They are stressful times we’re living in and not to be feeling somewhat stressed would be to be missing the role of stress: to ready us for action and enable us to survive the threat.
But stress without action is tough, exhausting, unhealthy and ultimately dangerous. So, what actions can we all take now to help us and the people we love stay on top of the situation we’re in?
1. By informed only by experts
There’s far too much sharing of really weak, gossip-led information. I came across this myself yesterday when someone shared the following message, which I’d already seen in three other places in slightly different form.
Get your information from The World Health Organisation, the NHS, the UK Government (because actually, they do seem to be listening to relevant scientists, so put your politics aside for a moment.) Even mainstream newspapers are being less biased and more gossipy than they should be. And just because someone is a doctor doesn’t mean they necessarily know a lot about coronavirus – we’re learning about this as we go along because it’s new. You need to listen to people or organisations that have access to the figures and facts from around the world, which will obviously include doctors but only if they’re ones who have taken the trouble to become specially informed about this virus. Each virus is different and required different strategies and we just don’t have enough data yet – but some people have more than others.
How might you be affected and what can you do about it? Lots of things are not in your control but lots are.
- Do you have stores for a couple of weeks if you have to self-isolate?? (This doesn’t require panic buying, just sensible stocking up if you can afford to. And see the point below about helping other people.)
- If you have children, how can you plan ahead for them being at home during a school closure?
- If you have to work from home (supposing you can), what can make this easier?
- If you and your partner both have to work at home, how can you make this work without arguments?
- If you have to work at home while your children are at home, what can you do to make this less difficult? Can you share/swap with friends?
- If you have elderly relatives, what contingency plans can you make for them?
Be kind to other people
We are all in this together and everyone will be affected. Also, it might go on for some time so we need to support each other. If you help other people, people will help you when you need it. And you’ll feel better, more positive, more useful. So, think about people who might welcome the offer of help. Who can you support? If you can afford to stock up but you know someone who can’t, how will you help them? Can you put some extra items in food bank boxes or donate money to relevant charities? Is there anyone in your community who needs a bit of extra help, particularly to minimise the need for vulnerable people to go to the shops. How will you know who they are? Time for a group Facebook page to share info?
4. Be socially responsible
We’ve all got difficult decisions to make over the coming months. Today I had to pull out of a foreign work trip for which I really needed the fee. But it has got to the stage where it felt socially irresponsible to make that journey. If we are being asked (not forced, yet) to restrict travel and contact with lots of people, we should do this when we can. I can so I should. Others can’t, I get that. We need to be collegiate and support each other’s decisions, too. As long as each of us makes our decisions based on good information and thinking of wider society more than ourselves (though also each of us is important), we will get through this.
Other ways of being socially responsible:
- Wash hands often and properly
- Don’t spread silly rumours
- Support other people
- Sympathise with organisers who decide to cancel an event – it’s not an easy decision to get right
- Don’t panic buy
- But keep buying things! See next point.
5. Keep buying when you can (but not panic-buying)
Loads of businesses are going to struggle and this means lots of ordinary people with ordinary, low-paid jobs and/or no security are going to suffer badly. As just very small examples, my daughter and her fiancé are both self-employed; she is a freelance film producer and shoots are being cancelled beyond the next two weeks. Many children’s authors are going to lose significant income when schools are closed and our events cancelled. My daughter’s wedding in May is under threat, which means the jobs of the waiting and catering staff and all the small businesses that rely on events like that are going to suffer. As I say, those are just small examples but you’ll know many other people who will suffer in different and sometimes enormous ways.
So, when you can buy things or pay for services, whatever they are, do! I realise – OF COURSE – that many people can’t and that I might sound complacent by encouraging people to buy things at a time when others can’t afford to: but we need people who can spend to spend, in order to support those small shops, cafés, restaurants, hairdressers, builders, decorators, factory-workers +++, so that there is as little financial suffering as possible.
6. Boost your mood
At the moment, I think we’re in catastrophe-state, full of fear and confusion. That mustn’t last or psychologically we’ll go under. So find things you can do that will make you smile and your heart sing. Go out in the sunshine, sow some seeds, go for a bracing walk up a hill, buy some flowers, bake a cake or cook a new recipe, have a special evening with your family/household, go for a cycle, read a book all afternoon if it’s raining, have a Skype session with friends who live far away, play a board game. Plan something nice for each day – even something as small as a bath or ten minutes’ meditation.
7. Don’t catastrophise in front of young people
As I wrote here. You might be scared but young people need you to be calm and positive. They need to see you face this.
8. Fill your well-being well
I’ve always explained that well-being is something you build up. Someone with good well-being is someone who, when tough things happen, is not likely to go under because their “well” is full enough. As it diminishes, as it always will when tough things happen, such people will prioritise refilling it. If we let the well run dry, that’s when we are more likely to go under, becoming ill or feeling overwhelmed.
So, how? By regularly taking care of the four legs of the Table of Well-being: food and water, exercise, sleep and relaxation. Build those into your day, every day when you can, and you’ll cope with whatever life throws at you. My website is full of tips about each of these.
I’m not being complacent. Last year wasn’t easy for me: my lovely younger sister died after a grim five-month illness and my daughter’s first baby was born six weeks early and very scarily. (He’s doing well, but I can’t really convey how terrifying this was.) My emotions and stress levels were all over the place and my well-being shrank – but never disappeared completely. If I hadn’t made such efforts to keep the well full, I don’t think it would have seen me through so well.
9. Be positive
What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. We can come through this, together. I don’t know, any more than you, what the next days will bring for each of us and I know that for some it will tougher than for others, but this is something we have to do our best to come through as together as we can, and to learn from.
While this all feels horrible and while we will undoubtedly have to change the way we live for the short and medium term, and while those changes may often be very hard – or at the very least, annoying and boring – we must cling to the normality we are allowed. We must be stoical and get on with life as best we can, enjoying the things we can still do. That does absolutely not mean ignoring problems and pretending everything is fine. It means keeping control of the things we can control and keeping a lid on the things we can’t. Just doing the best we can with what we have.
As Victor Hugo said, “We must cultivate our garden.” Literally or metaphorically – in my case, definitely literally.
Take care, be well and let’s deal with this and look forward to happier times.