On Anxiety, Covid-19 and Kindness

In the week since I last wrote, the world seems to have spun completely on its axis. The Covid-19 virus has the UK in its grip, a pandemic that threatens not just our wellbeing, but the very essence of how we live. All around us, the social structures that anchor us to the world are being dismantled in a way that seemed unfathomable just a few short weeks ago. I look around at the way people are reacting to the crisis and am reminded of the stages of grief I learned about many years ago at university. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. It seems that many of us are at different stages of such a process; a grief not restricted just to death, but the loss of our fundamental ways of life. I read once that denial is a way of pacing our feelings of grief. A way to ensure they do not completely overwhelm us. Yet now, we are all being thrust out of shock and denial and into a new reality in which there are few certainties of what’s to come. It’s okay, I think, to feel whatever emotions we feel just now. It’s okay to admit that we are fearful, that we are anxious, that the world beneath our feet feels shaky, that we are sad. In talking to each other – albeit it through virtual means, or in line with social distancing measures – we can help each other through this maze of anxiety and confusion. In time this will come to an end, and we will adjust to a new kind of normality. In the meantime, we can be there for one another – even when we are standing far apart.

For my own part, I admit that I have spent a good portion of the last week feeling anxious. Here at the tip of the Scottish Highlands we can feel remote from what’s going on in the rest of the world, with London, Edinburgh – even Inverness, the Highland capital, often feeling very far away. But for now, the world seems to loom larger and closer than ever. There is no escaping this new reality, however remote the place we call our home.

I have spent much of the last week absorbed in news cycles. Yesterday, I felt a wave of emotion fill me as the Scottish First Minister announced schools in Scotland were to close. This was not for the school closures as such – right now I feel happier with my kids around me, and relieved to have one element of uncertainty removed from daily decision making. It was for the understanding of what it represents, I think. The knowledge that it heralds a fundamental change in our society, something unprecedented in peace time life.

I decided today, though, that I was going to return to some kind of normalcy of routine, to hang onto the things that anchor me. I got up, and wrote in my morning journal. I wrote three things I was grateful for. I did not turn on the morning news. I drank tea, I practised yoga, I did some breathing exercises. I read a letter my son had received from a care home resident he had been corresponding with through school before this all happened. I was struck by one thing she told him: ‘The most important thing is to be kind.’

Routines will become more important I think, in the weeks and months ahead of us. Establishing some kind of normality for our children, some kind of stability that will ground them in a new approach to daily life. Seeking antidotes that bring comfort in times of uncertainty. The kind of antidotes we find in kindness, in communities, in realising how connected we all are.

And I know that for a while, I might wake up with that heavy feeling of dread within my stomach. For a while, I might go to bed with that heavy-limbed ache inside my bones. You might feel these things too – you might feel sad, you might feel scared, you might feel lonely.

It’s okay to feel whatever you are feeling.

We’ll get through this.

With open minds, thoughtful actions – and compassionate hearts.