“Is this an overreaction?”. This is the question that I have often heard and asked myself often, in the last two weeks.
Each morning came with this question, “What decision should I make?” about things which yesterday used to be routine. Things like, taking your kids to hobbies, meeting a friend for a coffee, having the usual business travels, etc
“Is it an overreaction to cancel face-to-face social gatherings?”
“Is it an overreaction to postpone my travel plans, whether abroad or within the country?”
“Is it an overreaction to self-isolate in our home, which will become home office and school?”
The world has always been polarised on different issues, in each culture and society. The outbreak of COVID-19 has brought the most global polarisation, so far. Some individuals under-reacted, “This is a flu like any other. Why panic?”. Up until 2 weeks ago, I was one of the people who underrated the spread of coronavirus. “Death happens every second. Seasonal flu deaths happen yearly. Let’s stay calm and carry on.”
Some other individuals, like my husband, overreacted by compulsively reading coronavirus updates. Every hour, he’d resort to reading some piece of news about the cases in China and Italy.
Change, especially the life threatening kind that coronavirus is bringing, is something the human brain dreads. Underestimating such a life threat, we postpone thinking about proactive measures. By overreacting, we bring so much panic and anxiety upon us that we fail to see the most constructive ways of action. What would be a constructive reaction?
What the human brain loves is the predictability and hope for a future. So, how about helping the brain do what it loves most instead of allowing ourselves to go down to an apocalyptic mode of thinking?
The new reality is that we are facing a dramatic and disruptive moment in our lives. How can we work with ourselves to identify some things to focus on towards a future that will bring back the sense of safety and certainty. Other than under-reaction and overreaction, we have a third option. We can choose to take this virus seriously and focus on adaptive strategies.
What can we do? How can we help ourselves and the communities we are part of?
Here are some ideas about how we can learn to manage ourselves, our thoughts and emotions under uncertainty.
1. Accept the change. How do you know that you haven’t come to terms with the new reality? Do you have a feeling of loss? We all had planned events we were looking forward to. Events that were about to bring joy and other positive feelings are now cancelled. Of course, we experience loss. Over the night, hugs and kisses turned into a sign of unfriendliness. How about giving ourselves a big hug instead. We are together in this pandemic. What else can we do?
2. We can learn to accept the change by practicing gratitude for the now. The explosive contamination brought a disruption to our daily routine. While new practical arrangements need to be sorted out, there is a feeling of chaos and confusion.
In my family, considering one of us is in the group risk, we chose to homeschool our 8 year old son. This decision led to spending more time on figuring out and doing the teaching. Consequently, I have less working time and I am tempted to fall into lamenting. Yet, in all the chaos of the 5th day of new routines, there is also a warm feeling of reinforced connection with my children who mentioned, “You’re the best mom teacher!”
Instead of lamenting the things we cannot do anymore, we can appreciate the new things we’re doing.
Gratitude for closer connection with people we thought we were connected already.
Gratitude for finally having the time to do the thorough house cleaning and reorganising we kept postponing.
Gratitude for being able to breath!
While we’re cleaning our homes in self-isolation, we can take this opportunity to rethink our lives and envision other ways of living. What are the activities we could stop doing to make room for something new? What positive changes could we initiate, i.e., studying for an online degree, learning a new skill? What else could we do?
3. Take care of our immune systems, SEE: Sleep well, Eat well, and indoor Exercise. Have you been accumulating deficit hours of sleep? Now it’s time to bring back some balance. The time spent on commuting can now be time spent sleeping. Do you have a waiting list of healthy foods? Start eating blueberries, broccoli, garlic, ginger, honey, lemon, eggs, etc. When the gym is prohibited for the time being, how about checking up the online exercise offers on YouTube? What else could we do?
4. Stay close in spirit to family and friends, by phone, email and social media. Social media addicts, now it’s not a good time to quit the addiction. Quite the opposite, it’s high time we abused online communication channels. Fingers crossed for apps like WhatsApp, Skype, Slack, etc, to support all the users.
5. Lead yourself and your community through the lowest moments of panic by using your personal abilities. Are you a funny person? Please come up with humour and spread it abundantly. Are you a poet? Go ahead and read poems to others. Are you a musician? Sing or play cheerful songs to the rest of us. Whatever strength you have, start using it to bring positive emotions and connection.
An African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Now it’s the time to walk together fast to the farthest possible futures. To adapt, we need to learn to be alone and reassess what we can do and how we can help. It’s time to learn how to co-create through social isolation.What if social isolation were the norm? What kind of communities, supply chain systems, education, life, would we build?
The faster we adapt to the unwanted crisis, the better for everyone.
How about you? What proactive measures did you come up with? And, in case you’re wondering if we stock piled toilet paper, the answer is no. We wanted to leave some for others.