8 Uplifting Lessons We Can Learn in the Midst of This Pandemic
I think it’s no exaggeration to say the last few weeks have been a global learning curve. Everything we have been taking for granted, from a morning flat white to the stability of a monthly paycheck, has been uprooted and rearranged beyond recognition. There’s a lot we can learn from this new and transient period of our lives, and a lot of new wisdom we can take with us into the future. In the midst of uprooting, we have time to take a close look at the fresh soil that’s left behind and redefine what’s essential.
Here are the lessons I’ve learned — and continue to learn — while in quarantine.
1 | We are all more connected than it first may seem.
When everything was still open and the first cases of COVID-19 started popping up around Ireland, the interconnected web of all our lives seemed to materialise before my eyes. Everywhere I went, I noticed how many people touched my life every day, directly and indirectly. I began to truly consider the effects of my actions on others — including complete strangers.
As if with new eyes, I started paying attention to the people across from me on the bus to work, strolling through the park, or brushing past me in the supermarket aisles. Where were they heading? What job were they rushing off to? Did they have relatives at risk?
Living in the digital age, especially as an introvert, makes it easy to retreat into a bubble. A spread of this magnitude, however, reaffirms our connection. Community transmission relies on community, whether or not we consider ourselves part of one. Suddenly, we depend on our community more than ever to keep our loved ones safe.
Outside of our immediate surroundings, we connect on a fundamental level with people from every corner of the world. The worldwide trend of panic-buying pasta and toilet paper alone demonstrates our shared concerns. On a brighter note, we find connection by playing music on our balconies, clapping at our doorsteps for healthcare workers, and helping vulnerable neighbours stock up on vital supplies. For better or worse, we are all going through this together.
There is a whole new level of appreciation brewing for family, friendships, and social media communities. Having a supportive space where we can share our fears and hopes has proved invaluable. Technology has had our backs in this pandemic — and we can feel grateful for the great strides made by startups and tech companies in recent years to make it so.
2 | To stay sane in uncertain times, take control of the news you consume instead of letting it consume you.
For the first few weeks of the pandemic, I, along with millions of others, was glued to the news. I couldn’t focus for an hour without Googling the case statistics or checking for local lockdown updates. Most of the time, I stumbled across nothing new — just more of the same worrying broadcast.
The news cycle is designed to keep you coming back for more. It is also skewed negatively by default, thriving on fear and uncertainty. No matter how many times you refresh the page, you won’t find all the answers you need. Instead, you will find yourself worried, paralysed and unable to create or make decisions for fear that any new developments will render your actions useless.
Needless to say, it is essential to stay up to speed with local and global developments at a time of crisis, particularly when they affect your daily routines. But obsessively checking the news isn’t going to make you more informed or better prepared for what’s ahead — it will only make you more anxious and distracted.
These days are already uncertain enough. If you find yourself tossing and turning at night or unable to concentrate on work, it’s time to switch off — or at least limit — your daily news intake. One way to balance the scales is subscribing to positive broadcasts such as The Happy Newspaper or John Krasinski’s Some Good News, to remember all the positive things happening in the world.
3 | Fear and compassion are both powerful motivators.
A global pandemic has a funny way of exposing the extremities of human behaviour — compassion and kindness on one side, and selfish survival instincts on the other. Over the last few weeks, we have all experienced the power of fear first hand. Fear is what drove thousands to clear supermarket shelves of essentials. It’s what enabled governments around the world to shut down cities and put in place unprecedented emergency measures. Unfortunately, fear is also the cause for millions of layoffs and redundancies across all sectors.
Fear has pushed all of us to act — and act faster than we thought possible. It has shown us the level of change we are capable of, despite the less than ideal circumstances. But acting based on fear tends to stray from our usual value and is unsustainable in the long run. For instance, a decision to buy four multipacks of toilet paper seems foolish and selfish when we’re reminded of the most vulnerable members of society who might have to go without.
While acting on fear is an understandable reaction under the current circumstances, being self-aware and honest about these decisions will allow us to spot them in the future. By questioning our motives and recognising fear as a driving force, we can choose to act from a place of growth and compassion instead, in alignment with our true values.
4 | Life is unpredictable, and it sure can throw a curveball.
If we’ve all learned one thing over the last few weeks, it’s to expect the unexpected.
No matter how set in stone you think your life might be, it could be flipped in an instant. The perfect job, the city break you’ve been planning, even the festival you’ve got tickets for — all of these are open to change. Of course, we are all facing an extreme situation right now — but that simple fact remains.
This is a lesson about our beliefs, prompting us to challenge all the assumptions about life that we’ve been taking for granted. It’s a prompt to remain flexible, both in practical terms as well as in mindset. For peace of mind, it helps to always have a plan B ready to action, whether it’s a business continuity strategy, an emergency fund, or travel insurance.
On the flip side, this can be interpreted as a challenge — to be more spontaneous, to take risks, to take that once-in-a-lifetime trip or start looking for that dream job when the going is good. You never know where you might be tomorrow (even though right now, it’s likely to be home).
5 | We need a lot less than we think.
At the beginning of the year, asking yourself about the essentials you need to survive would have been an abstract thought experiment. And yet here we are, listing off our essentials as we brave the biweekly shop, and plotting the safest route to walk back around the block.
When we strip away the noise, it turns out we don’t need all that much. All of the products we’ve been adding to wishlists or pining after on Instagram are now non-essentials. In the workplace, we find ourselves making do with what we have. Suddenly, we don’t need high tech solutions or expensive suits — we connect just fine with the basics. We set up makeshift WFH stations at the kitchen table and Zoom call our colleagues in pyjama bottoms. We find solutions where before we found problems. What we have will do, and what we don’t have we can go without.
As if by default, many of us are becoming more conscious consumers. Before we make an online purchase, we Google the working conditions of warehouse staff to check if they have access to PPE. We try to support small local businesses as an alternative to big brands that will find it easier to pick up the pieces. We think twice before we grab produce at the supermarket — even if only to protect ourselves from germs.
This is an experiment in essentialism — a rejigging of perspective stemming from a reduction to bare basics. And to many of us, it’s living proof that we don’t need all that stuff. Instead, we get to look within. And once this is over, we can handpick the pieces we want to put back into our lives.
6 | We have got enough time.
We all know Parkinson’s law: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. Alternatively applied, our constant ‘busy’ state filled our time, expanding indefinitely until external forces shut it down. Now, we find ourselves rearranging our schedules, finding pockets of time for activities that once seemed far beyond reach.
A day in isolation is long and short all at once. It is long because there is plenty of time to fit in exercise, healthy meals and daily walks. It is short because even the most stressful and lonely days fade out into the night. The day stretches at will, allowing time to slow down by reading a book in the morning sun or speed up by binge-watching Tiger King. Away from most sources of external pressure, the choice is up to us. Finally, we come face to face with our excuses.
Perhaps many of us needed to try our hand at slower living. By the time we reenter the regular world, we might find it easier to slot in our new habits — and calling a friend, practising yoga or meditating will no longer seem an impossible feat.
7 | In times of crisis, we turn to creatives.
Creativity is not cancelled — it carries on. Through the toughest times, it rises up in new forms as well as the conventional. When a crisis hits, we turn to art as a form of escapism and reassurance. Through books, films, editorials, podcasts, digital art, and even TikToks, we find solace and comfort. In art, we restore a sense of normality, and we find our way back to ourselves.
The wave of art seen in recent weeks is responsive, seeking to make sense of this new reality. It notices the things that unite us, shaping our perspective on the world and all the people who share it. And while we increasingly consume art in all its forms, we also find space for creativity in our own lives. Over the last few days alone I’ve seen people hosting paint-alongs on Instagram live, baking intricate pastries, sharing their quarantine book stacks (here’s mine!) and writing letters to friends in isolation. In the midst of uncertainty, we continue to find ways to stay connected with our loved ones and with ourselves. Through old and new mediums, we continue to create.
8 | Nature can teach us a lot about resilience.
Springtime has arrived, despite the odds. Shut out from man-made public spaces, many of us have begun to seek nature. We seek a more active and balanced life, finding comfort in the patterns, colours and sounds of the natural world. We are doing this in such quantities that countries across Europe have taken steps to close parks, hiking trails and beaches to prevent mass gatherings of nature-seekers. And still, millions have taken up running just to catch a glimpse of nature and a breath of fresh air.
While pandemic-induced news stories such as dolphins making an appearance in Venetian canals are fake, our hopes for them to be true are real. We believe in the resilience of nature. We want to know that it is possible to return to our natural state and carry on, because we need to know it is possible for us to do it too.
Nature can teach us a lot about resilience. It rebuilds and carries on in seasons. It blossoms outside our windows and on our Instagram feeds. Despite everything we throw its way, it keeps on going — and so will we.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve been learning during this strange time? Let me know in the comments below or over on Instagram. And while you’re here, why not check out my guide to working from home without going stir-crazy?
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