Resilience, in the face of COVID-19
It’s difficult not to become anxious in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Infact, a degree of concern is absolutely necessary, so that we take the precautions necessary to protect ourselves, those we love and the people that live in our neighborhood. We all know however, that becoming over-anxious can quickly become counter-productive. We have to take stock and ground ourselves. We need to dig deep into our resilience as a people, so that we come through with as few casualties as possible, having sustained relationships and having kept our mental health intact.
It is, for most of us, an unprecedented period of uncertainty and doubt. No-one knows when things will really improve, and all the institutions that we usually rely upon are at full stretch, trying to keep things together. Politicians, together with their expert advisors, have played a careful balancing act in trying to manage the risks of the Coronavirus to slow down the rate of infection, such that health services do not become overwhelmed. We have been given information in small increments, so that we develop our understanding of the threat in a gradual manner, without becoming so fearful that we lose the capacity to hear and respond constructively. Our businesses and industries have also been given much needed support, so that we can all rebuild when we finally arrive, as surely we will, on the other side.
There is real strain and worry. Many of us are separated from our elderly relatives and may be managing sickness at home. We feel more isolated than ever before. Some of us know people fighting for their lives in hospitals, or have friends and relatives working on the front line. Unless we are essential workers, we have lost our usual patterns and routines. We are all managing many unknowns, and may fear the loss of our livelihoods, even when the pandemic fizzles out. Parents with children are having to become teachers, filling the gaps with schools being closed. Couples may be feeling a sense of relational claustrophobia, not having spent so much time together in many years. We may still be engaged remotely in our day jobs, despite having so much else on our minds. Almost every domain of life is in flux, and it may seem as if the very foundations of civilization are in free-fall or at least, very unstable.
But we can find a way through - we must survive. We need to find ways to rise to this challenge, without succumbing to it. What’s more, we need to consider how we may even flourish and grow through this difficult period. It has often been the case that in moments of great pressure, where endurance is pushed to the limit, we learn just how strong we can be. It all depends on our outlook, and how we use the resources already present around and within us.
It may help to consider that whilst everything seems to have changed, the most important things really have not. If we are fortunate enough to be around those we love, we may take this for granted but in reality, it’s no small matter - it is something to treasure. If you are reading this, you are still here and probably well enough to sit up – and that shouldn’t be taken lightly either! Just imagine if you had all the pleasures, wealth and success the world can offer, but lacked the health or people to enjoy it with? Whatever we do in the world, is for our own wellbeing and for those whom we cherish. As long as our loved ones are with us, and as long as we yet exist, there is purpose. Where there is purpose, life always find a way.
Whilst human beings have stopped, nature has literally been given space to breathe. Haven’t we been considering the climate emergency in recent months, with growing fears that it’s getting too late to turn things around? The economic giants of the world have been unable to agree on a united strategy, primarily because of the monetary costs involved. It really seems that COVID-19 has forced upon us a global experiment in environmental revival. As cars, trains and planes have come to a standstill, we’re hearing birds again and the air feels fresher and cleaner. When I stand out in my garden, what was once an inner-city suburb suddenly feels like the deep countryside. It's actually quite surreal.
Let’s consider the possibility that the months ahead will be transformative - not just for our generation but for those yet to come. Some say we are in the midst of a paradigm shift, and I agree. We are learning what is important, and what is not. We are having firsthand experiences of working differently and having the kind of work-life balance we never realised could be possible. We are freed from the demands of daily commutes. We can indulge in the simple pleasures of our home, be creative again in our use of time and rekindle the art of conversation with our family and friends (albeit, through video chat, in this period of social distancing).
Most importantly of all, we are all recognising just how fragile and temporary our existence is. It is strange, but sometimes death, or the prospect of losing those we love, leads us to appreciate life more fully. Our future-oriented minds begin to value what is here, now. Yogis Gurus and new age writers may have said this a million times, but there is no substitute for direct experience.
Would you agree that we have wasted so much precious time in conflict or trying to convince others to believe what we believe? We live increasingly close together in the physical sense but know each other much less than we should. We produce and consume more as a human civilization, without considering enough the impact of our behavior on the creatures we share our planet with. Whenever there is an imbalance in give and take, whether at the level of our transactions with the Earth or with one another as human beings, there will be consequences. How could it be anything but so? The supermarket aisles, if nothing else, are teaching us that if we take more, someone else will have less. Our tendency to prioritise ourselves at the expense of others is being spotlighted, with some people finding themselves and their trolleys photographed for social media. The public reactions to such selfishness suggest our moral consciousness is being stirred.
I could go on, but the essence of what I am trying to convey in this article, is that we can treat the cards nature has dealt as a curse or a blessing. We can fret and feel agitated or become quieter and more still. We can regret what is not possible or embrace what we have. We can struggle in our boredom or find new and exciting ways of being. We can complain how much schooling our kids are missing, or celebrate the opportunity to teach them new skills;
...to cook, to cope when things don’t go according to plan, to decorate, to sew, to read just for pleasure, to look after a garden, to serve those who are more needy than ourselves and so many other life skills that they may otherwise have missed...
We can choose to be frustrated by the restrictions of going outside, or experience what it is like when we go ‘inside’ – perhaps through reflection, meditation or even periods of silence.
You see, experience is never what happens to us, but what we do with what happens to us. We didn’t ask for Coronavirus, but we do have to work with what we’ve received. There’s no hiding the fact that we will lose many talented and wonderful people, some seemingly before their time. We have to take responsibility for what we gather and accumulate through this most harrowing period in recent history, so that the losses are complimented by what we all gain. Perhaps this is the moment, where we look more deeply at our existence. This could be the time we learn to appreciate, show gratitude and truly rejoice at the gift of life. All of these possibilities can be realised, if we nurture the right mindset. We can all come through this period of social distancing and self-isolation, if we keep together even though we are apart.
Dr Bobby Sura Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist Director, Solihull Well Being Clinic https://www.solihullwellbeingclinic.com/dr-bobby-sura
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Dr Bobby Sura
Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist
Dr Bobby Sura is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist specialising within the field of lifespan and family based mental health needs. He has over 20yrs NHS experience and 16yrs in the private sector, being the founder of Clinical Psychology Direct and Director for Solihull Well Being Clinic. Bobby is Chartered with the British Psychological Society (BPS), Division of Clinical Psychology (DCP), Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) with eligibility for registration with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) and Association of Family Therapy (AFT). He manages a large service in Hall Green, Birmingham, with a range of Counsellors, Psychotherapists and Psychologists who offer their services on a private, fee paying basis.