Could there be positives to the (terrible) COVID-19 crisis to learn from?
It occurred to me, as I strolled the grocery isles with my cart unusually full of raw vegetables, given the lack of meat, and after my third walk for the day, that there may be some positive’s to our current COVID-19 situation. And that in these positives perhaps some lessons to take forward with us. As a psychologist and therapist I am hearing my client’s share their own positive experiences as well, often different from mine, and sometimes the same. With the amount of fear and negatively bombarding us daily, I thought these insights might be worth sharing.
Disclaimer: This is in no way meant to minimize or dismiss the very real and significant negative impacts of COVID-19, including on peoples’ physical, financial, emotional and mental wellbeing. We need to continue to take the necessary preventative measures to keep safe.
In my office I’ve heard some version of “I finally feel like I can take a break” near daily in these first few weeks. People who are endlessly hard on themselves, performacne-driven, perfectionist, achievers, over-accomplishers, optimizers, and all other’s that struggle to afford themselves the rest they need, this has been a welcomed change of pace. Finally a valid reason to slow down. The struggle to compassionately listen to and honour one’s own needs, particularly the need to slow down or rest. This can normally be difficult in a culture in which overworking seems to be a badge of honour to humble-brag about at social gatherings. When this need for rest and downtime come into conflict with the expectations of yourself or others, it can feel impossible to honour the break you need and keep the demands of your work, life, family met. For the first time for some, or at least since they were young children, they have been able to lean into life’s natural pace.
Not Feeling Alone
As one client eloquently put it, how everyone feels right now, like they are on edge, fearful of something bad happening, unsure of the future, is how [he] feels all the time. For him, it feels nice to finally feel understood, like other’s have a sense, a window now into what it feels like to be him. There is great relief in not feeling alone in our pain, and for several people including this client, this has allowed some version of that. This seems true on a larger scale as well. We have come together as a country, all going through this together. Most all are assuming their responsibility in self-isolating to support the wellbeing of each other with limited push-back or complaint, despite the significant negative impacts this has on our lives. It’s inspiring how quickly we can come together as a community to support the overall good. I’m left wondering what else we could achieve if we came together.
A Different Pace of Parenting
Parenting is a tough and stressful job. To make matters worse, daycares and schools are closed. If you have work, you no longer have childcare, which puts you in a bind. As a parent to 2 wonderful little girls, ages 3 & 5, and with our work both affected, my family too has found this challenging. But in this I have also noticed a true gift. We have time and are no longer rushing. With no skating lessons, daycare drop-offs, swimming lessons, library class, etc. we no longer have anywhere to urgently be. We move at the pace of the little ones, planning our next moments by what they seem to need and not rushing between tasks. They want to read books, lets do it. They want to go outside or have a dress-up party, sure! Overall for my family, as well as those around me, it seems to be slowing down the rush of parenting in a way our collective children are responding well to.
I’m sure you have heard about the clear waters of the Venice Canals filled with swans and fish, the dolphins swimming off the coast in many places, and the air pollution being at significant lows saving many people with respiratory conditions’ lives. If you haven’t it’s worth a read. This is not an area of expertise of mine more but I find this incredible and hopeful.
Time With Your Loved Ones
The norm for many is to work a hard, long work-week followed by a busy schedule of shuttling kids to activities, look after aging parents, trying to exercise, and other demands. Time seems endlessly and overwhelmingly low in it’s supply. Our culture has out-paced itself in a way that likely isn’t sustainable. We can be left feeling there’s too much to do with not enough time to do it in, and are putting fingers in the damn trying to manage it all. From this organized chaos we have been forced to pause and slow down. As the busyness clears away it leaves us looking in the eyes of those we have been so busy working so hard for: our parents, our children, our partners, our friends. And for those lucky enough to share isolation with their loved one(s), there is now, finally, time for your relationship. Regardless of the state of your relationship this can be a positive. Either a chance to enjoy what you have built together, or a chance to work on what needs to change. As a couples’ therapist many of my clients are using this as a chance to better their relationship with online therapy. This makes sense. If your are going to be stuck in the same hours together, spending vast amounts of time with each other, it’s probably a good idea to make it a positive experience. I see this as a positive and my hope is that we may come out of this crisis more connected to those special few that we love.
With nothing else to do, people are taking to being outside in huge numbers while maintaining respectful distance apart. Children are building snowmen in their backyards, adults are going for runs, neighbours are sitting on their decks or porches again, dogs are getting their needed walks, and so much more. Life outside has blossomed and is alive. And for good reason. We are drawn to nature. It is good for us. With the absence of options we have resorted to our oldest and most basic support system: Mother Nature. Ideally we can maintain this collective habit long after this crisis ends. That months from now we all remember to sit out on the deck, to walk the dog a little longer, and to send out children outside to play rather than turn the TV on.
To clarify again, no one, not one person I have spoken with nor myself, is suggesting COVID-19 is a good thing. Perhaps though, there are lessons embedded in this disaster for us to learn. Things that we can take forward to be healthy and happier in ourselves, in our relationships, and in our larger global community. Perhaps there is an opportunity in this crisis to gain both personal and collective wisdom from the pain.
Written by Daniel McMillan M.Ed., R.Psych.
Daniel is a registered psychologist working out of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He counsels individuals and couples in the areas of mental health, relationship, trauma, and men’s mental health issues. More about Daniel can be found at www.assuredpsychology.com or www.calgarycouples.com