? ScienceNews. https://www.sciencenews.org/article/rituals-religion-coronavirus-covid-19-pandemic

Hagen, K. (2010). The propriety of Confucius: a sense-of-ritual. Asian Philosophy, 20(1), 1-25. https://10.1080/09552360903577576

Imber‐Black, E. (2020). Rituals in the time of COVID‐19: imagination, responsiveness, and the human Spirit. Family Process, 59(3), 912-921. https://10.1111/famp.12581

Prime, H., Wade, M., & Browne, D. T. (2020). Risk and resilience in family well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. American Psychologist, 75(5), 631-643. https://10.1037/amp0000660

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