Voices of Reason – Remaining rational when some of us may be irrational in the face of a pandemic

This is perhaps one of the most pertinent blogs I believe I have been involved in for some time. I would like to begin by saying thank you to the Prime Minister and the Chief Medical Officer for a very rational, fact laden and informative address to the press yesterday morning, Wednesday 18th March 2020, on the latest details regarding COVID-19. This also covered what measures are being put in place at a government level and how they would like us, as the general population, to react.

This virus and the resultant health pandemic ticks all 3 major boxes that we know can lead to high levels of stress and anxiety for people, mainly:

  1. Importance – In this particular situation, our health, the health of aged loved ones and what may be the resultant economic hardships for us will mean that this is indeed an important life event for most of us,
  2. Uncertainty – We have been informed of the many areas of uncertainty this brings for us, including; how quick will the virus spread, will I become infected, what geographic areas might experience more cases than others, what will be the impact on the economy generally, what will be the impact on our ability to earn money and stay employed, when will I be able to plan travel again, etc; etc.
  3. Duration of the Uncertainty – How long will these areas of uncertainty last? Responsible people with most of the facts seem to indicate we need to be prepared for at least 6 months of uncertainty ahead, best case maybe less, worse case quite a bit longer.

We know as Psychologists that the more important a situation or event is to us, the more uncertainty involved and the longer the duration of the uncertainty runs on for the more likely it is that people will suffer higher levels of generalised stress and anxiety disorders.

How do we act in a time of crisis?

However, as the Prime Minister and Chief Medical Officer alluded to this morning this unfortunate and rarely experienced situation provides us all with an opportunity to settle down and then, step up to be a part of the solution not a part of the problem.

We need to heed the information coming from responsible people in the know and then use that information and advice to ‘help us help ourselves and others’. Governments cannot rescue us; they can only help us help ourselves across the broad issues involved and across the longer term. Sure, if stimulus packages are needed, they can supply them. However, it is then how we use the money and opportunities that will determine the outcome for ourselves and the broader population.

Medical professions may try to rescue us if we get very sick and take us into intensive care units, but we need to help ourselves and others by doing what we can to follow advice and try and prevent ourselves or others catching the virus and becoming sick in the first place.

When listening to the address to the press this morning and some of the questions from some members of the press, I was reminded that it is critically important we listen to Voices of Reason in these times. We can not listen to the perpetual critics, the catastrophisers and the parts of the media who relish trauma and sensationalism because it provides them with stories that ‘sell’. In these times, more than ever, it is important we heed the following wise words of wisdom of Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the person who points out how the strong person stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strived valiantly; who errs, who comes again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends them self in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if they fail, at least fails while daring greatly.

It is important that we listen to the people who are in the arena trying to combat the uncertainty and outcomes of this pandemic and find the best solutions possible to this world wide event. Will they always get it right? Of course not, but you can bet that listening to the perpetual critics about what is happening will take us nowhere other than increasing our uncertainty and anxiety. This can also lead us down the path of becoming a critic ourselves, rather than positive contributors who are dealing with the facts and finding the best solutions.

We need to listen to those who have the most fact laden messages and solutions. Go to the websites we can trust and stay away from listening to those who would have us panic and filled with despair and hopelessness. There are some very responsible people in the media who try and act in a very socially responsible fashion, and unfortunately others who are self-serving and trying to enhance their own image at the expense often, of the rest of us.

How to remain rational and a voice of reason during these times?

  1. Get your information from people and websites such as reputable health and government source
  2. Relish the opportunity to step up and be a part of the solution moving forward, not a part of the problem
  3. Remain optimistic and realise this will not last forever, but, we need to be agile and flexible, and open to changing our behaviour and habits as we need to in the meantime
  4. Use reflective practice to think about how we can use this opportunity to build our resilience and help those around us, especially our children. Build theirs by remaining; flexible, adaptable, rational, positive and solution focused in the face of this pandemic
  5. Realise that it is up to us to ‘help ourselves and others’ during this time. We can’t just leave it all up to governments or health professionals to rescue us from potential stressors and uncertainties.
  6. Reflect upon the hard times and challenges that the generations before us had, and how they banded together, took on those incredibly tough challenges together and forged this wonderful country and the ‘Aussie spirt’ we can all be proud of.