“I think we should maybe stay in more often until everything settles down with coronavirus.”
When my housemate came home on Thursday afternoon to let me know how much the spread of coronavirus was worrying her, I didn’t quite get it.
Why should my life be put on hold for what’s essentially a slightly evolved cough? I’m young, fit (mostly), and frankly have a lot of shiz to do: why should I let some pesky, overhyped virus try and stop me?
Little did I know how serious that “pesky, overhyped virus” was going to get. Over the next few hours, I and everyone else on the globe’s social media accounts were bombarded with reports of lockdowns, cancellations, coughs and closures. Global calls for vigilance and “self-isolation” went viral, infection and fatality rates rocketed, and as I ran into teal green ‘Advice on coronavirus’ signs on every corner of campus, the gravity of the situation became frankly impossible to ignore.
“Mags,” I messaged the group chat, “I think you were bang on.”
Being a student can be stressful enough. Being a student in the middle of a global epidemic is a whole new kettle of fish. But it is more important now than it has ever been to take care of both ourselves, and each other. Knowing exactly what to do during coronavirus is difficult, and I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers, but if there is one thing we owe ourselves and each other in the midst of this crisis, it is this: compassion.
Aside from the physical and practical impacts that corona has imposed on its rapid world tour (that literally no one asked for), the emotional impacts of coronavirus have also been very real: ‘irritated’, ‘anxious’, ‘scared’, ‘annoyed’, ‘homesick’, ‘sad’, ‘apocalyptic’, ‘worried’, ‘overwhelmed’, ‘exhausted’, ‘powerless’ are just some of the words that my friends recently used when I asked them to describe the ways that coronavirus has made them feel on Instagram. Some have felt ‘indifferent’, while others have had their mental health deeply affected by the increased social isolation and paranoia. What’s important to note is that all these feelings are valid, and part of being compassionate is allowing yourself and others to feel them. But the actions we take in moments like these are crucial too.
1. Keep an eye on yourself. You can’t help anybody if you aren’t helping yourself first. Make a habit of asking yourself: how am I feeling? If you are finding yourself inside a lot more, consider how you could positively reframe this situation to reset and recharge (rediscovering art and watching old childhood TV shows have been some recent corona-pastimes of mine). If you are anxious or worried, know that you do not deserve to feel guilty for feeling that way, and do not deserve to punish yourself for it either. Please reach out to whoever you can: you’d be surprised how many people understand.
2. Keep an eye on your friends. If you are living in accommodation or a shared house, you may be in close contact with your mates more often than usual. On the flipside, many people may be feeling more isolated than ever as our favourite social spaces and events come to a close. In the same way my housemate had the courage to share her worries with us about coronavirus, check in with each other regularly and see how you are all doing, be that face to face or over the phone. As lonely as “self-isolation” may sound, tough times like these are made more bearable when the burden is shared.
3. Remember your international friends. While many of us are only beginning to feel the reality of this virus, many of our international friends and those studying abroad have felt the impacts of corona for much longer than we have, and far more directly than we probably often realise. Check in on anyone that you think may be alone or afraid. We’re all in this bizarre, confusing situation together.
4. Remember the worst affected. Often as students we are in a social bubble, which may come with the assumption that we are only surrounded by the young and healthy and can’t truly do any harm. In reality, we can’t fathom how many people we actively and passively contact every day, and how many of these people may be vulnerable. Follow the official Public Health England advice. If you have to go out, then please do so consciously – watch your hygiene, maintain your distance, consider swapping your standard hug for a Wuhan shake, and leave some loo roll for the rest of us!
Finally, 5. Try switching off your phone for a little while. As alien as it can feel, unplugging from the constant noise is sometimes the kindest thing you can do for yourself.
Ultimately, I can’t say that I have much life experience in pulling through worldwide epidemics, and there is still a lot to learn about what this virus truly means for all of us looking forwards, but I cannot think of a time where compassion has ever made a situation worse. Even in the weirdest and whackiest of times, caring for each other is always an option.
I hope that no matter what situation we are in, we will always choose it.