This article originally featured in the May 2020 issue of Connect.

How to Keep Safe and Sane at this Uncertain Time

Caroline Allen (Tottori)

We’re living in historic and unpredictable times. Our newsfeeds are full of anxiety-inducing facts about the spread of a virus with no cure, invisible and insidious. The scariest part is nobody knows how far-reaching it is. Nobody is safe.

So now that that cheerful news is out of the way, let’s talk about ways you can stay sane in a country that forces you to desk-warm and where medical masks are rarer than diamonds.

We’re living in a time of division and uncertainty

This is a time unlike any we’ve lived through before but I think the sense of impending doom has been in the air for a while now. Life has been getting scarier, incrementally. Year on year, the world seems to grow more chaotic and unstable. Politics has become more extreme and surreal. The human impact on the world around us has become harder to deny. For many of the younger generations, it seems impossible to imagine the clean, neat future our parents could look forward to. Not only that but even the tools we use to communicate and connect, like social media, seem to divide us more than unite us. I’ve seen it myself and it saddens me. I think this new age of information has enormous power and potential for good, but it also exploits the worst weaknesses of the people who use it.

Our desire to be compassionate, curious, to refrain from immediate judgement and to see the humanity in the people we disagree with is immediately usurped by our desire to be instantly gratified, convinced of our self-righteousness and our infinite capacity to condemn and vilify. It’s a fallacy to think of any era or time period as perfect, but it’s wearying to be told this is “the worst” time. Everything is hyperbole. We’re “trash”, we’re “cancelled,” it’s all funny until it isn’t. I don’t know how we are supposed to function with this constant drip-feed of opinions, facts, half-facts and immediate bulldozing judgement—a world where the biggest taboo is to say “I don’t have an opinion on that yet.”

Coronavirus arrived at an already chaotic time

Then the pandemic came. Quick and brutal, it spread throughout the world. Living partly in this world and partly in the twilight half-world of the internet, where we absorbed the gravity of the news. Something genuinely life-changing has happened and it doesn’t feel quite real. We have this shadowy grasp on the reality that we may lose people we love and that—as kumbaya as it sounds—this affects all of us.

Chances are, you’ve survived tough times before

Nobody alive has ever lived through a pandemic quite as far-reaching as this one. Its domain is vaster than any world war that has preceded it. For those of us who grew up during the Great Recession, there’s a good chance that all this talk of economic collapse will bring up memories of that tough time. We’ll be isolated, alone, not thrust together to make the most of things. Like a recession, this will affect some of us more than others and it will make all of our futures much more frightening and uncertain. AOur lifeline to the outside world will be the internet, and that frightens me.

I spent all of my teenage years in an Ireland badly hit by the 2008 financial crash. I really want to say something plucky and spirited about how I ended up becoming resourceful and found charming ways to spend my days and make a bit of cash but honestly, it was terrible, not helped by the fact I was a bratty teenager. I remember the grey of those days. The feeling of going without and feeling less than. Yes, I was lucky. Yes, other people had it worse. But I’m telling you the truth of how it felt to me at that time.

And yet, I survived. Nearly everyone did, some without their original dreams or businesses or houses intact. For me, for my family, for my country, it was a rocky journey that made us question our self-identity and sometimes made us really question ourselves. I know that another recession is on its way, on time in a cyclical fashion. This time I’m 24, not 14. I’ve had a taste of adult life and I’ve thought about what I want in life, and what I want is a sense of purpose and to belong to a solid community.

It’s obvious, but limit your use of social media. Value a healthy dose of

Everyone has a hot take online. Maintain your social distance from all unverified rumors and unproven cures. Stick to trusted sources, like the World Health Organization (WHO), national and international newspapers with good reputations and legitimate healthcare professionals. And if you can, try to maintain your distance from social media for a while.

There is a world of beauty out there: dozens of books, podcasts, and television series. It’s OK to immerse yourself in another world, for a time. I’ve seen so many wonderful recommendations; for reading lists and old movies. Consider using this time to develop a new skill or hobby. There is a lot of good to be found in exercise, and there are many workout videos and yoga tutorials to be found online. It’s also possible to use this time to brush up on your cooking skills or try out painting or another form of art. Whatever it is, try to find something that soothes your soul and distracts you in a healthy way.

Reach out to the people you love, at home and away. It doesn’t have to be a long phone call, even a quick text or message sent to someone can restore a sense of normality and reassure you that the people you care about are safe and close to you in a meaningful way.

Surviving this uncertain future, together

We can survive this uncertain future if we find the humanity within each other. If we can laugh at each other’s jokes. If we can still have crushes on each other. If we can explain our differences of opinion in a civilized way. We can also survive this time by leaning into ourselves and our values. Do we value kindness? Do we value courage? Do we value compassion? This is a time to reflect on things that run deeper than the divisions that have concerned us—often understandably—for so long.

Concrete ways you can help

There are concrete ways we can help each other. Try to stay in touch with people and offer a hand to your neighbors and community. Look out for those who seem isolated or vulnerable, especially those whose immune system might be compromised or those with underlying health conditions, both physical and mental. This is a time of high anxiety, especially for those suffering from conditions such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder or OCD.

Offer to deliver groceries for those who are housebound and don’t be stingy or petty with an extra roll of toilet paper. This is a time to bury hatchets with those we might not be on good terms with. It’s important to do as much as we can to help those who need our help.

Please, whatever happens, don’t panic. Let’s stay safe together and try our best to be kind and hopefully we can come out of this experience better, not worse.