The ongoing coronavirus crisis has impacted each and every one of us in some way. Maybe you or a loved one is working day and night to save the lives of those who have ended up severely ill. Maybe you have a loved one whose life has needed saving after becoming severely ill. Maybe you’ve been declared an essential worker and you’re working harder than ever to ensure essential services keep running during this time. Or maybe you’ve been declared a non-essential worker and have been placed on the government’s furlough scheme, or worse, you have lost your job entirely.
Perhaps your life has undergone minimal disruption, and the only effects you’re feeling are internal, as you battle heightened levels of anxiety. Either way, these are uncertain times for all of us. That uncertainty brings with it a worrying potential for the mental health crisis we were already facing to intensify, even after lockdown is lifted. At this moment, we’re seeing the immediate impact of isolation on people’s mental health. In a few months, we’ll be seeing the fallout of that isolation.
People who already have anxiety may find themselves scared to leave the house even when they’re told it’s safe to do so. People are probably going to struggle to find the motivation to return to work. People who have been affected in the worst possible ways won’t have had chance to address their grief, not properly.
However you’ve been affected, there are lessons to be learned from the unprecedented situation that we find ourselves in today. Recently I’ve considered this a great deal and have realised that I feel surprisingly positive.
Somehow I feel more valuable as a person, despite the fact I’m not physically on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19. I also feel as though my lifestyle outside of this national emergency has been validated in some way.
In the hopes that I may share some of this glimmer of positivity amongst the panic, I’m going to talk through some of the things I’m taking away from this ongoing experience:
It’s OK to say “no”
For me, the number one thing I’ve learned is that it’s okay to say no. I’ve seen a worrying number of friends who are still getting invited to their friends’ houses or even to meet up with groups for walks. Thankfully, my friends have said no to these people, explaining that while they love them and they miss the social interaction, they don’t think it’s worth the risk of either contracting or spreading the virus. For the majority of people, this has been enough of an explanation. Few are questioning it - it’s just accepted.
Thinking forward to when restrictions on social gatherings are lifted, I think it’s important that we carry this mentality forward. It’s important to hold onto the fact that it’s okay to say no. Even if we’re not facing a national emergency and you still feel like you need social distance, that’s OK. If you feel it’s important for your mental health that you don’t go to that party or to your friend’s birthday pub crawl, it is still OK to say no. You are always allowed to prioritise your health, be it physical or mental.
It’s equally important to remember that our friends reserve that same right to prioritise their health and to say no to us if they need to. Ultimately, we should all make an effort to be more understanding and accepting of each other’s needs as we think about returning to some semblance of life as we previously knew it.
Everyone has value
Another important lesson I’ve learned from lockdown is that every single person holds value. There isn’t a single exception to this statement. From those doing often unappreciated jobs such as cleaners and refuse collectors to those who are working unfathomably long shifts on ICU wards, everyone has a part to play in keeping the world turning. And yes, that includes anyone who isn’t out working right now.
A lot of people are feeling lost while we’re all stuck at home. We want to help, but we don’t have the medical expertise to be able to step up and work alongside the incredible frontline workers that we all admire so much. However, just as it takes more than the frontline workers to keep a hospital running (remember ward clerks, receptionists and cleaners all help to keep things ticking over), we all have our parts to play too.
If you’re feeling stuck and wish you could help, you can. Grab your laptop or your phone and get in touch with someone you know who might be struggling. If you’re feeling strong enough to be a listening ear for several people, why not put up a Facebook post asking how your friends are? I’ve been on both sides of such posts, and they really do matter.
The importance of kindness
Now more than ever, we need to recognise the importance of being kind. Many people in the UK are going out of their way to thank those who are working on the frontline, by putting rainbows in their windows as a sign of hope or taping signs to their bins to thank refuse collectors.
If you’ve made just one person smile during this pandemic, then you are making a difference. Even in times when we don’t have a global health crisis hanging over us, we always have the ability to make a person smile. I believe that this is something we should all carry forward, long after coronavirus pandemic has been relegated to the history books.
Never neglect your own self-care
Lastly, and most importantly, it’s crucial that we continue to remember the importance of self-care. Whether that’s making time to work on a hobby that you took up during lockdown, or making time to sit down in front of the TV at the end of the day. Whatever self-care looks like for you right now, be sure to carry it forward long after lockdown has been lifted.
Whether looking after ourselves or looking after others, everyone is doing the best they can during a time fraught with uncertainty. Nobody can predict the full extent of the impact COVID-19 will have when lockdown is fully lifted. We don’t know what life is going to look like when we’re given the go ahead to socialise or do “non-essential” shopping. We also can’t predict the extent of the fallout this whole crisis will have in the long run – on the economy, the job market and our very way of life.
What we do know is that this is a collective experience and it will be made much easier if we embrace a collective response – it’s a simple response, and it won’t cost you a penny. Kindness is how we’ll get through this while minimising our losses. Even when stability and normalcy has been restored, all we can continue to do is strive to do the best we can, for ourselves and for others, too.
UK/MED/20/0157 May 2020