The smoke from Australia’s devastating bushfires has barely dissipated and we’re in the midst of a public health emergency. Much discussion has been directed towards the economic and public health response to the coronavirus, from banning public gatherings to economic stimulus packages, yet what of our collective soul? Not only may the value of the ASX and tourist numbers plunge, but so too our community cohesion and wellbeing. While blame, fear and anxiety flourishes plunging the world in despair, and the race for a vaccine ensues, what of another antidote: love, compassion and kindness? Developing these resources is critical to bolstering our immunity to stress.
The place for loving-kindness and compassion might seem low on the rung of our survival instincts, but drawing on these inner resources is one of the best ways to enhance resilience and overall wellbeing. Help us weather the force of not one, but potentially two pandemics – COVID-19 and anxiety. When you can’t see the enemy, everything and everyone becomes the enemy, spiking fear, unleashing a host of negative affects such as anxiety and depression. How as a society can we embrace one another (from a safe distance) making us feel cared for and loved? How can we lessen the probability of this being the GenANX era? Moreover why does this matter?
Whilst we may not be able to control the broader situation we can choose how we respond to it. Just as we have stringent rules guiding physical behaviour during this time, we need a code of behaviour based on principles of kindness, compassion and gratitude. The good news is we know we are capable of doing so. During the decimating bushfire we united with love and compassion, launching letter-writing campaigns of thanks to firies far and wide. So too at this time we should be considering doing the same for our nurses, doctors and other health professionals on the front line, who in the coming weeks will face burning out as demands grow and resources become more stretched.
More than ever we need to be mindful of our behaviour. There’s no place for finger pointing, racism or blaming. No one willingly chooses to get COVID-19, nor choose to spread it. Now is not the time for brawling in supermarket aisles over toilet paper. I’m still left with an indelible impression of a hapless octogenarian in the supermarket staring at length in disbelief at the empty shelves. If only I’d secured the last rolls I would have happily shared them. It got me thinking about all those in our community who could only dream of having the capacity to bulk purchase. Who’s thinking about them? We’re not just in danger of being physically starved; we risk being starved of compassion. We’re in desperate need for Vitamin C – Vitamin Compassion. Literally meaning to suffer together, compassion, and when directed inwards – self-compassion, is an inner resource that builds resilience.
While public health measures such as social distancing are in place, we run the risk of social isolation and dislocation. There is much we can do to remedy this. Firstly social distancing is a misnomer – physical distancing is what’s critical, not social distancing, there’s a profound difference. If you know someone self-isolating, beam your face into his or her home through FaceTime or Skype. Text or What’s App or (shock warning) pick up the phone and call someone. Another means of diffusing fear and anxiety is by sharing a smile; an infectious transmission we all could benefit from more of. Whether you’re walking down the street or in the park a shared smile dissolves the distance. Get your oxytocin fix – aka Vitamin Love, by cuddling your pet, partner or children, and if all hope seems lost and you’re still feeling a little down, grasp on to gratitude. Consider something you can be grateful for in the present moment, because no matter how grim the situation, there is always something to be grateful for.
Covid-19 also shines the light on many important universal life lessons, providing opportunities to learn and grow. As a great equaliser, this virus reminds us of our common humanity, a central tenant of compassion and self-compassion. It doesn’t care whether you’re Hollywood royalty or a sporting star; we’re all targets. All our human (inter)actions affects others, from our physical proximity to one another, to time spent washing our hands. Finally we can never, ever take anything for granted. A few weeks ago sport played in empty stadiums, home schooling the new norm, countries barricaded, cancelled group events and festivals played out as dystopian fiction on our screens, not lived reality.
As the world grinds to a halt and we’re catapulted into temporary hibernation now is the time to offer acceptance to this temporary change of beat, rather than resistance. Embrace the opportunity it presents to do something you’ve always dreamed of doing. Take up drawing, bake a cake (if you can find the flour!), write, connect with an old friend or get lost in a jumbo jigsaw puzzle. The time is ripe for being inventive and creative.
When the blue-sky returns leaving the COVID-19 storm clouds behind us, how will we be judged by future generations? How did our human stocks fare? As a society, what will we choose to grow: fear and anxiety, or compassion and love? The choice is ours. Our linked chain might look a little different, elbow bumping rather than hand holding, but we are all one. Instead of toilet paper, let’s stockpile smiles to deliver freely and widely and open our hearts to those in need.