Restricted movement is a time for renewal, says Michael Murphy
Keep in touch:
We have evolved to be social creatures. We live in families and communities of friends. These supportive relationships help us to cope with stress and to share the emotional load of living.
Studies show that even short periods of social isolation can lead to an increase in anxiety and depression.
So during this national emergency, we need to strengthen our social relationships in whatever way we can, to keep in touch and check in on each other in a safe way.
The human voice and face-to-face contact are the main ways we communicate in our western culture. We need to continue using these methods where we can while employing physical distancing.
When we engage with others digitally, we should always opt for the richer option. It’s much better to make a phone call rather than send a text, and better to skype than just make a phone call.
Be practical to counteract anxiety: Free-floating anxiety is the enemy
This vague, underlying anxiety impairs our enjoyment of life. We were already living in anxious times - Trump in the White House, Brexit – so our anxiety levels were raised anyway.
On top of this the coronavirus pandemic is something we never had to deal with before, so all of the unknowns related to it cause distress.
We can cope with free-floating anxiety by tieing down the anxiety to the actual difficulties we face day to day, rather than by speculating about imaginary what-ifs. Be practical!
This is the way we have always dealt with the problems that face us, primarily by deciding what we can do practically to solve our immediate difficulties.
The HSE has given us clear guidelines to follow, so we know what to do and to put into effect. Restricted movement means avoiding physical contact with other people as much as possible.
Don’t use public transport, don’t go to meetings or social gatherings, don’t have visitors in your home or let your children go on play dates, limit shopping, protect older people from contracting the virus, and don’t travel.
Confront the bad behavior of selfish people
One person in five - 20% - are inherently selfish
This means they may not follow those guidelines and support their fellow citizens, and consequently will put the rest of us at risk.
We’ll have to personally protect ourselves from selfish people. Those who hoard food for example, not caring for the vulnerable as long as they’re alright.
If necessary, we must call out their bad behaviour and confront them in order to protect ourselves. And remember that four people out of every five will support your stance.
Take charge and structure your day
Rather than being subjected to coronavirus, we need to be in charge of it. This means continuing to take charge of our lives.
We’re dealing with a new reality in which the world as we have known it has changed, possibly forever. It helps to put in place new behaviours that take into account our changed circumstances.
If we are used to routine, then what routines can we put in place to restore a sense of well-being?
It’s important to make a plan for the coming day e.g. after breakfast we’ll go for an hour’s walk where the children can run and tire themselves out, and when we come home there’ll be a treat of milk and biscuits, and then we’ll do a half an hour of homework followed by painting pictures, baking bread, etc.
Having the plan, the structure to our day, is important for our sense of self. It restores our sense of autonomy. And that walk is also important. If we walk the dog twice a day, then how much more do our children and ourselves need to get out and exercise safely.
Give one-on-one time to the smallies
Many parents are forced to put their children into creche because they need the two salaries to survive.
What we choose to ignore is that creches are not good for very young children.
Because there are many children in the creche, each child is forced into being sociable at too young an age, whereas what children need in their early years is one-on-one with their parents so that they can develop their true personalities in a safe environment, safe from bullying, safe from being eclipsed by stronger, more dominant personalities.
Now is an opportunity to right the balance and give to children what they need, which is one-on-one time in the home. If parents have to work from home, this is also an opportunity for children to see what that working involves.
They can view their parents in a different, perhaps more disciplined light. It’s beneficial for children to see that they’re not the complete focus of their parents’ lives, which is an important psychological mechanism in helping them to find their proper place in the world.
Use this opportunity to take stock
On a wider level, this crisis is an opportunity for all of us to step back, get off the treadmill, and to take stock of our lives.
Am I satisfied with my work/life balance? Would I prefer to be doing something else? If yes, then how could I go about achieving that goal? Could I be kinder to the planet, and how can I put that into effect?
As a family, what can we all do to help the environment? Am I happy with the way I’m reacting to this crisis, or have I let hysteria overwhelm me and spill out onto other people? Do I need to grow up a bit more?
This exceptional time has a resemblance to a mid-life crisis, where we move from being externally directed - building a career, finding a partner, buying a home, having children, pondering the bigger questions of life.
Restricted movement gives us the time to engage with these issues and renew our lives for when this period of national emergency will come to an end.
And it will come to an end. Isn’t that a hopeful goal to work towards!