Thoughts From the Edge of a Pandemic
It’s a strange time right now, isn’t it? The entire globe is facing an imminent threat, the first since technology has us so connected and plugged in all the time. It’s a pressure cooker for human behavior, amplifying our usual responses and coping mechanisms.
As of this moment, we don’t know what is overreaction and what is blind complacency. All we can do is try to sort out the valid information from the noise and make the best decisions we can from what we know.
It’s evident that we need to strive to understand this virus, its treatment and its prevention. Yet also critical is that we make an effort to understand the reactions within ourselves and within those around us. Because no matter what the next few months bring, we need to work together and not allow this to further divide us.
Fear Manifests in a Multitude of Ways
Right now, you have two opposing camps – those that are voicing their fears and those that are ridiculing the people that are expressing fear. Yet the truth? Both groups – and those in between that are staying silent – are experiencing some anxiety.
Fear can often express itself in some unexpected ways – covering from anger to humor to distraction. It’s easy to miss the signs in others or even in ourselves. Learn more about how fear manifests: 15 Ways Fear Hides in Plain Sight.
We Have a Need for Action
It’s easy to laugh at the people who have been stockpiling toilet paper. Yet I understand the urge. When we feel out of control, we have a drive to do something – anything – to try to mitigate the outcome. So, yes, filling your home with endless rolls of tissue is a nonsensical response to a respiratory virus, yet it is a tangible action that people feel like they can undertake. It’s not unlike the midwives of old ordering the men to bring hot towels. Purpose and action help to temper panic. Learn more: On the Need For Action
Denial is a Protective Stance
It can be frustrating when people refuse to admit what seems obvious to others. Yet to them, that denial is what is keeping them safe. It’s confirmation bias in action; we actively discard information that doesn’t match our beliefs while seeking out points of view that conform that we are correct. And confirmation bias is extremely resistant to change. Learn more: Jumping to Conclusions.
All Loss Brings Grief
At this point, the actual number of deaths in low from a global standpoint. Most of us are still untouched by the actual illness. Yet we are all grieving. Trips have been canceled or postponed indefinitely. Sporting events shuttered. Planned gatherings dissolved. School events removed from the calendar.
Yes, in the scheme of things, these things are minor. Yet, every loss brings grief as expectations are dashed and a new reality is accepted. And just like with everything, people respond to grief in myriad ways.
Shame is Used as Self-Protection
From racist remarks and actions towards the Chinese to memes implying that those who become ill are filthy and don’t have basic hygiene mastered, there is quite a bit of “us” vs “them” going around. Where whatever commonality that the “them” group shares is absent in the “us” group, thus providing a sense of invincibility. We want to believe that we have control and sometimes this is used as an excuse to hurt others.
When Stressed, We Think in Absolutes
Our stressed brains are not our best brains. The ability to reason and consider multiple perspectives is reduced and we have a tendency to revert to all-or-none thinking. This makes dialog more challenging, as it feels more like a battle for the “win” than an exchange of ideas.
A Plea For Patience
By all accounts, we’re in for a challenging few months, regardless of the trajectory of the virus. Lives have been upended (at least in the short run), financial futures are uncertain, and emotions are running high. Now more than ever, be kind to one another. Seek to understand the motivation behind the words or actions that seem out-of-place. Consider that people can have different approaches to the same problem and different responses to the same situations.
Remember that we’re all in this together.