Covid-19 has taken over our airwaves, our social media, our conversations and ultimately our lives. Most of the news we receive is bleak and the end of self-isolation seems like a far away land. But could the way we are responding to the Covid-19 threat have any positive impact on us as individuals, as societies and on humanity as a whole? These experts certainly think so…
- We’ve stopped taking things for granted
Who else is pining for a walk outside? Having lunch in a cafe or even just going to work?
“Times like these, though worrying and overwhelming, provide clarity for a lot of people, in terms of their life and the way they have been living it,” explains psychologist Fiona Barron. “It allows people to step back and reflect on what really matters, and lets them appreciate how much they miss the simplest of things, such as a hug from a friend, office chatter, going to the gym and wandering around the mall. The phrase: ‘You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’ has never been so true.” Barron, the head of training and development at LEAP leadership courses, believes Covid-19 will change us for the better in the long-term, too.
“People have time to pause and reflect, in order to form new habits that will stay long after we recover from this.”
The vulnerable have become our priority
We’re so busy with our own lives that thinking of others isn’t always a priority, but is Covid-19 changing that?
“Challenging times often provide an opportunity for social bonding and although we can not physically rally together, we are seeing wonderful acts of connection,“ says Barron. “Whether it’s shops changing their opening hours to cater to the elderly or neighbors volunteering to go out and collect essentials for those with underlying health conditions. There is a sense of camaraderie across the globe: societies are ‘staying home’ to protect the ‘at risk’ rather than themselves. We are seeing a shaming of those who are showing selfish, egocentric behavior as individualised societies shift away from a self-serving mindset towards social coherence and a ‘greater good’ mentality.”
Governments are coming together
“The goal of containing and fighting Covid-19 has led to international cooperation and collaboration on various planes, most importantly politically and scientifically,” says Dr Fabian Saarloos, clinical psychologist at the German Neuroscience Center in Dubai. “This includes countries helping each other in the provision of goods, such as Germany receiving face masks from Kenya, or medical summits in which knowledge and expertise and experience are shared, and most notably the movement of medical specialists as well as patients.”
This is something Dr Stephanie Alice Baker, senior lecturer in sociology at City University of London has also noticed.
“This is the first time in our generation that experts and politicians around the world have been united toward achieving a common goal,” she says. “I think one of the most striking changes is the cooperation of scientists and doctors around the world, because experts in these fields are typically quite competitive.”
We’re looking beyond our differences
Is fighting a common threat making us look past race and religion to become a united force?
“While disasters create fear and can activate our fight, freeze or flight mechanism, challenging times can equally activate a healthy sense of tribe,” explains psychotherapist and author Andrea Anstiss. “It can activate remembrance of our innate humanity and our compassion, which is greater than our differences. We are being pushed to question our entrenched survival patterns of individualism, classism and racism. The Covid-19 challenge is about all of us cooperating.”
Dr Baker agrees: “It is as though people are connecting irrespective of their social identities. They’re coming together as urban communities, as Italians, Londoners, New Yorkers rather than a specific religious or ethnic group.”
Family connections have strengthened
Being forced into isolation has increased our desire to connect with others, especially family.
“We are reminded of what is truly important to us and we want to seek and share the comfort of connection, the joy and peace in caring for our loved ones, the security of belonging,” explains Aamnah Husain, counseling psychologist at the German Neuroscience Center in Dubai. “The heightened emotional response to danger not only makes us become cognisant of our care and concern but also motivates us to express it and act on it. We are spurred to check in on family, ensure their comfort and safety, share information, assistance and hope.”
We’re slowing down
With many of us facing job losses, scaling down to part-time work and being forced to spend evenings and weekends at home, we’re finding ourselves with more free time.
“The initial ‘disaster’ has presented a silver lining: shifting down several gears and moving into the slower lane,” notes Irina McGowan, clinical hypnotherapist and psychotherapist. “Traveling at a reduced speed means we can now actually notice all that’s around us.”
Pastimes are affordable, she explains, and people are losing themselves in music, reading, art, conversation, exercise, cooking and learning new skills.
Jacquelene Sadek, spiritual counsellor and yoga teacher at Bodytree Studio in Abu Dhabi, says: “We are being given an opportunity to re-evaluate how we conduct our everyday lives. It’s the chance to be peaceful, to rest, recover, restore, be mindful, reflective, contemplative, meditative and to sleep. To have moments with family and friends that are not fleeting, rushed, on a strict schedule or squeezed in between the space we might give to more superficial pursuits.”
We’re showing kindness
“Your own fear, sadness, helplessness can make you more acutely aware of similar states in others who are even more powerless than you, cultivating a compassion and desire to help,” says Husain. “In turn, your acts of kindness inspire the hope and positivity that you yourself and others around you are desperately looking for. The threat may pass but the lessons learned can help us lead a more meaningful, joyful and rich life.”
This kindness is counteracting any displays of selfishness, says Dr Baker.
“While we have witnessed panic and stockpiling, the pandemic has also encouraged a sense of community, generosity and kindness, such as educators and fitness influencers providing free online classes,” she says. “These positive outcomes are a testament to how people can come together in the face of a global crisis.”
Service workers are getting the respect they deserve
“This crisis has made us aware of our individual and collective vulnerability, and dependency on service workers such as healthcare or even supermarket personnel who until recently seemed to be taken for granted,” explains Dr Saarloos. “The change in perception of these service providers, together with the societal change and the change in values brought about by this pandemic, may lead to an increase in recognition and respect for them going forward.”
Service workers before were at the periphery of our awareness and considered “basic,” in contrast to the more conspicuous professionals such as politicians or business leaders.
“Now, since Covid-19 has pushed the latter to the side, those who provide food, health, hygiene and safety have rightly been receiving more acknowledgment and recognition,” says Dr Saarloos.
We’re taking better care of ourselves
“Not all people find healthy habits, such as exercise, inherently enjoyable. However the commitment to healthy behaviors can be motivated by having a strong sense of purpose,” explains Anstiss. “Right now we are confronted with a new purpose: getting through the next few months with as much emotional balance as possible. This may motivate people to exercise – even those who would normally resist going to the gym may feel the inner push to weave movement into their day as a way of supporting their bodies and minds.”
Joelle Beyrouthy, a mindfulness, meditation and yoga teacher at the The Body and Mind Company, thinks the pandemic can also help us be more mindful.
“A crisis is an opportunity that forces us to look inward because we have to find a way to end the suffering,” she says. “It is an invitation to find solace within, rather than looking outward at the world’s latest news and updates, in a failed attempt to pacify us.”
We’re using social media in a positive way
The growing numbers of people sharing information and hope about Covid-19, along with the use of apps to stay in touch with friends and loved ones, has seen a shift in the way we use social media.
“Although often criticized for encouraging social comparison and a preoccupation with the self, these technologies can also foster a deep sense of community and support,” explains Dr Baker. “This is especially the case during periods of enforced social isolation, when people are restricted in their physical contact with others. Times of crisis reorient the mind to what matters most. We are already seeing a sense of appreciation on social media following Covid-19, where people express gratitude on these platforms for what is often taken for granted: food, family, friendship and health.”
Devinder Bains is journalist of 20 years, working as a writer and editor on some of the biggest national magazines, newspapers and online publications in the UK and the Middle East. She specialises in women’s empowerment, fashion, race, culture and travel, and as a qualified personal trainer and nutrition coach, she is an expert in health and fitness. She splits her time between freelance writing and running Fit Squad DXB – Dubai’s largest personal training and wellness company.