Positive Impacts of Covid-19 Finding light in times of uncertainty

And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

- Kitty O'Meara

The coronavirus has stirred up a lot of emotions we often associate with negativity: stress, confusion, frustration, loss, fear. And, like most people, I have found that I do not like to remain in a place where these emotions are polluting my sensory system. Therefore, in an attempt to cope with the uncertainty and combat these emotions that uncertainty tends to lead to, I have tried to instead direct my attention to some of the opportunities this time in isolation presents and how we can actually use the current state of our everyday lives to offer solutions to the disturbances our mental health may be experiencing.

This poem, written by a woman named Kitty O’Meara offers a flicker of light in a time of darkness and provides a framework for ways we can use this period of forced isolation and uncertainty to build our immunity through the cultivation of a healthier mind and planet and come out of this struggle even stronger than before.

And the people stayed home.

When we have fewer obligations tying us to a computer or a chair, we realize just how much time we typically spend in physical stillness. During this time of fewer obligations, we are allowed to explore physical activity, to move our bodies in any way, and allow us to remember how much our bodies need, appreciate and love movement.

Studies show that aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression through an increase in blood circulation to the brain and, thus, on the physiologic reactivity to stress.

Without access to gyms or public parks, we have gone back to finding how to move our bodies in more organic ways.

I have noticed so many more people in my own neighborhood out on a run, walking their dogs, riding their bikes, and walking with their families. And this opportunity has actually provided more connection to the people we live around by encouraging us to once again move in these shared spaces.

And if there isn’t an opportunity to move in the streets, many gyms and trainers and fitness instructors around the world are offering free online classes during this time, allowing anyone to move in a structured way, in the comfort of their own homes.

We also have an opportunity to become increasingly during these times.

I have often heard the phrase in the past few weeks, “we are physically distancing, but socially connecting.”

Technology has allowed us to find new ways to connect during a time where we have been forced to isolate ourselves, possibly allowing for fear to cultivate in us and towards others.

And with additional hours in the day and a bit more concern for checking in with each other, people are reaching out to friends and family members and kindling relationships that have previously been pushed to the back burner to make room for more immediate connections.

“We are all meeting again next Sunday and this next time Claudia and Amelia are giving contour tutorials and the week after that you are teaching a yoga class!” [MOM’S NAME] excitedly said after her first ever virtual happy hour session with her cousins in England.

Research has shown that people who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Additionally, well connected individuals have been shown to have higher self-esteem, greater empathy and are more trusting and cooperative. Feelings of loneliness, however, can actually lead to inflammation and higher levels of norepinephrine which actually shuts down immune functions like viral defense while increasing the production of white blood cells. Therefore, it is incredibly important that we really leverage this opportunity during this period of isolation as this sense of connection can still be maintained even without physical connection.

Another way people have been using this time and isolation to keep a calm and steady yet exercised mind is by expressing their creativity.

People are making music, people are entertaining one another, people are using this time to find alternative ways of doing things.

Artists are live streaming shows and talk show hosts are filming episodes from their homes, allowing us to feel more connected to people who previously seemed more like a symbol. We are now able to see these individuals as humans, people also susceptible to this disease who are also forced to change their lives in big ways in response.

I have friends who have started drawing again or picked up an instrument for the first time in a while. People are writing and reading and dancing and working the parts of our brain that can only come alive in times of stillness.

Music has been shown to decrease anxiety, restore emotional balance, and help restore an effective functioning in the immune system by decreasing activity levels of neurons in the amygdala.

Dancing, or simply the movement of mind and body in a creative way, can relieve stress and anxiety.

And expressive writing can improve control over pain, depressed mood, and pain severity.

Not only is creative expression and indulgence in art and play beneficial for our mental and physical health, but also, allowing ourselves to continue to exercise our minds during times like these helps us to condition ourselves to keep fighting in times of adversity and will only serve to make us stronger and more adaptable in the long run.

Additionally, staying home and not constantly changing locations has really allowed me to appreciate stillness. It has shown me that we really can learn to exist in a single space. There are clear reductions in stress associated with not always being “on the go”. We can take time for reflection, take time for mediation, take time to turn inward and maybe even face the demons that may present themselves when we can’t simply run away from a situation. We can use this situation as an opportunity to work through the things that we typically hide away from by filling our lives.

We can take time to spend quality time with our loved ones, to cook home cooked meals, to watch movies with families, to play board games or do a puzzle, to spend time with our pets, to sit in this space of uncertainty and find solace in the fact that at the present moment, there is nothing we can do to change the situation so we might as well use it as an opportunity to let go.

Eventually we will find that, as much as it may consume us, worry does not serve us. We need to release and finally we have time. We can use this time to work through those emotions and release them, knowing that holding on to worry and fear will solve nothing – and if we can really leverage this time, imagine how invincible we could be on the other side.

The other element that is touched on in this poem is the impact that this forced pause on activity and life has had on the environment and our connection to the environment.

With less pollution from cars, fewer flights, less shipping of resources, and less food waste from restaurants and bars (which generated 40.7 million tons in 2017), the planet has been able to take a deep, cleansing breath.

It is truly remarkable what an impact just a few weeks of little activity has had. In New York, levels of carbon monoxide pollution have reduced by nearly 50%, carbon dioxide levels have dropped 5-10%, and methane levels have also decreased. In China, carbon emissions fell by around 25% over a four-week period leading to the proportion of days with “good quality air” increasing 11.4% compared with the same time last year. Italy has also seen marked decreases in air pollution and the longer we abstain from vehicular transportation, those numbers are likely to continue to drop.

Locally, there are other small impacts that are already visible.

“The boat ramps are still open, so I decided to go fishing the other day and it was remarkable how much less trash there was around the ramp and in the river” said Christian Funk, 25.

While completely halting travel and consumption is not a realistic solution to pollution and environmental degradation, what this shows us is how direct of an impact our actions have on the planet. The lasting impacts of these changes will be determined by how governments decide to re-stimulate their economies once the pandemic eases but hopefully the changes we are witnessing now will remain in our minds as we make decisions in the future.

But what is potentially even more remarkable - due to its potential for creating a long-term change in human behavior - is how this experience has the opportunity to reshape our idea of nature. We often have a tendency to view nature as these far off landscapes: mountains, rivers, waterfalls, glaciers, tropical islands and remote beaches; as being remote and untouched by humans.

But this perception can be incredibly toxic because it means our respect for nature is limited to those spaces as well. And if we only respect and love the remote and far off places and spaces untouched by humans, we will soon have nothing left to respect. In her TedTalk “Nature is everywhere – we just need to learn to see it”, Environmental writer Emma Marris calls on us to consider a new definition of nature so that we may learn to love and protect it.

This time of being forced to stay home has the potential to do that for us.

I have absolutely loved spending more time outside walking around my neighborhood. I have fallen in love with individual trees on neighboring streets and with watching the squirrels live their frantic lives in and around my home. It has allowed me to feel even more connected with nature, understanding that we are nature and nature is happening all around us, with us, and to us. We are interacting with the birds and the insects and the lizards and flowers every time we take a breath. Because we can’t drive to the beach for the day or take fly to the mountains, we are forced to satisfy that hunger for nature and the natural world by stepping outside of our homes and seeing the wonderful planet around us.

We can begin to see nature as the medians in our neighborhoods, the parks in our cities and the critters in our lawns. And we can begin to see ourselves as nature.

And we can allow this to instill something in us that will encourage us to continue to take care of our planet on the other side.


Created with images by Kira auf der Heide - "untitled image" • Carl Barcelo - "A woman doing a yoga pose" • Dollar Gill - "untitled image" • Dollar Gill - "untitled image" • russn_fckr - "Many different paint pots" • Wes Hicks - "untitled image" • Patrick Perkins - "I took these for AirBnb, but they’re so pretty" • Saffu - "Pink orange flower" • veeterzy - "Tree in forest of plants" • Holger Link - "Puxi" • David Marcu - "Alone in the unspoilt wilderness"