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The coronavirus pandemic liberates us into the present and forces us to embrace our humanity
[Editor's note: Future of Behavioral and Mental Health with BetterHelp, Headspace, Ginger.io, Providence Hospitals, UnitedHealthcare Optum, Khosla Ventures, Oak HC/FT and more has become 3 virtual conferences and one live event pushed out to May 27! Register one time for all 4 events! REGISTER. Also, during this stressful time use the code "vator" for 50% off BetterHelp online therapy for 3 months!]
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of Wisdom, it was the age of Foolishness. It was the Spring of Hope, it was the Winter of Despair." This comes from Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities that refers to the French Revolution and tries to capture the essence of human nature during massive social stress. It's worth remembering during this coronavirus pandemic as we struggle to find hope during this time of fear and panic.
Recently, my son's high school prom was cancelled, affecting hundreds of students who won't be able to create that very precious memory in their youth. Something many of us have had the great fortune to look back on.
My youngest son's National Ski Championship race in April was cancelled as well, affecting thousands of athletes who prepared the entire season for a chance to stand on a national podium. For him, as the reigning champ from 2019, it was an opportunity to win back-to-back national gold medals. For other athletes in his age group, it was an opportunity to potentially shine and clinch that coveted spot.
These are lost moments. But they are superfluous ones that hardly compare to the hardships other people are enduring. We have to keep that in perspective.
He pointed out that in 1975, 11 years after the Great Alaska Earthquake, two Disaster Research Center founders wrote a report trying to understand "why they continued to find essentially the same scenario repeating itself: why, rather than encouraging conflict or violence, these catastrophes appeared to bring out the best in people." The two authors are: Russell Dynes and Enrico Quarantelli.
In that piece, they wrote: in ordinary times, "we suffer alone; any acute experience of our own vulnerability can isolate us, or even make us resentful of others: 'The victim often feels discriminated against since there are others who have been spared.' But a disaster affects everyone, and peels us away from “mundane matters” to the 'very issue of human life itself.'" In other words, during these times, we might even forget our own suffering so we can focus on others.
Maybe this is a good time to put down our phones; stop worrying about the next sports competition or event; It's a good time to stop thinking about being a victim of our own petty losses or circumstances, which pale in comparison to what others may be enduring. Maybe this is a good time to connect with our community to see how we can be of service; do some spring housecleaning to stay, well clean; say a few prayers for our friends and enemies; talk to our families and our loved ones and care about the small but beautiful things we take for granted. Mooallem writes that disasters "liberate us into the present." I can't agree enough.
If we think about this from a mental health perspective, when we count to 10 because we're angry, it is to get us to the present so we can deal with that conflict, most likely having to do with someone in our lives. In that time of calm, we can think clearly and try to make amends by remembering what matters most.
And if we can't immediately talk to friends or family, we can also find solace in some online services that have emerged to be that societal support system, like BetterHelp and Ginger.io, which offer up counselors and therapists. Like family or friends, they might nudge you to think beyond yourself, and feel emboldened to help others or feel inspired to get your house in order. Not surprisingly, these services are already seeing an uptick in activity. In the last two weeks (Feb 19-March 5) Ginger.io saw a 16 percent increase in the total number of therapy sessions and 10 percent increase in daily active usage.
So I encourage everyone: Liberate yourselves into the present and make those human connections matter in the time that's given to us.
Read more from our "Invent Health" series
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