Maintaining Activity During The Coronavirus Pandemic

The Coronavirus and Occupational Therapy

Maintaining Productivity, Leisure and Self-Care Tasks

Occupational Therapists (OTs) talk about activity as being in three categories:

  • Productivity: eg: school, work, voluntary work etc

  • Leisure: things we do for fun eg: socialising, craft, sports etc

  • Self-care: looking after ourselves eg: showering, cooking, mindfulness etc

Interestingly (or maybe not!), there is a growing body of literature that argues that labelling occupations in this way is arbitrary, lacks an evidence base and ‘promotes a doctrine of individualism’ (Whalley Hammell; 2009) and it’s easy to see the difficulties with this classification system:

Let’s take the example of having a bath - for some people, this is definitely a self-care activity with the purpose of maintaining good personal hygiene, for others, bathing could be considered a leisure activity - something that is fun and relaxing, and for other people, it could be both, so how do we categorise bathing?


Most OTs practice by categorising occupations based on the ways in which people experience their occupations. This is important because it enables OTs to focus on the diverse range of individual’s perspectives to inform occupational categories, which then allows the relationship between occupation and well-being to be more easily identified.

Sorry - I’ve slightly gone off on tangent - in a nutshell OT literature tells us that activity can be broadly defined into categories but that these are fluid with individual variations. The really important bit, when thinking about the Coronavirus is the relationship between occupation and well-being.

So, self-isolation, reduced capacity for work, reduced income (due to less work) impacts all categories of activity which all impact well-being. Significant reduction of activity can lead to what OT’s call ‘occupational deprivation’. This is a lack of meaning or purpose in life and just as lots of activity is good for well-being, occupational deprivation can create or prolong poor mental and physical well-being.

Therefore, it’s important that we stay (safely) engaged in meaningful occupation during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Here is the Open Arms OT’s advice on how to do this (but please read in conjunction with Government and health guidelines which are regularly being updated).

Keep A Routine:

This is so important, especially for when the time comes to transition out of self-isolation.

  • Try to maintain your usual sleep/ wake patterns: it will prevent your sleep from deteriorating and mean that when the time comes to get back to getting up early for school/ work, it will be easier to manage.

  • Maintain your usual eating routine - you may have to adjust the amount of calories consumed if you’ve gone from being very physically active to quite sedentary but additional snacking, eating because your bored etc, (especially if, like me, the go to snack is either crisps or sweets), isn’t necessarily healthy and can make you feel sluggish. Or worse - you could have a house full of sugar high kids!.

  • Routines provide us with structure and purpose.

  • Keep getting dressed - although the odd pyjama day is appealing, this is only because most days we get up and dressed. Days and days spent in pyjamas, isn’t good for well-being.

Balance Activity:

So, I know I’ve just spent several paragraphs talking about categorising occupation, but, you get the idea - we need a balance of activity in our lives. Think about how much you appreciated the weekend after a particularly stressful/ hectic week at work or, how long the school summer holidays can feel.

I sometimes find that colour-coding my calendar helps to make sure that I have activities from each category in my day and so that I am able to prioritise the activities in the shortest list.

Set Goals:

There are few things in life that are more satisfying than ticking a task off your to-do list! Use this time to tackle the things that don’t normally get done. In my case, it’s helping my son with his sequencing difficulties.

Here comes the plug!!

Open Arms needs volunteers - we have created a set of sequencing songs with the support of Chilton Music Therapists to help children complete activities of daily living with a greater level of independence and we need families to test them for us so that we can tweak them and make them as good as they can be. For more information, please email:

Activity Analysis:

Think about the activities that are really important to you and find ways to adapt them so that you can continue doing them. For example; my next-door neighbour is an avid cyclist so he has brought an exercise bike in case he can’t go out.

Keep Moving:

Try not to spend all day watching TV, gaming or in front of screens. In part this links to having a good balance of activity but also, excessive screen time can have a negative impact on sleep because of the type of light given off by screens and because we are so passive when we watch TV, play computer games etc.

Being sedentary isn’t good for us physically or mentally and in a later post, we will be sharing different ideas to keep moving whilst in self-isolation.

I hope that this helps explain the different types of activities we have in our daily lives so that you can continue to access them in a way that is meaningful to you.


Whalley Ha

mmell. K. (2009). ‘Self-Care, Productivity, and Leisure, or Dimensions of Occupational Experience? Rethinking Occupational “Categories” ‘Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 76 (2). Pp: 107-114.


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