But it is priceless
Back in March, as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, as a nation we banded together, did the right things, stayed home, and bent the curve. We saw great creativity in how we dealt with enforced isolation and there was a great sense of hope. Tentatively, governments eased restrictions and we reopened, and breathed a collective sigh of relief, that maybe, just maybe we were through this pandemic. However, history with the Spanish Influenza pandemic told us that there was likely to be a second wave and that we had to be careful.
As the second wave unfolded, we felt disappointment, we were “over it”, the positive focus of the first wave seemed not to be there. This is entirely normal. It is like the person living with chronic illness or injury who has good periods then one day their back flares up again and they have a period of trying to manage with pain and restricted movement. It’s a setback. Adversity is something that we learn to deal with, we draw upon our capacities, our resources to find ways of dealing with disappointment, we find work-arounds and we draw upon our strengths – the strengths that we all have to get through.
We are trying to navigate something that most of us have not had to navigate before. We’re in the middle kilometres of the COVID-19 marathon. As hard as it might sound, we need to find hope among all the statistics, the fatigue, and the recriminations, as hope is a really powerful tool to get us through.
Resilience can be seen as an overused word. Let’s simply see it as our inner strength to deal with adversity, our resourcefulness to solve problems, our capacity to find a way out of the dark. Some of these capacities are innate, others we can unlock and build upon. Having hope is a protective factor. That hope can be as simple as knowing there will be an end. The Spanish Influenza pandemic ended, the SARS virus ended and the Ebola outbreak was contained. By thinking we are in the middle of something, it suggests there is an end.
We know from our long experience in working with communities under extended stress, as they recover from bushfires, cyclones or floods, that there are peaks and troughs, and the post disaster period will see a long trough of disappointment and disillusionment. However, people work through these feelings and emotions. Some come out the other side, reporting that they have grown as a result of the experience. The notion of Post Traumatic Growth, as featured in SBS’s recent episode of The Feed, is increasingly understood – the idea that a traumatic incident can also lead to a positive change in life. This gives us something we can focus on. But how do we do it?
Firstly, we need to acknowledge this is tough. It’s OK to be feeling how you are. This is normal. We need to recognise that the impacts of the pandemic hit people differently: Young people, those unemployed, those grieving for family, those who are unable to see family members etc.
In our disaster work we acknowledge that five pillars of support – safety, calming, connection, self-efficacy and hope – are the basis for helping people navigate through difficult and challenging times. The public health messages, keeping safe distances, cough etiquette, masks and staying home are about keeping us and others in the community safe.
High levels of anxiety are normal with uncertainty, pandemics hit people differently: we need to take steps to bring calm; healthy habits such as good diet, sleep, reducing stimulants and learning relaxation techniques are important to manage these ups and downs; our connections to others are our greatest asset. Sure, we aren’t able to see people now, or not as much as we’d like, but we can still connect, and pandemics hit people differently: to people we know, and people we don’t know: phone, video, across the garden fence; even a letter is a powerful tool to connect, or to local Facebook or other social groups. Don’t be afraid to call out for advice or help.
Self-efficacy is about taking control. As many things are out of our control at the moment, and our personal freedoms are limited for a greater good, we need to find the things that we can control. What we wear, what we will cook, what movie we can watch, planning out the day, the week. These might seem like small things, but each of them gives us a degree of control and this can then be extended, as we are able to.
Finally, hope. We need to find little signs of hope. Adopting a positive mindset, however small the task or action is, can be beneficial.
Similarly to focusing on the tasks you can control, focus hope on small things: “The weather will be good”, “The dinner I plan will be excellent”, “I am looking forward to the conversation with a friend”. “I look forward to the next Outer Sanctum podcast”. Take notice of the things around you, and immerse yourself in them.
My 17-year-old daughter was in a group chat with her friends, and someone shared a message from a girl in New Zealand, who talked about getting through their lockdown. It was a message of hope and they all commented on how much better it made them feel. I learned recently from my 92-year-old aunt, that my grandfather, recently demobilised from WW1, contracted the Spanish influenza in 1918, and was perilously close to dying. He survived and lived a full life to 97-years-old.
The sum of all these parts are the things that will help give us hope and will help us navigate through this once-in-a-generation challenge. I know I am not able to kayak at the moment in the early morning serenity of the bay, but I am hopeful that I will soon be able again and this is what I look forward to. It’s a bit of a beacon. Hope doesn’t cost us anything, but it is priceless.
John Richardson, National Resilience Advisor at Australian Red Cross
Published on August 12, 2020
Co-authored with Shona Whitton, National Coordinator-Recovery and Psychosocial Support, Australian Red Cross
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