A week or so back I started keeping a Coronavirus diary.
I am posting it on the Student Health and Wellbeing Blog that I manage as part of my day job. You can access the entries so far here: https://blogs.flinders.edu.au/student-health-and-well-being/category/coronavirus/
As with many things I do nowadays there is a dual purpose to the diary.
At a personal level, the diary is a place for me to document the changes and adaptations I am noticing in my own life as a result of the widespread social and economic changes engulfing the world because of the Coronavirus. So far in writing it, I have reminded myself to stay grateful for the things I have, to find pleasure or at least interest in working in new ways, and confirmation that some of the wellbeing activities I’ve put in place in my life (e.g. meditation) are indeed good buffers against the stress of change.
At a professional level, the diary is a communication vehicle through which I can communicate ideas and concepts that I think might be helpful to the students at Flinders University (at any university to be honest) who are experiencing similar, if not more extreme, shifts in their lives.
I asked the counsellors at the service to tell me what the most common things unsettling students are at the moment and they told me:
- loss of routine
- lack of stability
- loss of coping strategies (e.g. gym, social life)
- indecision about what to do about studies
- lack of focus
- difficulty transitioning to online study
- difficulty staying connected with others
These experiences, I imagine, resonate with many, not just students.
Through the diary I can communicate how it is that I am managing these kinds of issues in my own life and/or how a psychologist might approach these kinds of issues. For example, routine is an easy one to discuss. How do you develop a new routine? What kinds of activities do you base a routine around?
I can talk about how I have focused on routines based around physical activity (morning walk), sleep (set wake time), nutrition (regular, nourishing meals) and social (messaging friends in-between bursts of work). I can talk about having to be willing to abandon (for the time being) some of our previous routines, and create a ‘new ordinary day’ – a term given to me by my mentor.
As the Coronavirus situation develops further, I hope to talk about how one handles some of the sticky emotions/feelings that arise in such a situation: fear, anxiety, uncertainty and interestingly to me, boredom. I’m finding for myself that an acceptance-based approach, which involves noticing, naming, describing and making room for difficult feelings is the best so far. Distraction only works for so long, and a commitment to working hard is limited by how long one can sustained focused attention. At some point, those difficult feelings will show up.
Ultimately I hope to help others and myself develop a mental model of the current situation that helps us adapt to it. Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t have a mental model for what the global impact of a highly contagious infection would be. Yes, we all had the ‘zombie apocalypse’ model in our heads, but we didn’t have a model that captured the nuance of what this virus means in terms of our health, our communities, our countries, our economies. We are all on a rapid learning curve trying to piece this together and understand our own individual parts in it.
And that question ‘what is my part in all of this?’ is a really important one. Are the goals and plans I had, prior to Coronavirus still relevant? Should I change tack? Do I want to be the same person after this all happens or is this an opportunity for me to grow or transform? I don’t have answers for these questions yet, but I hope keeping a diary might be helpful, so I am sharing it more widely. I encourage others to do the same.