I think most of us are probably aware of the coronavirus at this point. Schools are being closed in an attempt to slow down the spread, folks are being urged to practice social distancing — something I have been doing unconsciously and quite well for decades — and somehow, we all went crazy over toilet paper.
It gives new meaning to the Seinfeld bit about not having a square to spare.
I’m not a doctor or a scientist; more specifically, I am not an epidemiologist. But I do have a background in psychology and that helps me know that people will see this through the lens of whatever their perception may be.
Not everyone has the same coping skills. Not everyone will respond the same way and not everyone has the means or resources to weather what is a very new event for us.
That uncertainty alone can cause panic and fear, even more so than the virus can.
On a more hopeful note, some online sites are providing resources to help educate and entertain our children that are learning at home for the next few weeks. Some are:
Scholastic Learn at Home has options for Pre-K through 6th Grade at bit.ly/2WpIAl4
Virtual Tour of Museums: bit.ly/38Qjfn6
Virtual Field Trips: bit.ly/39WRA5k
I know several are saying ‘just wash your hands,’ and as someone who always kept multiple bottles of hand sanitizer close by prior to this, I am a big fan of hand washing.
Some are saying it is just the flu but a new strain.
Some of the things we’re seeing on Facebook and Twitter are being shared by people with good intentions, but the posts and articles are not accurate, and that can be harmful. Some of the articles are there to incite fear; some are humorous, which we all desperately need some humor right now, but it can also make people dismiss the seriousness of the virus.
Some people are sharing things from un-named and uncited doctors and nurses. Some may be helpful; others may be spreading misinformation.
Some people think this isn’t a big deal and others are truly scared.
And many of us fall somewhere in the middle, worried about so many different factors, but also trying to be conscious of our hygiene and environment.
We’re trying to be mindful and practical, because we’ve had enough experience with illnesses or have been through enough things to know it can turn bad rather quickly for people who may not have much choice in the outcome.
How we cope or react can largely be the result of our experiences. Since this is very new — I mean, I am 47 and don’t recall us being told to self-quarantine or for schools to be closed before except in the case of snow — it’s hard for us to find our center and know what to do.
From a psychological perspective, we lean into our social proof for what to do. The habits or responses we have either done or seen others do before to get through a crisis.
Psychologist Robert Cialdini touched on this in his book, ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.’ We look for cues of how to act and react from those around us. So, if we see others remaining calm and responding, we will be calm. However, if we see others reacting in a panic, it makes us feel like there is a legitimate reason for us to panic too.
And this is a very new situation for all of us, so we don’t know how to respond or what to do. When we see neighbors stockpiling toilet paper, it makes us think we need to stockpile it too.
But mostly, it is because we feel like we don’t have any control. What can we control? Buying up tons of Charmin. It makes us feel like in a very uncertain time that there is something we can maintain.
Of course, some people are making fun of this but again, we all have different coping mechanisms and do different things to find our center. While hoarding or depleting shelves for others is not the most compassionate response, it may be all some know to do. Instead of mocking, maybe this is a good time to reassure one another or extend an offer of friendship. After all, if someone has all the toilet paper, you may want to be on their good side if you need a roll.
Regardless of our personal thoughts and theories, we all can be compassionate, we can all be kind, as we all have someone we care about that could be impacted — either health wise or financially — by this situation.
My mama and uncle Bobby are elderly, and while it’s been a few years since Mama’s last health scare, my uncle has several ongoing issues, including cancer and a heart condition.
I worry about them — all the time and not just in the middle of a pandemic crisis.
I have dear, close friends with compromised immune systems from various conditions — they otherwise ‘look’ healthy and go about their daily lives relatively fine, but a significant health event may be overwhelming to their well-being on many levels.
Maybe, just maybe, we can use this experience as an opportunity to dig deep and find some compassion. To deepen our sense of community and belonging with one another —just at a healthy social distance.
Right now, people are dealing with a lot of changes, uncertainty, and fear the best way they can.
And for some, it’s toilet paper.