We may not be able to control the virus, but we can control how we respond to it.
Well, here we are. Faced with what is being billed as one of the most existential threats of the century. The optics are hard to ignore, with closures, quarantines, not to mention the emotional, financial and environmental crisis we are now all facing.
How we act in these moments is critical. Because our actions now will affect the actions of our future. The actions of our children. And their children. As they and the world watch, we must be our best selves. We must set a proper example.
Right now, we’re not.
This is an inflection point of humanity, not because of a virus, but how we behave in the shadow of one. I believe everyone can manage both the disease and the anxiety it causes. If we do it right.
I’m a writer, not a doctor or psychologist. My partner, Luis Ramirez, and I own a small marketing firm in Los Angeles. But my early days were working as a journalist. And the job of a journalist is to listen, and report. And many things assembled here have come from listening and learning from others, witnessing behavior (including my own) and hearing the fears being shared.
I am not a de facto voice of reason. I am simply a voice. And we’re not hearing many of them telling us things we need to hear. Words can help. So let’s figure this thing out.
There is a psychological burden that we all carry. And what can be even more dangerous than the physical spread is the information spread. We’re getting unclear answers, and that leads to a general unease in society. The shared anxieties of what’s next, consumes our “what’s now.”
We are hungry for info. It’s like a drug. Every moment lived feels like the three ellipses on our iphone, waiting to see the next disruption to society.
Then, we sink deeper.
Never before in human history have we had the kind of access to information as we do now. And never before have people had the ability to manipulate that information for good or bad. So it is up to us, to regulate our own behavior, and limit that cerebral feedback loop, so when we reemerge with normalcy, our actions are ones we can be proud of.
Here are a few ways to mentally get us through this crisis.
Stop Weaponizing Anxiety
It’s normal to have anxiety and unease. But don’t unknowingly turn it into weaponized friendly fire. If we share our own despair on social media, it does not help, and may be a trigger for some. It simply promotes panic buying, and spreads into an emotional pandemic.
Eventually, we will find out about Tom Hanks. About the NBA. We see with our own eyes the empty stadiums. We know the long lines. It takes a mental toll. And as much as the intention may be to show vulnerability or “we’re all in this together,” that sometimes has a reverse effect. In this case, we’re all in this together may make us lose hope. And that is the one staple we all must have.
Right now, we must be the best versions of ourselves. To get through, we cannot do that by hoarding or the self-preserving acts driven by our lizard brain. We must present the light, when the darkness appears.
We must counterbalance despair with a smile when everyone looks like they are having a meltdown. We must help others before we help ourselves. We must be patient in the lines, with the workers. This is a very conscious effort and will not come naturally. But it is one moment when the oxygen mask must go on someone else, before being put on ourself.
Stop Panic Buying
Images on the news and social media of panic buying are what caused the community spread of fear in the first place. This is a case of FOMO in a world where missing out is now of much higher consequence. Panic buying allows us to feel in control, with an unintended side effect: others feel out of control.
But it also brings to light the economic imbalance in our country. As some live paycheck to paycheck, work two 35 hours jobs so companies can avoid insurance, this presents a problem. Not everyone can afford to buy for weeks ahead. Not everyone can take the bus to multiple stores to find basic necessities that have been cleaned out because of hoarding. Not everyone can afford losing the meal that a closed school used to provide, or finding childcare.
The irrational images online of panic buying trigger others. Then, even the rational feel like they now have a reason to buy. It’s an emotionally diseased loop. For us to get through this crisis, we must think about our behavior and act in the interest of others. We must be thoughtful, and expand our worldview to include those who cannot afford to do what we are doing. Otherwise, this is just another effect of our economically divided society.
Check In With Others Emotionally
A friend of mine posted something on social media that said, “How is everyone?” Simple, but it helped. I just needed someone to ask that question, as it broke the spell, and led to the seeds of this piece.
The answers were not even important, and I didn’t even read them. But I just needed that prompt to think about how I am. To stop and really think.
Right now, on top of the physical fears that the media has stoked, we also have the disappointment of important things being gone. Plays, games, concert events, field trips have all been cancelled. That presents an emotional toll on top of the rest of this madness.
It’s ok to feel bad about loss. Don’t feel bad for feeling bad. As you examine the crisis overall, don’t think your inconvenience means less. It doesn’t. So try to be there for yourself and others who need an emotional pick-me-up.
And now, I ask each of you that same question: “How are you?”
Check In On Others Physically
There are neighbors in your area. Ones that don’t have the mental or physical ability to get out, to stock up. They rely on services and the kindness of others to help. It’s important to identify these marginalized people, whether they are single parents, aging adults, have no family or are otherwise incapacitated.
We need to come together as a community and help people in the neighborhood. Check in on those who need help. If you have the means, get them supplies, stop by for a visit, or just be a friendly face. If you are nervous about these events, imagine going through it alone.
Don’t Make This A Layer Cake Of Problems
Coronavirus is bad enough. So let’s take a break from a political banter or finger pointing that goes on top. We must keep our eye on this ball, not the one behind us. Please stop sharing conspiracy theories, politics, or anything else that does not help with the immediate crisis we are trying to resolve. Don’t cause outrage or use it as a platform to showcase any side of the political spectrum. This is a problem that should not be conflated with political ideology.
Why? Because we need to find something to trust, whether it is the science, the government, our faith. But trust something. Otherwise, people take things into their own hands, and problems arise. That is why we must address this as a whole, and not split our collective conscious. We must push everything aside to come together as one.
Organizations are trying to do their best to balance the needs of all people. Please don’t expect these groups to make decisions simply in your own self-interest. They must be made in the interest of the community at large. In LAUSD, where I have two kids, there are many factors to consider before shutting down. Sometimes, these schools offer the only meals kids have all day. That should taken into account as much as community spread.
LA Unified announced their closure as of Monday, but If you are in a school that has not shut down, and don’t feel comfortable being there, pull your kid out. It’s simple, you don’t need the district to do it for you.
And don’t weaponize your social media post condemning any group’s decision. All that will accomplish is anger, potential hurt feelings or confirmation bias. Honestly, nothing will be gained.
Is What I Am Doing Helping?
I just watched Office Space with my son. There was a sign that said “Is this good for the company?” I think we can use that loosely to ask ourselves a very similar question.
Before you post the line photo at the grocery store, the latest festival cancellation, a rumor about the freeway closing, or an empty stadium pic, think for a second:
Will this hurt people who are seeing it or help them?
I’m as guilty as anyone else for doing this, early on, but found this to be helpful in deciding what to post as the crisis went on. If we all assume that critical mindset, take a breath and think it through, it will make for a more positive social media feed.
As with any time of crisis, moments of despair and triumph will emerge. Moments of cowardice and moments of bravery. Moments of pain and moments of beauty. Let’s share the good, as the bad spreads quickly on its own.
Take a Newsbreak
The incentive of the news is to get people hooked and to watch. Regardless of whether it is left, right or center. So they are constantly looking for the scoop in connection with this outbreak. The graver the better.
And that extends to the distribution, on Twitter, Facebook and the like. Further driving this are people’s insatiable need for new information. They want more and when there is not more, they seek it out by watching Contagion on Netflix (which is currently trending).
That constant feeling of powerlessness, being witness to a familiar world slowly shutting down is not healthy. So cleanse your mind and your anxiety by limiting the news, either online, on tv, or in your social feed. Especially limit before bed and in the morning.
Support Your Local Business
There will be lost tips, lost shifts, lost fares, increase in childcare, etc. These fundamental changes attack those who live on that margin. When business is taken away, so is income. So is a way to pay for medicine, or food, or rent. As much as you can do to continue to support these businesses, the better it will be for those people who depend on it.
This is an evolving situation. And believe me, I made some of these errors as well. But as we get into this new reality, the fear will most likely be worse than the reality.
We live in a world where we need to believe that people are fundamentally good, or we cannot survive as a species. There is not enough policing for our population. So that is why we self-police, follow rules and try to be fair and honest. It’s the mark of a civilized nation, and we must work hard to continue that, even in the hardest times.
And right now, I believe this moment qualifies.