Protect your mental health. Do whatever it takes to preserve it.
— Peter Dunn (@PeteThePlanner) September 11, 2020
If you are reading this then you have made it through at least six months of pandemic. That is good news. There is also optimism that one (or more) Covid-19 vaccines will be approved and available sometime in 2021. The problem is that this event would be just the beginning of a real coronavirus response. Dr. Aaron Carroll in the New York Times:
It is much more likely that life in 2021, especially in the first half of the year, will need to look much like life does now. Those who think that we have just a few more months of pain to endure will need to adjust their expectations. Those thinking that school this fall will be a one-off, that we will be back to normal next year, let alone next semester, may be in for a rude awakening.
The fact is we have blown through many a holiday during pandemic with the hopes of better times, only to disappointed. This is why we all need to prepare ourselves mentally that 2020 will largely be a write-off. Case counts have been falling for the past two months, but are still (well) above where they were in May and June.
The reason to talk about this is help you mentally prepare for the continued pandemic slog. Visualizing a bad future in a very real way helps us prepare for it. Vishal Khandelwal at Safal Niveshak talks about how the Stoic idea of ‘premeditatio malorum’ can help us today. He writes:
Imagine getting hit by the coronavirus, or losing your job, or the stock market tanking and your investments getting wiped out. Then, while letting the future be because you anyways don’t control it, try doing things that may keep you at safe distance from these possibilities as much as possible.
Back in May I wrote about how we all need to assess the pandemic risks and come up with a unique plan that fits our particular needs. Unfortunately, those ideas still ring true. What may be more important now than it was a few months ago is the need to tend to our mental health. As Howard Lindzon notes:
The economic crisis and the mental health crisis is not just going to magically disappear.
Everybody is different in terms of how they deal with the stress and anxiety of pandemic. The pandemic has filled us with anxiety because we have been forced to reckon with competing advice and narratives for months now. This has put us into a state of decision fatigue which make every little thing seem harder.
Figuring out what works to help you get through this isn’t easy. What works for you, may not work for someone else. Being cognizant and respectful of those differences is important. As Jason Gay at the WSJ notes on some recent research:
Times are tricky. Let’s try to be more forgiving of ourselves. Let’s recognize both long- and short-term pleasures. Let’s go out and have a productive, life-affirming weekend.
In a recent article in The Atlantic, Arthur C. Brooks noted how our lives are filled with major changes whether we want them to or not. A global pandemic would certainly rank in the unwanted phase change category. But there is good news. He writes:
Even difficult, unwanted transitions are usually seen differently in retrospect than in real time. Indeed, Feiler found that 90 percent of the time, the people he spoke with ultimately judged their transition to have been a success, insofar as the transition ended and they found themselves once again on solid ground.
Protesting literally (and figuratively) against the pandemic is only going to make the transition to the new normal harder and make it take longer. There is one upside to consider. There is a good chance that years from now much of what we are experiencing in pandemic will fade from memory. Tim Harford writes:
Covid-19 may be as significant an episode as any, but it will not trigger the same sharp memories [as 9/11 or the fall of the Berlin Wall]. Where were you during the pandemic? At home. For months. And without a physical change of scene, even new experiences all start to seem the same.
This post started off with an admonition, that the pandemic isn’t over by a long shot. We will be dealing with the ramifications of pandemic for years, if not decades. Which makes it easy to be pessimistic at present. We humans have a hard time holding two (or more) competing thoughts in our head at the same time. That may be where we are today.
While the rest of 2020 and start of 2021 still look to be pretty bleak, per Dr. Carroll’s take, its still may make sense to be optimistic about the future. Ben Carlson writing at A Wealth of Common Sense writes:
Being pessimistic is an easier stance to occupy these days. It’s impossible to avoid negative stories since that’s the stuff that gets highlighted on the news and social media more than anything else.
But it’s worth at least considering the potential positive ramifications from this pandemic.
We’ve been through far worse as a species.
What if we come out of this stronger than before?
What if 2020 turns out to be a turning point in a positive way?
Maybe a bad year like 2020 will make us more resilient.
Resilience recognizes that bad stuff is going to happen and preparing the best we can beforehand is the best way to be able to move forward. This push-pull between optimism is summed up Morgan Housel at Collaborative Fund. He writes:
Optimism and pessimism can coexist. If you look hard enough you’ll see them next to each other in virtually every successful company and successful career. They seem like opposites, but they work together to keep everything in balance.
It’s going to take balance to get each of us to the other side of this. Be resilient. Get your flu shot. Take care of your mental, and physical health.