Like everyone else, my daily conversations are dominated by Coronavirus, COVID-19 and the associated concerns. It’s a time of unprecedented global crisis, certainly since WW2 anyway. We’re living in a real-life dystopian society. We’re bombarded with conflicting news, views and opinions daily. Rumour, opinion and panic abound. Coronavirus anxiety is rife.
With a little extra time on my hands, I’m going to record a few practical thoughts, suggestions and observations about the current situation.
These suggestions aren’t twee, ‘be kind to yourself’ mantras. They’re more practical than that. They’re useful, they’re helpful and will help see you through a lot of the problems that lie ahead.
It’s an article that will meander, it’ll go off in tangents as points enter my brain. Bear with me though – this hasn’t been planned or drafted, it’s coming out verbatim….
Coronavirus as the News Broke…
When the Coronavirus first became public, there was a general feeling of ‘it’s a Chinese thing, we’re not affected’ here. I wasn’t particularly concerned, but I didn’t think it’d be long before we discovered a few cases in the UK. Anyone who has spent time in an airport will know just how many people are flying all over the globe at a given point. The global population is far too mobile for viruses to be contained for long.
The early news was that essentially it’s basically a flu. Not much to worry about, it’ll be over in a jiffy kind of thing. A bit of a cough, a bit of a fever and you’ll still be in work.
Then the deaths started.
With half an eye on the news, I started to buy a few extra bits – not panic buying, but certainly adding extra to a shop. I do this kind of thing anyway, mainly because I’m a sucker for a bargain and if I see an offer on something we use a lot of, I’m on it like a dog eating hot chips. Beans, coffee or Kerrygold butter on offer? I’m buying them.
As the news spread and the disease got closer, the feelings of panic seemed to turn visceral. At this point businesses were making announcements of plans. Strategy meetings were going on behind closed doors. Rumours seeped out. Things were going to get serious. Coronavirus was a bigger deal than many realised.
I expected panic buying to come soon, with Christmas Eve-like queues in the shops. I anticipated seeing people fighting over essentials, like Americans scrapping over a discount TV on Black Friday.
I didn’t want to be a part of it. Get ahead of the curve was my plan. As toilet roll and hand sanitisers started selling out, I was glad I’d started early.
On the news, the money markets started to tumble. I watched stock markets crash all over the world. Technically I’d lost over £2,000 as markets and currency fell. Then the airlines started to cancel flights…. I had three trips booked. They started to look dodgy.
The Behaviour Change
As news announcements became more alarmist, people I know started to revert to type. As Walter Mischel is credited with saying “the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour”. In this case, it became strikingly true.
Those with a nervous or anxious disposition started to panic more. Others were dismissive of the whole thing. I myself resorted to type – pragmatic and logical. I’m not prone to worry, but I’m certainly prone to being overly pragmatic at times. This started to go into overdrive.
The shops were the first to experience the burden of the panic. Toilet roll, hand sanitisers and medicines started to run out. Pasta, rice and tinned foods were next. Having seen this started, I made arrangements to top up our own supplies.
I have a cash and carry card, so avoided much of the shortages. I bought the essentials – rice, pasta, tinned tomatoes, stock cubes, meat, beans, butter, toilet roll, tooth paste, shampoo etc. For us, this process started earlier than most, for two reasons….
- You ‘flatten the buying curve’. The earlier you start, the less you need to bulk buy, leaving more on the shelves for others.
- It doesn’t take a genius to spot the trend of what was happening. The same happened on China, Iran and Italy. We had test cases. It was coming.
With full cupboards, plenty of toilet roll and access to more, there’s a level of anxiety that can be removed. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was being taken care of.
Controlling the Controllables
For me this is far more than management-buzzword-bollocks. This is sensible, practical and logical advice. Stress is increased when you lose control of a situation, so I find a therapeutic benefit in being in control of everything I can be.
I think I’m driving Rachel mad at home by constantly referring to ‘getting on the front foot’ in this situation. Controlling what we can. From an anxiety point of view, if you can at least feel as though you are taking positive steps, you’re keeping yourself well.
Here’s a snapshot of the things we’ve done…
- Fill the cars up with fuel. Not that the intention is to go anywhere, but I’d rather know we can if we need to.
- Get the cupboards stocked, the fridge and freezer full. Batch cook if necessary.
- Make alternative plans for work if we need to. Consider a variety of different scenarios and what we’d do in case of each.
- Make financial plans. See what you have, what you need and what you can do in a given scenario. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.
These are all practical, but more importantly they’re useful. I’m utterly astonished at some of what I’m reading on social media, complaining about shops being empty. I’m not surprised about the stockpiling – I expected that, I’m astonished because of the lack of planning by some to get ahead of it.
We had a Canary down the mine here. In fact, we had several. China, Iran, Italy, France. What makes you think it’d be any different here? It’s not a different strain of Coronavirus.
Why didn’t you start the process of shopping earlier? Flatten the shopping curve, as I pointed out above. It’s too late for now, but it’s not for future. Learn from this.
The bulk buying was obvious – even Stevie Wonder could see that. All bulk buying during this kind of thing does is back up the Hobbesian theory that ‘society’ is merely “a cultural overlay, a thin veneer hiding an otherwise selfish and brutish nature”. Basically, when shit hits the fan, people look after their own interests (and those of friends and family) and balls to everyone else. Don’t be disappointed by it. Expect it.
But I digress. The point is, there are certain things you can control, the are others you can’t. Buy your food, stock your cupboards, fill your car with fuel, pick up household essentials and make a plan to work in alternative ways. Control what you can and you’ll ease your anxiety.
Adapting Your Behaviours
With any production line, the quality of the output reflects the quality of the input. Bear this in mind with what you let enter your world. I’ve written before that your ‘diet’ is more than just the food you eat – it’s the people you see, the places you go, the media you consume.
Avoid busy shops if possible. Spending time surrounded by the chaos of shops is going to make you more anxious – you’ll be stressed by proxy. If you can, limit shopping time to very early or very late in the day so you’ll have a quieter experience.
Limit news intake. The news cycle is now relentless. It’s 24 hours, so they’ve got a lot of time to fill. At the moment, they’ll fill it with Coronavirus information – most of which is stress-inducing. Watch enough to learn, but no more than that. What are you going to do with the latest information on worldwide death tolls anyway?
Exercise. It’s one of the things that will help you the most, both mentally and physically. Health-affirming behaviours are going to be vital throughout this. Stay fit, stay strong, keep endorphins going. If you’re trapped at home, here’s a workout you can do…
Then if you want to experiment a little more, here’s an article with a bodyweight exercise chart in it. You’ll be able to get creative and put together plenty of workouts from that…
Be productive and constructive. If you can work on something, create something, tick jobs off a list you’ll feel better. Personally, I find a real therapeutic benefit in sorting out and tidying my office, garage etc. It’s freeing, both psychologically and physically. I’ve already made plans of things I want to do and get done ahead during a potential self-isolation period.
Distract yourself, don’t sedate yourself. There’s a temptation to sedate your way through this – booze the problems away. It won’t help. Keep your mind busy, don’t allow yourself to dwell, but don’t spend this time getting pissed and making yourself feel worse. Nobody wins in that case.
Keep perspective. This is a global pandemic, but it’s not going to last for years. It’ll be months and then life will return to a version of normal (possibly with a few adaptions for a while). Coronavirus will be something we can deal with. This future projection has been known to help prisoners and people going through periods of isolation. This is many degrees removed from that, but it’s in the same ball park.
You’ve got to give yourself a fighting chance throughout all of this. There are things that are within your control, so take control of them. Don’t be a victim to everything that Coronavirus entails and take steps to limit your anxieties. They may be small steps, but they help.
As I sit here writing this article, I’m fairly relaxed. I’ve controlled the controllables, I’ve got plans in place for work and a list of things to be getting on with if I need to. It’s not an ideal situation, but we’re all largely in the same boat.
Adapting a more Stoic mindset will help you too. Whilst Amazon are still delivering, I’d get your hands on a copy of these two. They’ll help you far more than digesting every scrap of exaggerated media commentary. They’ll help far beyond this by the way – it’s a way of thinking that will help you deal with many of life’s challenges.
Coming out of the other side of the Coronavirus
Although we’re in the midst of this right now, it won’t be like this forever. Physically, financially, emotionally and any other ‘ally’ you can think of, we’ve got to navigate some choppy waters. Take decisions now that will benefit your future self – it’ll help keep a sense of perspective, of progression and you’ll come out of this better.
Personally, I’ve invested more money in the stock market. With the financial markets falling faster than Piers Morgan’s popularity, I have decided to buy more shares. Things are tighter than normal at the moment, but I’m confident that when markets recover, I’ll look back on this time and be glad I bought more shares. Coronavirus has reset the markets in a lot of ways.
Use the spare time productively. Our kids’ football, swimming, cricket gymnastics aren’t on at the moment, so we’re going to use the additional free time to do jobs around the house – fix things, paint things, build things etc. There’ll be things you can do too, even if it’s not domestic stuff. With YouTube and Google being able to teach you basically anything, the internet is the new university of life!
There’ll hopefully be a sea-change in the way we all work. I’m hopeful that a lot of companies who have been suspicious of home working will realise how effective it can be. Imagine how much travel time, commuter stress, pollution etc can be saved by a significant population working from home.
The world wars shook the system when it came to women working. Maybe the Coronavirus will do the same for home working and companies will do their bit to encourage it. In adversity comes opportunity – maybe this is it.
Diversify your income where possible. After Brexit, I decided to increase the amount of copywriting I was doing. I’ve never been more glad of that decision as I am now. It means I’m not totally reliant on my Personal Training income and it means I can earn money from home, which gives me a certain relief. It’s certainly going to come in handy in the upcoming days.
Wake Up Calls For Us All
I hope we all learn something from this. There’s a YOLO (you only live once for those who don’t know) culture that informs a lot of our decision making, especially in the younger people.
There’s a time and a place for it, but I can’t help but feel it has caught a lot of people out recently. Perhaps it’s boring to save money… but it’s important. YOLO isn’t a good excuse for spunking every penny you have on clothes, shoes and booze. When times are tight, you can’t pay your rent or mortgage with designer clothes, pictures of your car and anecdotes of a night out. Think longer term.
Looking after your health may not be as fun as getting drunk and living off burgers… but it’s important. New NHS Guidelines have put those with a BMI of 40 or above in the ‘Increased Risk’ category. Keep yourself in decent physical condition and you ride through pretty much everything more easily. It’s never too late to start, by the way.
It’s Not ALL Bad News
In the way that mindfulness can often teach us to look for any amount of joy in a situation, there are certain great things about this enforced slowing down of the world.
My personal favourites are these two. The first one is the cleaning of water in the Venetian canal network…
Venice hasn’t seen clear canal water in a very long time. Dolphins showing up too. Nature just hit the reset button on us pic.twitter.com/RzqOq8ftCj
— Gianluca De Santis (@b8taFPS) March 17, 2020
There has been a significant reduction in air pollution over China. There’s also a similar picture over Italy, but as one of the most polluted countries in the world, I think the Chinese image is more powerful.
Do I think there’s long-term change about to start? Probably not. It’s certainly proof of how we can help things to recover quickly though.
This will hopefully bring families together. If there’s a lockdown, it’ll be the most time my little family have spent together. Even on holiday we end up with one of us in the water, the other on the beach etc. It’ll be nice… I hope!
Putting the kids to work around the house Home schooling the kids will be interesting!
In other news, I can forsee an uptick in the requirement for divorce lawyers at the end of this. There’ll be plenty of couples who will decide they can’t stand each other by the end of the lockdowns, I bet!
Coronavirus Could be the Agent for Change We Need
Nobody truly knows how this is going to play out, but if we summon together a Blitz-like spirit, make sensible decisions and do the right thing by each other, we’ll come out of this a better society and (hopefully) a better world. We didn’t see the Coronavirus coming, but we can help to stop it spreading.
Thanks by the way to anyone reading this who is on the front line of the NHS. If I was PM there’d be a pretty massive pay rise coming your way. You deserve it.
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