You’ve probably heard enough about the pandemic that we are experiencing. For most of us, there hasn’t been a single day when we haven’t heard the term “pandemic” or “COVID-19” or “Corona” and even the Corona beer jokes have gotten old. In some parts of the world, the ordeal is seemingly close to an end – see people holidaying in the Greek islands- and in others, like in Victoria, we have just re-entered a 6-week lockdown.
The aim of this article isn’t to remind you of what you already know or have heard a million times. I’m writing here to articulate some thoughts on how we can best endure during this highly uncertain, tumultuous and often difficult time.
To be frank, what triggered this particular article was hearing about friends, colleagues and family members whose jobs have been jeopardised as of late. This, coupled with my sanity playing tricks on me from working from home for the past 4 months, has led me to think a lot about our current situation and to try to adopt some level of wisdom, rather than negativity, and resilience in how I’d like to let this affect me.
So here’s some practical tips and ideas
Accept that we’re in a long-term game.
From science’s perspective, it is likely that there won’t be a hard end to the “COVID situation” any time soon. All signs indicate that global virus levels and transmissibility will decrease either when an effective vaccine is developed and launched extensively throughout the world, or enough people gain immunity through infection – potentially rendering the virus to a simple flu-like pathogen. I would argue that ultimately it will come down to a combination of these things happening, in association with changing weather patterns (meaning that in warmer climates the elimination of the virus may be more feasible). Most people don’t realise the arduous and extremely lengthy process that is the development of a human vaccine and thanks to my background in biomedical science, I have complete faith in science but have accepted that this is a long and not a short-term game.
A good friend recently reminded me that it’s no use to think of the situation as a short-term hiccup in our grand life plans, which is going to disappear soon. Moreover, it is often futile to hang onto the concept of “normal” because really – the world has changed as a result of COVID-19 and I’m not so sure that we will go back to normal in the same way that we perceived this before. What I’m sure of is that it isn’t helpful to think of the situation as something that will go away next week or next month, or even at the end of the year (it is now July 2020).
It’s important to have hope that our lives will improve steadily (and potentially after a few rounds of lockdowns) but it’s not wise to expect things to move fast. The sooner we realise this, the sooner we will all become extra careful with following the rules and being more positive and calmer through this roller-coaster ride.
Research the market and become aware of opportunities.
It’s challenging for me to talk about the feelings and implications of losing a job because I only started my career 4 months ago and I haven’t experienced this. However, I sadly saw various colleagues and other people I know become affected by the downstream effects that COVID has had on the economy. When you see colleagues lose their jobs it can be difficult to make peace with keeping your own job and with finding purpose in your career. It’s easy to feel like a commodity, like a number that someone randomly tossed and decided to disregard all the hard work and effort that individuals with complicated thoughts and feelings have put into their jobs. This is sadly the reality for many.
It makes me feel more comfortable in my own skin if I know that whatever happens with my current role I have a plan B, or at least I’ve investigated options so that I can work towards a next step if I do lose my job. I highly recommend researching the market so that you’re at least aware of what’s out there and that you feel secure in the fact that you’re proactive in preparing for any outcome. It’s also useful to think about part-time and casual roles (e.g. tutoring, translating etc.) that may not necessarily be career-related but will help keep you afloat in case things go south.
Upskill while you can.
Treat the extra time that has been gifted to you as a golden investment. Recently I was glad to hear that my brother was doing a personal finances course online and that a friend is doing an in-depth machine learning course while spending time at home. Whether you’re reading, learning, or researching for personal or professional gain, there is no better time to be doing this kind of activity than now. My partner signed up for a “Surrealism in the 20th Century” online course – go figure!
Some people like to upskill in a topic that will boost their current career, others may want to use this time to plan how to pivot to a different career altogether. Whatever the motivation, it remains that finding time to do these things during our modern lives is a luxury but it is definitely worth it for the long-term benefits that we gain. By learning a new skill or researching an industry or topic of interest, no matter where you find yourself at the end of this, you cannot have gone wrong because the knowledge that you gained will remain with you.
Work on your physical health as a long-term goal.
Here’s something that I’m proud of: during the pandemic I took up cycling! To give a little bit of context, I used to hate cycling and found it unnatural for my body. But because we were limited in terms of exercise options and because I can’t run due to a recent hip operation, I was forced to try something completely new that worked for my body. I started off barely able to complete 6 km (courtesy of hip surgery) and within 3 months I’ve been able to ride for nearly 30 km at various levels of difficulty. Yay!
In my case, doing some form of physical activity and not giving up completely on my physical health has been immensely valuable in helping me get through this time. I try to focus on small progress as much as I can and I am treating the exercise that I do as a small step towards a healthier, happier me. It’s definitely not always easy and sometimes I get frustrated with my slow progress, however it’s important to remember that I’m in the long-term game here. We are all in the long-term game and we should prioritise taking good care of ourselves, pandemic or not.
And now to some slightly deeper thoughts
Don’t buy into the panic.
When I think of buying into the panic, I think of all the toilet paper panic-buying as the ultimate symbol for this. Buying into the panic has rarely helped anyone handle a difficult situation with calmness and logic. From my personal experience, it is very often the case that the media exaggerates aspects of events and COVID-19 is no exception to this. That being said, it is very important to be informed and aware of how situations like COVID are evolving where we are living and around the world. Really what I’m trying to do here is offer a reminder to all (including myself) to question and filter the information that we are receiving and to maintain a healthy distance from the news when our mental wellbeing starts becoming compromised.
Learn to soothe yourself through times of anxiety, uncertainty and general stress.
Over the years, one of the most effective ways that I’ve managed to control negative emotions is through self-talk and practicing self-soothing. It is remarkable what it can achieve for your mental wellbeing if you remind yourself that you are there for You and that everything will be ok.
The way that each of us handles uncertainty, frustration and life changes is very personal and related to our history and experiences as people. But whatever the situation, whether you find yourself feeling in despair or just a little frustrated with the whole situation, remember to be a friend to yourself and to remind yourself that you will get through this and that you have the strength to get through anything.
Think about the positive things that have come out of the pandemic.
From a personal perspective, I’ve observed various positive changes to my life as a result of spending more time at home.
On the physical wellbeing side, I’ve taken up new activities like cycling and I started appreciating working out with weights more than I used to.
On the mental state side, having more time to myself at home has helped me adjust to my new lifestyle. I moved in to an apartment with my partner just a few weeks before the lockdown begun in March and I’ve had all the time in the world to be at the new house, away from my parent’s shelter, to get used to living with a person other than immediate family and to work on the home space (see countless hours building IKEA furniture – a skill in which I am now proudly proficient).
On the professional side, working form home as a result of the lockdown has certainly been a challenge. I started my professional career with a multinational firm only 2 weeks before the start of the lockdown and as a result I only physically met a handful of the colleagues that I would find myself working virtually with. Learning how to do a new job -especially your first job- virtually is a very steep learning curve and the challenges range from not knowing how and when to ask questions to not being as effective with explaining yourself to others because you can’t rely on body language. Despite all the challenges, I can look back and say that this challenging journey has helped build my professional resilience and has equipped me with the experience to be better able to handle ambiguity and uncertainty at work, even to smoothly get past awkward Zoom situations which tend to happen often!
Whatever your situation, it’s useful to cast your mind back to what you’ve learned or achieved while we all continue to experience this strange and uncertain journey together.
Reassess your priorities.
Like for most people, staying at home has forced me to reassess my priorities and has given me the time and space to think about how I’d like to live my life. Learning how to handle the responsibility of running my own home in combination with starting my first full-time job has definitely forced me “come down to earth” in terms of life priorities. I no longer think about travelling in the same way that I did before because it simply can’t be a top priority with the way that I’ve chosen to live for now – in a busy city, with a full-time career. I think more carefully about money and there’s more space in my thoughts about investments other than travelling. However, I know that when I next get to travel, I will appreciate it a lot more and try to not take it for granted!
Moreover, I value my social interactions more, even if they consist of virtual wine catchups nowadays. I try to put more energy in calling people I haven’t spoken to in a while and overall I appreciate the friends that I do have more rather than drowning in the pain and loneliness that living far from my closest friends and wider family brings. I’m not sure if we can call life’s everyday pleasures “the little” things, but the lockdown is definitely an opportunity to slow down, take a deep breath and think about the small things that we find gratitude in, each and every day.
Have faith in a better future.
When I think about the “light” at the end of the tunnel, I think about the day that I’ll be able to jump on a plane again and get to embrace my grandparents in Athens, who I miss dearly, every day. I hope that the world will soon be able to get back to “normal enough” so that we are able to travel to the other side of the world. I have faith that this will happen and faith that we will get there.
However, since none of us have a crystal ball and since it’s no use getting fixated on the long-term future at the moment, one of the best things to do is to try to take life day-by-day. I hold on to the knowledge that I’m incredibly lucky to have my partner and to know that my family is safe and healthy whether they live in Melbourne or in Greece. I also find contentment in the idea that many of us will have hopefully learned things about life through the pandemic that will stay with us – for example how to slow down, to have patience and to appreciate the everyday things. I now look forward to taking these lessons and all of this energy that has been caged as a result of being at home and using them to get out there, when we can again, to go on adventures and to seize as many good moments as possible.
One thing’s for sure. When we can go out again, there’s no stopping any of us from getting back on the beers.