Well-Being and That Virus

The advice is to be skeptical of advice—even this advice.

Posted May 27, 2020

At times, it seems that there’s almost as much of a pandemic of information about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and how to cope with it, as there is of the virus itself. It’s difficult, in fact, to browse the web without being presented, at every click, with another expert who wants to help, providing advice on what we should do to navigate this global calamity. It can be really hard to know what to pay attention to, or even if we should be paying attention to it. 

As with any highly topical and perhaps even frightening news subject, in addition to the helpful, accurate information, there is information about the virus that is mythical. You aren’t at higher risk of catching the virus if you eat at a Chinese restaurant, for example, and taking a hot bath won’t prevent you from catching the virus. Neither will regularly rinsing your nose with a saline solution. And eating large amounts of garlic won’t provide a barrier impenetrable to SARS-CoV-2.  

There is also a lot of information available, and more coming all the time, that concerns the way that people should respond to the COVID-19 situation. The implicitly authoritative nature of these messages makes them all the more powerfully suggestive. And the overwhelmingly dominant pitch is that people should be anxious, frightened, confused, and worried about the current circumstances. The recurring implication is that there is a certain way that you’re supposed to respond. The information conveying this message usually then goes on to tell you how to deal with the feelings of anxiety, fear, and so on that you’re undoubtedly experiencing. 

The point is, there is no particular way that we should be dealing with the current crisis. It’s breaking new ground for all of us. If you’re calm and content, that’s OK. It doesn’t mean you’re in denial or not facing up to your responsibilities. Well, it could mean that, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that. Similarly, if you’re worried, confused, and uncertain, it doesn’t mean that you’re overreacting and blowing things out of proportion. Again, perhaps you are, and perhaps you aren’t. If you’re grieving over the loss of a loved one, that’s entirely appropriate. 

The way you respond is the way you respond. If you’re bothered about the state in which you currently find yourself, and you want to be less bothered, do whatever you’ve done in the past to manage your botheration. Some of what you’ve done in the past might be more difficult now with the abundant restrictions that are being applied, but there is always something you can do. 

 smileus/123RF
Source: smileus/123RF

And there is no shortage of information providing advice on what you could do, such as the YouTube video: “FACE COVID: How to respond effectively to the Corona crisis” or the New York Times article: “Stop Trying to Be Productive." When considering all of this information, it can be helpful to know that these recommendations are developed from what people have found have helped other people in the past. That doesn’t necessarily mean they will help you. Maybe they will, and then again, maybe they won’t. If you don’t find them helpful, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you! It’s the advice that’s faulty, not you. Suggesting walks in the forest or hikes in the hills is unlikely to be very helpful for someone who lives in a pokey top floor flat in a busy, inner-city location. An article titled “Stop Telling Me What to Do,” or a video clip that tackles “How do you know what’s effective for me?” might be just as helpful. 

People like to do what they like to do. In the current situation, some people, such as researchers, health professionals, and delivery drivers who bring restaurant dishes to your door, are able to do even more of what they like to do. 

Other people might create opportunities to do what they like to do differently. Someone on LinkedIn, for example, announced she was attending a live music festival from the comfort of her own home and invited others to join her—virtually. And a gym instructor in Spain, after learning about the movement restrictions, put on his gym clothes, ventured to the roof of his apartment block, and started doing jumping jacks and squats. People all around began watching from their balconies and he encouraged them to join in. On a little suburban street in Stirling, Scotland, neighbours are coming out on to their footpath to play music and do dance routines. Some people might write blog articles on topics they haven’t considered before. Teachers might develop innovative ways to engage with their students from a distance. 

Undoubtedly there will be still other people who find it much harder to do what they like to do. The problem is, while restrictions can be imposed on our doing, the liking bit doesn’t disappear or get restricted in the same way. In fact, often when our doing is constrained, the liking aspect can get bigger, louder, and more urgent. Listening to, and looking at, rather than ignoring or shutting out, all those things that might be racing through your mind, can often give you important clues about the things that matter to you most, and different things you might not have thought of yet that can help you get back in balance. 

One of the most dangerous ideas we have is the belief by some people that they know what is best for others. The fact is that we don’t know the thing that is right for others to do in any given situation, and we can create more problems than we solve by asserting that we do. People will find their own way. We are who we are. If you hear some advice, or read someone’s view, and it strikes a chord, see where it leads. If it doesn’t flick your switch, that’s OK too. Keep looking. 

This is your life and your journey. In this time of no-sense, you need to make the sense that makes sense to you. Others can help you with that, but they can’t do it for you. Take what you need of all that is offered and find the way that is right for you. You, and only you, can do it. To borrow a sentiment from John F. Kennedy, “If not you, who? If not now, when?”