Story at a glance

  • With the number of COVID-19 cases rising across the nation, it’s more important than ever to practice caution when participating in holiday celebrations.
  • The foundations of celebration can be broken down into three sociological concepts: temporality, spaciality and sociality.
  • The hosts of the podcast “Dope Labs” help explain how small (and COVID-safe) acts of celebration can help restore balance to your mental health this holiday season.

While the idea of celebration may feel foreign amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic, scientists and informative podcasters Titi Shodiya and Zakiya Whatley say celebration is actually a necessary act of self-care — especially in 2020. 

The founding of Dope Labs

The two first met while attending graduate school at Duke University, and their origin story is a reason to celebrate in and of itself. “I got there in 2010, and Zakiya was already there and flourishing,” says Shodiya. “She took me under her wing and we became very fast friends and family, and so now we are a permanent fixture in each other's lives.”

“I think a lot of what Titi and I found ourselves doing in grad school was kind of talking to people about our research and about science and answering their questions, and so we were saying like any pair of millennial friends that we should just start a podcast,” adds Whatley. “The perfect opportunity came along when Spotify hosted the ‘Sound Up’ competition to increase diversity in the podcast landscape. I sent Titi an email with no subject — just the link, and the rest is history.”

Now, the pair co-host the podcast “Dope Labs,” a show that scrutinizes pop culture and current events through a scientific and sociological lens. Shodiya and Whatley tell Changing America that their goal is to show listeners that science is at the root of everything and can easily translate into topics that people are already keen on talking about — from Simone Biles to Marvel Comics and popular television shows.

The sociology of celebration

The latest episode of “Dope Labs” investigates the reasons why we celebrate, coming off the heels of the election and heading into the holiday season. After diving into the reasons behind why we celebrate during the podcast, the pair spoke with Changing America about how we can achieve balance for safe celebrations amidst a heavy time.

Shodiya and Whatley break the foundation of celebrations down into three tentpoles recognized by sociologists: temporality, spaciality and sociality. 

The concept of temporality, or the linear progression of the past, present and future, is disrupted when celebrations occur. In other words — they suspend the hustle and humdrum of daily life, transforming our typically mundane, “business as usual” temporality into a rare vacuum of celebration time. 


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These moments of celebration make us pause and be mindful, the podcasters say, and that in turn boosts our well-being. When we stop to savor the good stuff, we create a buffer for ourselves against bad news, building resilience.

Shodiya explains that these breaks in temporality don’t even require a large gathering or special occasion to be effective and that even mini-celebrations can harness positive emotions making it easier to manage daily challenges. 

“Making a small routine, even if while you brew a little coffee you tell yourself: I'm gonna just think about what I have to do for the day, or maybe this is a time when I call somebody else, or maybe I’ll be a little bit more gentle with myself during this time, you're hitting all three of those components of celebration,” she says. “Just because we can't celebrate together, it doesn't mean we can't still have those good moments and benefit from those things … and I think that dignifying little celebrations, especially during times of great stress, is definitely an act of self care.”

Disrupting spaciality on your own terms

If you’ve ever celebrated your birthday at a special restaurant or even decorated your space for the holidays, you’ve officially experienced the disruption of spaciality for celebration — the idea that as soon as you enter that space your brain recognizes that the party is about to start.

Shodiya and Whatley break down this concept on their podcast, explaining that there are also certain locations that our brains always seem to associate with celebrations of epic proportions, from the iconic New Year’s Eve ball drop in New York City to Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

The thing is, though, that just like temporality, spaciality can be disrupted just by carving out an enclave within your own home for daily mini-celebrations. Similar to the effect of how setting out name cards and blowing up balloons can inform your brain that its party time, creating a corner in your home for treating yourself, putting up new works of art or decorating for the holidays can still have the same positive effect on your mental health.

Sociality in the time of COVID-19

The last element of celebration is, of course, sociality, or the union of individuals partaking in the observance of an occasion. It can help set what Shodiya and Whatley call “the vibes,” or the mood of the celebration depending on who is in attendance and the energy each participant chooses to bring to the event. 

When people come together for an event, they create what experts call temporary communities of “collective joy” and celebration.

But this year, celebrations have looked and felt completely different, as families and friend groups have been separated as a measure of caution to protect against transmission of the coronavirus. Social events have been taking place in the form of small gatherings, mainly congregating online by utilizing video services such as Zoom — a method of interaction that felt fresh at first but has created what many are now calling “Zoom fatigue.”


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“I think there's something about the pressure, right? I think there's different levels of pressure and different expectations when you come to a Zoom,” says Whatley. “I'm a big fan of FaceTime and I FaceTime a lot, but I can FaceTime [a friend] and be completely quiet. I think you can set what the level of expectation is, or schedule fun things like, ‘oh, let's have dinner together on Zoom or let's watch this movie on Netflix together’ — it's just spicing up your calls that you have with your friends and family and making them as normal as you can.”

They explain that spending time with your loved ones in real life, whether at a party or hanging out in the park, there is a natural flow of conversation that lulls when you’re doing activities or end up speaking to a different person there. Zoom fatigue happens when you are forced to constantly engage with the person, or people, on the other end of the screen. 

For those experiencing Zoom fatigue, the hosts recommend switching up your method of communication and keeping calls brief when you aren’t actually up for an hour-long conversation. It all goes back to setting those expectations. 

Restoring balance through celebration

Throughout the holiday season and as we inch closer to the new year, the fears of worsening COVID-19 counts continue to grow. Combined with dropping temps, shorter days and the absence of traditional celebration — our current situation can be overwhelming for anyone. It’s for these reasons that the concept of balance is so necessary right now, the podcasters say. 

“There is some type of balance that is required, and one of the things we talked about in our episode was that celebration is a disruption of the day to day,” says Shodiya. “If you're staying home and looking into that little camera at the top of your desktop all day, that day to day can be pretty mundane. You need those kinds of interruptions that celebration can bring — it's important to find those little moments of joy, especially if you look around and everything on the news is doom and gloom.”

“I think figuring out, you know, the things that make you happy is like a key first step in celebrating or like teaching ourselves how to celebrate in a socially distant world,” Whatley adds. “I really sat down and figured out what it is that truly makes me happy, and how I can use those things to celebrate in my life.” 


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Published on Dec 01, 2020