I don’t think there is a single soul that has escaped the far-reaching effects of the pandemic we are currently navigating. From the two-year-old toddler who questions why he can’t visit his granny, to the great-grandmother who isn’t allowed to receive visitors on her birthday – everyone is feeling the effects of once-in-a-lifetime crisis none of us was prepared for.
Yet, in this crazy lockdown season, there are lessons to be learned which will (hopefully) change us for the better after the vaccine is developed and the last COVID patient discharged. Everyone will have to do their own reflection and study of what this pandemic means to them, but I would like to share how quarantine has schooled me (so far).
There is always something to be grateful for
I am a naturally anxious person, so the onset of a pandemic was the perfect catalyst for that unwelcome sensation of fear that engulfs me. One of the strategies I used was to start every day with a gratitude practice – listing five things I am grateful for. Some days I really had to scratch my head, because the idea is to write something new every day. But I realized that there is always something to thank God for.
I have struggled my whole life with being a shy introvert, but for the first time, this was a great asset! I loved spending time in the comfort of my home with my husband and our beagle children. I loved that I didn’t have to put on a front and pretend to be okay even when I felt like the world outside was a dangerous war zone. I loved changing my language to being safe at home and I’ve been increasingly thankful for good health. I am still so grateful that we have always had enough of what we needed, and that we are not nearly as adversely affected financially, as many others are.
I am grateful that we got to take a time-out to process what was happening. I had to go into the practice a few times to tend to emergencies and was overcome with fear. I was always so relieved to go home, wash off the contamination and take haven in a safe space.
When level 5 ended, I was grateful to go back to work and that we could be registered as an essential service. This meant that we could not only serve our patients and save the business but also provide an income for our staff who were all dealing with many stressors at home. Having a purpose every day, even if it were concerned about setting all the precautions in place, meant that we did not have much time left to worry about the things we could not control.
I have also never been so grateful to be able to go for a run or take the dogs for a walk. Even for an introvert being unable to just move beyond your yard or see the scenery outside can be really tough.
I will also be eternally grateful for the few angels who blessed us with a bottle of wine or six. We did not think the alcohol ban would be so long and we just did not have the budget to stock up before lockdown. But the people who love us most made sure this was not an issue. A glass of red wine can take the edge of any crazy day.
Be gracious with yourself
I have said it before, but I honestly believe we should remember that lockdown is not a sabbatical, but it is a traumatic time none of us has ever navigated. This podcast series helped me understand how we are all experiencing the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) in these circumstances and how we need to give ourselves the space to deal with the hard reality of loss. Loss of plans we made, loss of income, loss of normality, loss of contact with loved ones etc. etc.
In this mental state, I had to give myself permission to let go. I had to give myself permission to let the house be imperfectly neat every single day. Some days I could conquer the (virtual) world, and other days I could just manage my workout and then had to relax. Due to the hygiene practices, every little thing became a mission – grocery shopping, cleaning house and washing. It can all become too much and that is okay. Take a break. Like someone reminded me – it is okay not to be okay.
Virtual get-togethers don’t match up to the real thing
I have had enough webinars to last me a lifetime. I have tried WhatsApp calls and Google Meets with colleagues and loved ones, but every time it was awkward and unreal. I am grateful that we have these technologies and can “see” each other, but they will never replace one-on-one contact.
I feel like these conversations are artificial and broken. There is no space for silence and spontaneity – every moment must be meaningful or we feel as if we can just as well say goodbye. In real conversation, we can read each other’s body cues and enjoy a few moments of compatible silence. We can look out at the same view and comment on what we see around us. We can have silly conversations and don’t have to derive meaning from every word while sharing meaning at the moment.
One article in the New York Times sites a study where it was determined that social isolation can be twice as harmful to a person’s physical health as obesity. Psychologists have studied prison inmates that were confined in isolation and found that they were prone to panic attacks and hallucinations. Social isolation also weakens the immune system – which can be completely counter-intuitive during a pandemic.
It is human nature to support each other and connect during stressful times but now we can’t be there for each other. Therefore, one of the toughest dilemmas of this corona crisis has been the balance of physical vs mental health. (I discuss this more in this post.)
It has also been proven that touch deprivation exacerbates depression and weakens the immune system, while positive touch can reduce cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and improve the immune system.
This article in Psychology Today discusses the many symptoms of social isolation. At the beginning of quarantine, I thought my body was falling apart, but after consulting Doctor Google I realized that I was just under acute stress. I suffered from severe muscle spasms, overeating, and indulging in carbs of all sorts and tastes, severe exhaustion, debilitating fear, and lack of concentration to name a few.
The same article also emphasizes how the duration of quarantine can have a negative impact on mental health. This explains why the extension of the lockdown in South Africa was quite devastating to so many because having the finish line moved further away indefinitely worsens depression and fear.
I made a point of writing my fears down so I could process them better. They included the fear of infection, especially of my parents, and the fear of lack of resources such as food, medical supplies and of course lack of finances.
I now see that this was somewhat extreme but educating myself revealed that these fears are all quite normal and understandable in such crazy time.
I also had to remind myself of my own post I wrote right at the beginning of the pandemic and use the scripture and prayer to remind myself Who is actually in control.
Even though I am surrounded by people daily, I cannot wait to be with my people again. Spending long lazy Sunday afternoons with my family after being able to worship with my church family, singing together and greeting each other with hugs and (undisguised) smiles. These pleasures will have new importance and I am sure will be appreciated by all of us more than ever.
We are all in this together
Covid-19 does not discriminate by race, background, social status, or any other criteria, and neither does its impact on society. We all deal with this grief differently and we all had to deal with it by ourselves. Now we are all required to wear our masks and take responsibility not to infect or cross-contaminate each other. We must look out for each other for the greater good for the first time in a long time.
Many psychologists argue that the final stage of grief is finding meaning in the loss. Brene’ Brown also discusses this in her podcast. I have discussed Viktor Frankl’s famous book “Man’s Search for Meaning” in a previous post and at the time I could not have known how fitting that book would be for this time. After surviving torture and abuse in a Jewish concentration camp during World War 2 he famously said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
We are also in a sense in a state of war, and one great way to deal with this trauma is to find our own meaning in this daunting season. The process could include talking about it, journaling or even therapy (which I highly recommend). Many have found meaning in helping those in need and supporting each other (virtually), especially those who are alone and having a hard time coping.
In the first few weeks, I spent a lot of time and energy working on my blog and doing an online Bible study series, first on inspiring women in scripture and later on Easter. Although this did assist me in growing my blog, it was more of a deeper exploration of faith and moving closer to God through learning about what he has done for others in history, but especially for me by sacrificing his Son on the cross. The experience of walking with Jesus during Easter had a deep impact on my spiritual journey and relationship with him.
Routine to the rescue
I am an ardent advocate for the benefits of a routine on a normal day, but I truly feel like routine is important in times like these. I believe that having accomplished something during the day helps with our mental state, no matter how small that something might be.
My day usually started with a cup of coffee in bed accompanying a Bible reading and my gratitude journal. Then I would do some form of exercise – this would vary from a hectic HIIT burn to just a short yoga practice to loosen my very tense muscles. I would usually spend the rest of the morning being productive – either with my blog or doing chores around the house. As far as possible I tried to rest in the late afternoon and into the evening, especially as the weeks wore on. In general, the routine was very laid back.
Psychologists agree that routine is important during quarantine, but that it should be flexible to allow for creativity and enjoyment. I couldn’t agree more. Some days variation included baking another banana bread, and other days a WhatsApp coffee date with my mom and sisters.
Level 5 lockdown has given way to level 4, and we are all mostly out and about. It grieves me that most people have returned to their old shopping habits and don’t take social distancing seriously enough, especially when a patient takes a seat on the examination chair and takes off their mask!
Regardless, we are all legally required to wear a mask. Masks vary in designs, colours and sizes with much creativity applied to the latest winter accessory.
Masks have become the ultimate equalizer. We are all obliged to wear them, and we are all frustrated by them – the suffocation and the fogging of spectacles. They help us empathize with each other regarding our fears and remind us of the time we live in and of the precautions we should take just in case we become too complacent.
We also only see each other’s eyes, and I might be biased, but I believe the true personality shines through the eyes. There is a reason we believe the eyes are the windows to the soul. Smiling with your eyes has the benefit of putting someone at ease immediately. My sister remarked that it feels like we are only dealing with souls now, not individuals with all their issues and prejudices.
Maybe this is the ultimate lesson Jesus wants to teach us in this time because that is how he sees us all – his beloved for whom he died.
All of us.
What are some of the lessons Covid-19 has taught you? How are you coping with all the curveballs and tension?
There are so many songs that are fitting for this time, and I would encourage you to seek out a playlist like this one I shared in a previous post. For today, I chose In Christ Alone as it is one of my favourite hymns and it is also the only way we will make it through this challenge and whatever the future may hold.