A moment ago, it seems, it was a new year; 2020. Yet four months in and the entire globe finds itself struggling to adjust to a new normal, in a global lockdown, and the implications are vast.
As millions find themselves instantly unemployed, tens of thousands of others fight for their lives and in some cases die alone. In Ireland some hospitals are forcing women to give birth without a single support person. Families the globe over teeter on a tightrope as they take up the mantel of teacher and parent, as well as working from home. Singles the globe over are more alone than ever and for many, the home, which should be a safe refuge is the most dangerous place on earth. If you have a home.
Not matter how many memes or quotes flood our social media feeds, we know may be in it but we are not in it together, not physically anyway. Economic status means some struggle much more than others. But as we give wide berths to those on the street, we’ve learned to fast track social niceties, ‘How are you coping?’ we enquire, cutting straight to the chase, and we mean it. On this, Covoid 10 has been a great leveller. Right now humanity is disparate but we all eke out ways to re-connect because we know the facts: loneliness and isolation affect bodies as well as minds and our bodies may need to fight an alarmingly unknown virus.
We have speed-cycled through stages of grief, a process that can take years, and that has well studied stages. These are:
- Denial and isolation (normally withdrawing from the world is a part of grief, but in this case isolation has been the catalyst)
- Anger, rage – how could you do this to me?
- Bargaining – I’ll do anything, god, if you can make this different.
- Depression – I can’t cope, I’m flat lining; can’t keep my head above the water line
- Acceptance – at the bottom of the barrel, so here I find myself, and I’m still breathing.
We’ve all been flung to our corners of the ring to take stock, mop our brows and work out how deal with grief and loss, as best we can. It’s understandable that mental health is declining and this is not just diagnosed conditions, it’s all of us, in different ways.
What if we can inoculate our well-being not individually but together, as one? How would that look? Here are four ideas of how you can vaccinate your well-being (VACS for short):
- VULNERABLILITY: Be vulnerable.
Fear turns inward; fear contracts, fear causes rage; fear insights judgement.
Yet we can choose to treat fear otherwise. We can see it, recognise it and own it. If I feel outrage that the shelves in my grocery store are empty, this outrage hides fear. If I judge someone who is not socially distancing, that is judgement arises from fear. If I want to shout at them, the root of this rage is fear. Being vulnerable isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength and it’s a call to remain open and self-aware.
It’s a call to do as Brene Brown says and, ‘Try to be scared without being scary.’
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” Fred Rogers
Do that and step it up, cease with the posting acts of kindness on social media, pick up a shovel and start digging. Become a helper. Have you got spare accommodation for tourists stuck in your town? Reach out. Is a neighbour in fear or immune compromised? Offer to shop for them. Call a friend and have a virtual cup of tea together. The ways we can help are as vast as the stars in the sky.
Isolation is not a call to disconnect; it is the opposite. Now more than ever we must enliven the sense of community and connection. When we feel the urge to contract, do the opposite – reach out, be expansive, and stay connected. We have technology on our sides. Use it. When we give someone a wide berth in the supermarket, don’t look away. Its counterintuitive to turn from someone and make eye contact at the same time, but mindfully look in their eyes.
The stories come in thick and fast. The news is available on multiple devices, reports flood our senses, many from unreliable sources. Everyone has an opinion, advice and news and yes this includes this article (so if this isn’t relevant to you, shut it down).
Endlessly scrolling for news etches a neural pathway deep in the amygdala part of the brain and in our psyche it catapults us into the future. This is the ‘Oh my god, what if?’ And in turn it unplugs us from our instinct. Suddenly we can’t access what is right for us, in this moment, in the here and now. Be mindful what you watch. SIFT and filter. For god’s sake. Seriously put the phone down and get outside if you can, even if that’s on a balcony. The sky is always there.
Remember this (here’s the silver lining),
Human beings are eternally innovative, flexible and optimistic, otherwise how did we survive – wait, thrive – as a species for millions of years? There are stunning examples the world over of this; people connecting, buoying one another, making us laugh. Look out for those countless acts of comedy, benevolence and love playing out because even in isolation we can act together, with kindness, compassion and with freshly washed hands.
We can inoculate our souls and be kind to ourselves.
We can breathe in and exhale, ground in this moment, then we can plod to the balcony door, fling it wide, make like an Italian and start singing.
Images thanks to Unsplash: Edwin Hooper, Ravi Roshan