The news is full of “we’ll never go back to normal again” stories – enough to make you think the world is ending and society collapsing. It isn’t. Several countries have already emerged from the pandemic, are keeping it contained, and are slowly returning to, dare I say it, normal. Hong Kong. Singapore. Japan. China. There are others. Some went through lockdowns and are already lifting them without their societies cratering into crazed Mad Max scenarios.
Other places will follow.
While there will be hardship and loss, we will survive. They had it worse in our great-grandparents’ time (WWI, the last decades of colonialism, the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, WWII). They managed to not just survive but also build even stronger societies – and they didn’t even have modern medicine, let alone the Internet, Netflix or smartphones to stay entertained 24/7. Their generation was called to fight in wars, some for national independence. Ours is called to stay home and sit on the couch. Their hardship-tested generation developed the social welfare programs and citizen-focused ethics that will keep us afloat now.
In the meantime, lockdowns are the new, TEMPORARY normal for a lot of people. While we can worry about lost wages, meeting rent, and other economic fallout, perspective is important. Here are key realizations to keep your sanity buttressed in these trying times:
In many places, governments are preventing evictions, foreclosures, or the turning off of utilities, while implementing measures to safeguard their people. Some are waving mortgage payments, student loan interest and more. These measures will only increase over the time it takes to get a handle on the outbreak.
The utilities remain on, gas is available at the pumps, grocery stores remain open. Even in the hardest hit areas, we haven’t seen reports on actual food shortages or food riots. If the worst panic-buying is over toilet paper, I’m fine with it. When we actually hear stories of real food shortages, then I’ll worry. Look for panic buying to ease shortly and grocery store shelves to remain stocked.
Supply chain interruptions so far have not brought anything essential to its knees. A slowdown in Tesla electric cars rolling off the factory floor is not a cause for alarm so long as medicines and food remain available, which they do. As disruptions emerge, watch governments negotiate to resume their flow.
People are resilient. We are finding new ways to support each other and continue functioning as a society. In no country have there been reports of mass chaos. Instead, we see stories of food banks opening, neighbors helping each other, communities coming together, and many businesses developing creative solutions to remain open.
This is not to make light of Covid-19. We all have loved ones who may be vulnerable to it, or we ourselves may be vulnerable. It’s creating havoc on economies everywhere. The world is panicking.
Even so, to stay sane, understand that panic is natural but also highly contagious. Everyone freaks out en mass. When the hysteria gets to the point where newspaper headlines scream the end of the world is nigh, that’s usually when everything is about to turn the corner. You see this in the stock market in every recession. People keep freaking out long after the need to freak out has passed and while events are actually improving.
Have we reached that point? I don’t have a crystal ball so I can’t say. But I can point to Hong Kong, China, South Korea and Singapore as examples of countries first making the news for infections and now having most everything contained and with few reported cases each day. In Japan, Hokkaido is lifting its 3 week state of emergency made February 28th after successfully containing cases and preventing their medical industry from being overrun. That tells me that life goes on, if interrupted briefly.
In the US and Europe there is a lot of panic because we’re in the thick of where those countries were weeks or a month ago. We see only our situation, not the bigger picture of the countries who came before us who have recovered or are recovering. To stay sane, follow news from the places where the virus is being beaten back. That will fortify you in the face of so much fear porn in the West and other places just being hit with the virus. Our turn will come to turn the tide.
Take a Breath
If you do need to freak out, that’s okay. Everyone needs their freak out moment or two. Covid-19 came out of nowhere and we all have our mental and emotional adjustment windows. That’s healthy. Don’t let anyone shame you into being all “stiff upper lip.” Cry and worry for a bit, then pull yourself together, face forward and take stock of what needs doing while being alert to what you can remain grateful for (all you can take naps and sweatpants as a viable fashion choice for starters).
Not to say the economic fallout won’t be great. Prepare for recession and high unemployment numbers (as high as 20% according to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin if economic measures aren’t taken).
Now more than ever is the time to be fiscally responsible. Cut out all unnecessary spending and prepare for at least another short-term Great Recession in the US and other places. Use the down time to:
Gain marketable skills via online learning, apps, electronic library resources, staffing agency learning resources, etc. if you lose your job today or tomorrow or want a better one when the quarantines end. For example, I tripled my income by teaching myself Japanese in 20 months using essentially free services during the Great Recession. Now is the time to use the lockdown to acquire skills and start focusing on your game plan for the life you want to lead once the quarantines lift.
Use this time to appreciate being with your family. You might finally be having dinner together for the first time in ages. Quality time is about to mandatory by default if it hasn’t already. Use now to teach your kids important life skills like budgeting, nutrition, cooking, and more. But mostly, take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity to be a family and be with loved ones, even if it means talking 3 hours a day to them over the phone.
We’ve been running around like busy, crazed chickens with our heads cut off for way too long. Now forced home, we can finally catch up on sorely needed sleep, be free of dreaded commutes, and away from hated colleagues and bosses. Appreciate the gift of being able to wear sweatpants all week long and binge-watch everything on Amazon Prime. This opportunity may not come again with such high societal approval.
This Too Shall Pass
Yes, we have many issues to worry about. Many people live paycheck to paycheck and nearly a third of Americans run out of money before payday. Life is going to be economically hard. BUT governments are already looking for ways to help us through this. It may require swallowing our pride to accept helping hands but assistance exists and more will come online just like in prior national emergencies. This will keep us afloat until we reach the shore again. Once we do, let us learn from the experience and enact wise behaviors that will serve us in any situation.
We will move on and I’m pretty sure Netflix and Amazon will be there every step of the way. While I’d prefer better icons of modern society, these are what we have and will have to do until we learn to value what is truly important and what best symbolizes a normal society: healthy relationships, citizen-focused politicians, strong communities and people leading lives in which they find meaning and purpose. Someday I hope they will become valued as the new normal.
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