On Taking it Easy ...

As is sit enjoying a coffee and watching the sun rise through the fog, thinking of the enjoyment of the day ahead, the laughter and company of friends and family, the zen of a paddleboard ride on a quiet lake, it strikes me how ironic is it that we - me included - onboard stress into our lives, or add it into others lives, for no good reason.

There is really only one story that has dominated world news for months now.  It's a divisive one.  There is the science and health community perspective, whose sole focus is reducing the impact of the pandemic on people and the health systems that provide the full spectrum of health care.  There is also the economic component, the job losses and business closures that are the result of the health safety measures put in place.  Between those is the governing aspect of bringing factual information, stability and comfort to the people.

All of this stress is coming out in the heated debates and social justice movements we are seeing the world over.  Every opinion seems to be amplified as individuals, business and governments rigorously debate which consideration should take priority and leaders do their best to try and match the direction to the general pulse of the people.  The saying "you can't please all of the people all of the time" has never been more true.

Ultimately, in the more democratic places where people vote and money does not, the success of policies are measured by how many people you make happy, not how many people you make rich (sometimes these are one in the same - but not now).  It is therefore incumbent on us to let our leaders know how we prioritise the outcomes and to direct their focus on what we, the people, want and expect.  How you present your opinion is also important.  I know many of the people involved in the response in my country personally. I can assure you the people we have put in charge struggle with this as much as you, probably more, and they are paid to absorb all the opinions and messages and act on them, while balancing them with expertise of lifetimes of training and experience, and from information and experiences openly exchanged with others.  They are NOT paid to adsorb the anger and hate. It is not an easy job and there is no right answer, as can be seen by the range of responses the world over.

When dealing with each other, there are mental health impacts we should consider - and there are several aspects to consider with this issue.  First, there is the mental health impact of a dramatic change to the way we all work and live.  School closures, work closures, new (and sometimes shifting) health recommendations as we plan, learn and process new scientific information.  Also, there is the impact of losing a job, or seeing the industry in which you are trained or skilled, disappear.  Wondering how you will pay rent or afford food is not easy and can understandably lead one to make some bad choices.  There is the impact of more limited social interactions and a smaller social circle, and learning new ways to communicate with family, friends and colleagues.  The stress of the idea of possibly losing a loved one to a communicable (most directly linked to your actions and the actions of others), not chronic (most directly linked to genetics and age), disease is also very present right now - and many people don't understand there is a difference.

What we need to do is to stop directing our stress outwards as anger, through social media or other channels, at the people with no real power to affect the outcomes.  I have my own opinion on how to act that is based on my unique situation.  I have a job that can be done from home.  I have decided that for my children's mental health and because of their needs for socialisation, or because of their learning style, to send them to on-premise school in September.  This is my position, based on my life, my understanding and my situation.  I follow a simple rule - you can express your opinion, that's fine. You can ask me why I have made the decisions I have and I will explain it.  You can even disagree (quietly).  But, if you cannot be considerate of my reality and my feelings and show respect and support then you are not a friend - simple as that.  Friends seek to understand each other, respect differences and should respond with sympathy and support, not criticism, insult and anger.  You have no right to my friendship or energy, just as I don't to yours.  That is earned through time, trust and respect.

For example, I have friends and acquaintances that own businesses and they are struggling. Some respect the policy and make an effort to work within the rules - I will respect that and I support them. I will not criticise them for openly and respectfully encouraging leaders to consider their arguments as I am sympathetic to their situation.  I understand that the economic impacts on them will sway their opinion to that side of the solution more than mine.  I want to do my part to support the health side of the equation so that the economic side can take care of itself.  I have seen others exchanging strategies to exploit "loop holes" - I will no longer support them with my business or any other type of relationship.  I have friends that have decided not to send their children back to on-premise school because of the possible exposure of loved one at an increased risk.  I can respect that and I support you even though that is not my decision.  I also understand that my choice to send my kids to school creates a threat vector and therefore I will mostly isolate myself, or mask myself when out in public, to reduce the risk to others in my community that I do not know their situation or concerns.

There is much more to say on this topic as evidenced by the almost 9 months of debate that is happening the world over.  I certainly don't have the kind of answers people want to hear - no one does, and that's the reality.  But given all the impacts on mental health of this situation there is something we can all do to reduce the stress - listen with empathy and support everyone dealing with the reality of their unique situation.  There is no "one size fits all" solution here. So stop yelling, arguing and demeaning others for taking actions based on their reality.  Conflict and insults don't lead to solutions or an effective exchange of information, only to ever escalating conflict, counter-insults and on and on. We need to stop politicising and further dividing ourselves at a time when everyone is in need of some type of support.

We are going to be living in this situation for years to come.  I don't know about you, but I'd feel better about it all if I know I can get out of this with my health and most relationships intact.

#covid19 #mentalhealth #bekind #changemanagement