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  • Writer's pictureMary Lim

Coronavirus: What on Earth Do We Do Now?

What a strange, difficult and scary world we live in today.

I’m sitting here, writing this, and at the same time, I don’t quite have the words to describe what’s going on at the moment. I don’t know what will happen in the future. Everything we knew, and everything we took for granted has suddenly been called into question. Suddenly, nothing is the same anymore.

Many of our choices have been taken away. Our leisure activities, communities, schools, childcare, restaurants and more have gone, and we don’t know how long for.

Conversations with other people now have to happen at a distance or online. Suddenly we are all too aware of who is most at risk, including much-loved members of our families. We have to consider how we can protect the most vulnerable.

We are social animals: we are meant to live in groups, to interact with one another, but now the prospect of something as simple as a hug from a friend or relative is lost.

“Isolation” and “lockdown” have become common-place words.

There is a lot we have lost, and I believe the effects will be seen in many ways for a long time to come.

But what I do know, is that this is a time of massive change and upheaval. Working from home, schools closing and the sheer impossibility of trying to do everything all at once can and is causing major stress, anxiety and panic. We are all trying to get our heads around how to cope with this, how to forge a new (temporary) normal. How to keep our families going, our work going, our children’s education going. How to survive this, when the world is suddenly so uncertain.

Can thinking about theory help?

For now, let’s take things back to basics, and look at a little bit of theory that might help.

This is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and his theory is that in order to reach the top of the pyramid, the "goal", you need to build on each level, from the bottom up.

Physiological Needs

At the bottom of the pyramid are our physiological needs. These are our most basic needs for survival as a human being. Food to eat, air to breathe, water to drink, clothes to wear, a shelter to live in, sleep. Without these, we cannot survive. Without these, we cannot hope to fulfil any of the other needs. These are our baseline – we have to sort these out first, before trying to climb to any of the other levels.

Safety Needs

The next level of the pyramid are our safety needs: health, money, personal safety, employment, resources, property. Many of these have been shaken by this crisis and we can no longer rely on these. Is it any wonder that many of us feel anxious, scared and unsafe?

Love and Belonging Needs

At the next level are our human needs for love and belonging. Friendship, intimacy, family and a sense of connection with those around us. Again, through social distancing, many of these have been stripped away from us. We feel isolated like never before.

Esteem Needs

Above that are our esteem needs: our need for respect, status, recognition, strength and freedom. These are important, but we don't need these to survive.

Self-Actualisation Needs

At the very top of the pyramid is our need to self-actualise, in other words, to be the best that we can be as an individual. Maslow felt that this can only be achieved if all of the other needs are met.

I think it is helpful to think of these needs as a ladder. You have to climb each rung in turn. Our second rung has been knocked out, and with it, much of the third rung too. Without these, we cannot hope to climb to those above.

OK, So What Does That Mean?

Put simply, we can't do everything we were doing before, as our basic needs for safety aren't being met. So for now, stop tying yourself in knots about how to home-educate your children for example. Stop trying to fit everything in. Stop trying to be everything to everyone. This is an emergency situation. For now, all that you can be is ENOUGH.

Get Back to Basics

So go back to basics. Eat food (but don’t panic-buy). Drink water. Breathe fresh air. Sleep. Get dressed (PJs are fine!). Stay indoors, or go outside (requisite social distancing rules adhered to of course). Be with your children and your partner if you have them. Video call or message friends if you are lonely. The rest will come later. Education will come later. For now, be safe. Be secure.

A new normal will come.

We will get sort-of used to this, and we will be able to manage it better. When that time comes, we can think about starting to climb that ladder again.

But not now, not today. For today, just be.

Be kind to yourselves.

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