In my brief time of writing this blog, it has morphed from a place where I share random thoughts that I have throughout the day to a very planned space that I utilize both to share my own creative works (namely poetry) and to reflect on the topic of compassion, both toward oneself and toward others. Because to this calculated schedule that I rigged, I had a piece about trying new things that was due to come out today. However, my heart isn’t in releasing that piece right now.
The COVID-19 outbreak has had a powerful effect on my life and the lives of those around me. Like many Americans and others around the world, I have been at home for the past several days. The crisis has stripped my local grocery stores of their stocks, filled the news emails that I receive every morning, and taken over a large number of thoughts in my own head. It seems like the easy choice would be to give into the despair of this wide-scale, frightening problem.
But I don’t want to give in to despair. In 10 or 20 years, when the world looks back on this period as a major historical event, I want to remember it as a time of growth and compassion in my life.
I created the following list of ways to show kindness during this time for myself, but I hope that my experiences might provide some ideas and hope to other readers, too.
Hey, we’re in this together, and we’ll get through this together.
Without further ado, here are the ways that I have found to show kindness in the face of the coronavirus:
1. Practice Appropriate Social-Distancing
Congratulations! You’re probably already doing this one to whatever extent you are able!
The kindest thing that we can do right now is to slow COVID-19’s spread, thus limiting overwhelm at hospitals and ultimately preventing this virus from becoming more deadly than it already is. This means staying at home whenever possible, bumping elbows rather than shaking hands, and staying at least six feet apart from others when it is necessary to interact with them.
In the U.S., there are mandates at the city and state levels to limit the size of crowds. Obeying these mandates is the kind (not to mention civically responsible and potentially only legal) thing to do.
2. Learn About Coronavirus
This 2016 study by Prati and Pietrantoni which was cited in this lovely Greater Good Magazine article, found that, at that time, a greater knowledge about Ebola correlated with less prejudice toward immigrants from Africa.
Similar to how the Ebola epidemic was connected to Africa, the coronavirus outbreak is connected to Asia. Without any additionally information, it seems reasonable to be afraid of other things connected to Asia: Asian restaurants, Asian grocery stores, and, most appallingly, Asian people. But this fear is grounded in ignorance, not knowledge.
Seeking out more information about the disease will lead you to learn how it spreads (usually by people who are experiencing symptoms), where it is spreading (which is in pockets all over the world, not just in Asian populations), and what you can do to protect yourself (follow local health recommendations, wash your hands often, etc.). None of this information would lead you to singularly avoid people from a particular race or nationality.
Prejudice is not kindness. The kinder choice is to stay educated about the virus to eliminate any misconceptions that may lead to prejudice.
Anecdotally, I want to offer the advice to be careful about how you’re learning about coronavirus. About a week ago, my family was gathered for dinner at my grandfather’s house. Because I don’t have cable at my apartment, that day was my first exposure to the way that news channels have been covering the outbreak. The stories about the virus were constructed in a way that seemed like it was meant to increase fear. Prior to seeing that type of news coverage, I could not understand why people were so panicked about the disease. Now, I get it.
I have two take-aways from this experience: First, try to learn more about the virus from sources that rely on facts rather than fear. (So far, the New York Times seems to be doing a good job of relying on the facts. They’re also eliminating the paywall for their articles about coronavirus during this time, so they may be worth checking out. Here is a link to that coverage.) Second, if you feel overwhelmed by learning about the virus, take a break and come back to it later. Don’t wear yourself out over this or work yourself into a panic. After all, showing compassion during this time also includes showing self-compassion.
3. Practice Self-Care
This method of showing kindness comes in two parts: taking care of mental health and taking care of physical health.
There are a variety of ways to show take care of your mental health during this time. You can talk to others about your issues through Skype or over the phone or potentially even in person depending on the social-distancing recommendations in your area. You can journal about your feelings of stress. You can download an app and try out meditation. You can keep a gratitude list.
Though you might now have to rearrange your schedule to accommodate changes such as working from home or having kids at home instead of at school, do your best to maintain those routines and habits that you know promote good mental health. If you’ve put work into keeping your brain healthy in the past, don’t lose that progress now. Finding pockets of your day to maintain some sense of normalcy may make great differences in your calmness and clarity.
Your physical health is also very important during this outbreak. Eating well and getting good sleep will help to support your immune system. Additionally, staying physically active may be very helpful when it comes to clearing your head and keeping up your overall health.
Prioritizing your physical health may take some creativity right now. If you don’t want to (or can’t) go to a gym, you can find other outlets to stay physically fit. In most places, it is still fine to walk around in a park or just your neighborhood (although you should check with your local social-distancing recommendations). You could also ride your bike, run, or jog. Additionally, there are a variety of apps or workout videos that are available at little to no cost, many of which have options for doing body-weight exercises in case you don’t own equipment. And who knows? You might even discover a new app or style of workout that you love and want to keep doing after this outbreak lets up.
Taking care of yourself is important. As mentioned at the end of my last list item, when thinking about ways to show compassion during this outbreak, self-compassion should be included. If the idea of being kind to yourself is not enough motivation to take time for these practices consider this: being as mentally and physically healthy as possible during this turmoil will allow you to take care of others to the most of your ability.
4. Act on Impulses to be Kind
I want to be careful here because I don’t mean to contradict any of the previous points that I made earlier in this post. If an idea for showing kindness occurs to you, but it involves putting yourself at an unnecessary risk for contracting the virus, it is very likely that the kinder thing is to prioritize your own health.
However, there are still plenty of ways to show kindness that are specific to your financial, social, or career situation. Perhaps you have money (or time) to donate to food banks. Perhaps you have an excess of supplies, and you can give some to a neighbor who doesn’t have enough.
I have my own story of acting on an impulse to be kind during this crisis.
When the schools and libraries around me closed down, I realized that the students I know won’t have access to new books for the next several weeks or even months. I sent a text about my idea of providing some books from my collection to each of their parents (all of whom quickly and gladly accepted my offer), and I created bags of books for each of the students that I delivered earlier this week.
I debated whether or not to include that story in this post because it seems self-congratulatory. Ultimately, I decided to include it for this reason: I almost didn’t do it. When the thought of digging into my collection and then delivering the books occurred to me, I thought about all the reasons why the parents might refuse. They might not want me coming to their houses, even if it is just for a brief moment to drop off the books. They might not trust that the books are clean enough for their children to use. They might think that I had some sinister reason for offering to let them borrow my books. (I don’t know where that last worry came from because it seems irrational, but it was a worry that I had nonetheless.) I had all these excuses in my head about why I shouldn’t even bother trying, but I ultimately figured that it was worth making the offer. The worst thing that could happen would be that the parents would refuse it.
But they didn’t refuse. All of them accepted. And now, those students will have a greater number of books to read during the time away from (in-person) school.
So again, don’t put yourself at risk, but do act on your safe impulses for kindness. You’ll be glad you did.
5. Just Don’t Be Greedy
I’ve heard horror stories of chaos at grocery stores, people yelling at customer service workers, and allegations of stockpiling supplies for the purposes of price gouging. The most recent episode of the radio show and podcast This American Life opens with the story of a woman who stole two medical face masks from her dentist office.
Of course, these stories are all subject to our collective and individual negativity biases, leading to their promotion (since they are very easy to clickbait) and their retention in the zeitgeist (because we are more likely to ruminate on negative stories rather than positive ones). I have every reason to believe that most of the stories that will arise from this pandemic will be ones about neighbors helping neighbors, people obeying the recommendations of medical professionals in order to dramatically slow the spread, and innovators discovering new ways to do things that they never would have thought of without the pressure of a potential disaster.
That said, don’t allow yourself to become a character in one of the negative stories. Take care of yourself and those in your household, but do your best to make sure that you’re not preventing others from doing the same for themselves. Do right by other people.
If you care to know more about how to protect yourself during this time, check out the CDC’s website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
Stay safe, do your best to stay healthy, and be kind to others and yourself.