While debate has raged around many aspects of our pandemic, there’s one thing we can pretty much all agree on: the whole situation has been one protracted series of emotional d*ck punches.
About a week ago, a large portion of Australia’s population was downgraded from Stage 3 restrictions (severely limited fun) to Stage 4 restrictions (fun is cancelled).
Thanks to our almost year-long lockdown (with a few short weeks reprieve in the middle as some sort of cruel ‘psych’), we have become — nay, instructed — to become incredibly isolated from one another.
Access to the people we love is forbidden. Recreation is forbidden.
It’s little wonder that many of us are riding minute-to-minute emotional rollercoasters, or simply being sucked progressively into a downwards spiral of mental messed-up-ness.
According to the Black Dog Institute, a whopping 78% of people have reported worsening mental health since pandemic onset. More than half have reported feeling lonely. More than half have reported stress about finances. More than half have reported drinking to excess.
It seems that in our quest to not catch coronavirus, we have created a very unwell world indeed.
But fortunately, this is not (entirely) a doom-and-gloom blog. This is more of a ‘let’s talk about how to fix everything’ blog.
Let’s get into it.
Maintaining incidental connection
Lockdown 2.0 feels rather different to Lockdown 1.0. The first time around, people frequently took to their local streets on foot or bike-back, drawing rainbows on sidewalks and smiling at the people they passed.
Thanks to mandatory masks coupled with our newfound fear of each other, the whole ‘smiling at people on the street’ thing is kind of no longer a thing. And as insignificant as that may seem, the ramifications are potentially pretty big.
When we can’t access our family and friends, incidental encounters with randoms are almost all we have when it comes to connection. And when even those connections are cut off — when we are no longer able to perceive passing smiles in the supermarket aisles — we feel more alone than ever.
So excepting the rare individual who has been blessed with ridiculously smiley eyes, the time has come for all of us to be more overt in how we acknowledge our fellow humans.
It could be a simple ‘good morning’. Perhaps a subtle wave. Maybe even just a wink, or one to two exaggerated eyebrow elevations.
However it happens, we need to let our fellow lockdown-ees know that we see them. We need to let them know they are not alone. And when they give us a wink or a ‘hello’ back, we’ll know it too.
Make yourself feel better
In the western world, the concept of self-care has garnered a ton of traction in recent years, particularly in the context of maintaining a healthy mental state.
The problem is that most self-care exemplars tends to trend towards hedonic pleasures. Massages. Bubble baths. A glass of red (or six) and some raw cookie dough to wash it down.
Now don’t get me wrong. I like cookie dough as much as the next girl. But hedonic highs are unfortunately short-lived. And as soon as the pleasurable stimulus is gone, the feel-good feels fade away again.
Fortunately, there’s a longer lasting way to maintain a happiness high. And shockingly, it doesn’t even involve cookie dough.
What it does involve is doing something nice for someone else.
Oxymoronic as it sounds, selflessness is an amazing way to satisfy our own selfish needs, and can provide a powerful distraction from our own woes. When we go out of our way to make someone else’s day, our serotonin systems fire up, giving our brains a satisfying squirt of happy chemical that lingers like a fart in a poorly-ventilated room.
It doesn’t have to involve anything enormous. It might be as simple as cutting some flowers from your garden to leave on a colleague’s desk or surreptitiously paying for the coffee of the next person in the cafe queue.
Even a small gesture can be enough to brighten a day and pull someone back from an emotional precipice. And unlike curves and quarantines, it’s one thing that is within our control.
So forget ventilators and hand sanni. Connection and kindness are the true keys to weathering this COVID sh*tstorm, and emerging intact on the other side