Coping in these uncertain times

We are living in extraordinarily uncertain times at this moment.

The Covid-19 virus and its rapid and exponential spread across the globe has engendered massive anxiety for all of us. More than that, we have been forced to change our behaviour and how we live, for now but I also believe for the future.

A significant part of being human is our predisposition to cling to certainty, routine, safety and security and being able live a life that is predictable and known.

However, the global threat of the coronavirus has forced all of us into a deep and profound sense of uncertainty, of not knowing when this invisible and potentially deadly “enemy” will strike our homes, our families and ourselves. We are frightened, and that’s human.

When danger lurks, we instinctively feel driven to protect ourselves and our loved ones. As part of this response, mostly we adhere to the restrictions imposed by government under this “state of emergency”.

It’s a very different state of emergency which we experienced under the Apartheid government; there we knew who our enemy was we could experience them with our senses, they were knowable, albeit treacherous and dangerous in and of itself. But, this invisible “enemy” that’s all-pervasive and spreads like wildfire across land and sea, at a rapid speed, is unknown so how do we protect ourselves.

All the stringent efforts we make to be hygienic, self-isolate and quarantine, can help, but still within us, there is a profound fear and deep anxiety that has caused a total disruption of life as we know it.

The penny dropped when President Cyril Ramaphosa, announced the threat of Covid-19, a national disaster on Sunday March 15.

Prior to that I believe many South Africans hoped it would not hit the Southern tip of Africa, that we were too far from the epicentre of the origin of this threat.

But as more confirmed Covid-19 cases were reported in South Africa, it shattered this hope for many of us as we rudely awakened to the reality of this deadly virus having made its menacing entrance onto African soil.

We are now almost a week into the 21 days of the lockdown announced by President Ramaphosa on Monday March 23.

The focus being to contain the virus and help “flatten the curve” on the number of infections.

It feels as if there is a quiet before the storm, whereby many South Africans are anticipating that we will be hit hard by this disease.

Mainly because we have not even begun to deal with our socio-political and economic problems. We know that the majority of South Africans cannot afford to stay home, are poverty stricken, and live in poorly serviced communities, where social distancing in all likelihood is not possible.

Moreover, if you don’t have money and your family is starving of hunger, extreme hygiene may not be a priority or even feasible.

But still, to stop the spread of the virus it is advised that we follow the measures imposed by government, to stay home and not go out.

The following are recommended for individuals dealing with quarantine or isolation:

Physical exercise, such as yoga, tai chi, stretching, walking or dancing

Spiritual practices which helps to engender stillness and calm

Cognitive exercises such as puzzles, learning something new online, gardening or cooking

Relaxation exercises such as breathing, meditation, mindfulness

Reading books and magazines

Reducing the time spent looking at fearful images or catastrophic stories

Reducing time listening to rumours or fake information spread via social media

Searching for information from reliable sources

Reducing time looking for information (one to two times a day, rather than constantly/every hour)

Staying in contact with family and friends via online platforms to help reduce feelings of isolation or loneliness

Allowing your children to express their feelings about the virus. Talk about it in a simplified way to them, with reduced negative information, and try to find creative ways to manage your own anxiety so that they can feel a sense of safety and protection. Remind them that you, as caregivers, are there for them and are protecting them.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) advises the following for dealing with stress during the Covid-19 outbreak:

It is normal to feel sad, distressed, worried, confused, scared or angry during a crisis.

Talk to people you trust. Contact your friends and family. Maintain a healthy lifestyle (including a proper and balanced diet, sleep, exercise and social contact with loved ones at home).

Don’t use tobacco, alcohol or other drugs to cope with difficult emotions.

If you feel overwhelmed, talk to a health worker, social worker, similar professional, or another trusted person in your community, such as a religious leader or community elder.

Seek help for physical and mental health and psychosocial needs, if required.

Get the facts about your risk and how to take precautions. Use credible sources to get information, such as the WHO website.

During this time of isolation I hope you find this poem And The People Stayed Home by Kitty O’Meara as inspiring as many others have

And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows.

And the people began to think differently.

And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

Carin-Lee Masters is a clinical psychologist.