Thu | Nov 26, 2020

Ethon Lowe | How to find your mojo in the time of COVID-19

Published:Sunday | November 22, 2020 | 7:58 AM

With extraordinary ferocity and speed, coronavirus swept the world and unleashed the greatest health crisis since the 1918 influenza pandemic (which claimed 50 million lives), creating unprecedented social, economical and political catastrophe and devastated lives. Individuals and families now face financial hardships, unemployment, their children not being in school, increased domestic violence, breakdown of marriages, divorces and, possibly, increased suicides.

In desperation, my friend contacted me because she was depressed, being out of work, confined at home and unable to enjoy her usual pastimes. I recommended a ‘new normal’. (Neologisms like ‘new normal’, ‘ social distancing’ and ‘hand sanitising’ always make me cringe). Obviously, she could not change the world (or nullify the virus), but she could try to change herself, or, more precisely, change her desires. The very nature of life is change. As Heraclitus the Greek philosopher reasoned, “ no man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river, and he’s not the same man”. Not only the river changes (life changes), but you do, too. New experiences may bring new hardships : the global pandemic, jobs disappearing, isolation causing loneliness and forcing people to communicate from home. To overcome these adversities, you have to embrace change. Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), the English writer, wrote: “a self that goes on changing is a self that goes on living”

You are anxious and depressed because you are unemployed and suffering financial hardship as a result of COVID-19. You need money. Yes, money will go a long way, but you don’t have it. But is money all you need?. How about life? Here are some words of advice from no less a person than Steve Jobs (Apple co-founder) which might help. In 2011, Jobs died of pancreatic cancer at age 56 leaving a fortune of seven billion dollars. His last words were: “money can get all kinds of material things, but there is one thing that cannot be bought - life. A $300 clock and a $3,000,000 clock show the same time. True happiness does not come from material things. It comes from the affections that our loved ones give us.”

In these desperate times, don’t take life for granted, appreciate the little things in your life - health, friends, a house, the sound of your children (yes, even when they are really loud), the ability to get up and go, and even a boring day. Yes, it is okay to be bored. Think of a worse situation : you cannot help yourself — but you can. Appreciate what you do have. Life is too short to waste time thinking about what you do not have. David Bowie gave us this simple-but-profound message: “once you lose that sense of wonder of being alive, you’re pretty much on your way out”. Keep that sense of wonder alive.

SEIZE THE MOMENT

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Take a break from the daily grind. Seize the present moments and seek momentary pleasures: be entranced by the warm glow of a tropical sunset, mesmerised by Yanni’s Nightingale, smell freshly baked bread and savour the taste of a juicy Bombay mango.

Very few things put you in a better mood than an enjoyable physical activity. Exercise also helps to boost your mental and physical health, which are added benefits. Keep fit and well, your optimism to life will increase as a result. Forget the warm bubble bath, walk, run , jog or skip for 20 minutes. Structure your free time in ways that will enhance your well-being, not in mindless passivity watching soap operas, but in mindful challenges: pull down a good book. Watch educational or inspirational videos, do gardening, etc. Find work which can add purpose or meaning beyond the reward of the salary.

“All happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion.” Taking a page from Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, build happy families with good family values, especially in the time of COVID-19. To avoid passing on your anxiety to your children who may be experiencing psychological distress from loss of freedom and being unable to be with their friends, try to remain calm and happy even if you have to fake it. During the period of enforced inactivity, aim to build stronger relationships with your children, instil in them self-discipline and a greater sense of social responsibility . Teach them that in some things we do not have complete control, like the effects of the pandemic, but we can confront and deal with it. We do not have total control in winning a tennis match, but by practising hard it will certainly increase our chances of winning.

My friend, I am happy to report, got back her mojo by discovering an interesting cooking video, skipping, and doing yoga. She now sees the world differently, acquiring new interests and goals.

In life, perfect happiness is unrealisable, but perfect unhappiness is equally unattainable. And of the future? In this time of COVID-19 , in one instance we have hope, and in the other, uncertainty. Nonetheless, humans have remarkable resilience to survive major setbacks, and the human race will survive this pandemic.

Ethon Lowe is a medical doctor. Send feedback to ethonlowe@gmail.com