A Year and Life Forever Changed
Few of us would have anticipated the uncertainties and anxieties brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. The virus’ effects will extend well into the coming years. Even if a vaccine is made available (or by the time you are reading this, already widely available), our lives and daily routines would been changed dramatically. The reverberations of the pandemic are felt economically, socially, mentally. We have all been affected by an extraordinary reversal of humanity’s fortunes; our sense of security, confidence and well-being forever altered by an invisible, microscopic threat that some countries are still struggling to effectively contain. The ‘great reset,’ as some journalists and economists are reporting, has resulted in a tremendous loss of jobs and livelihoods. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated back in September 2020 that global labour income has declined by 10.7%, an equivalent of USD3.5 trillion, relative to the same period a year ago . That’s a three trillion American dollars lost from wages and salaries. A report in Forbes reported that in April 2020 (which now, seems a lifetime away), the unemployment rate in America was at 14.7% - the highest since The Great Depression .
Closer to home, a report by the Malaysian financial weekly The Edge reports that the growing feelings of job insecurity are taking a toll on citizens’ mental health. The report also highlighted that the fear of losing employment is especially pronounced among low-income earners (those earning RM4,000 or lower a month) and that a whopping 92% of workers across all sectors reporting feelings of stress from their jobs during this time . The pandemic has also taken a toll on Malaysians’ mental health. Befrienders, a local NGO offering over-the-phone counselling support, reported an increase in calls between March and May 2020 when initial movement restrictions were announced in the country. A third of these calls, according to the organization, was suicidal .
Amidst the persistent uncertainties, our team at Emotivity would like to extend our sincerest wish you, our readers, that your year ahead will be met with courage and in the spirit of persistence. Of course, it is not our intention to sugar-coat the pains and suffering that that affected so many. Nor is it our wish to downplay the difficulties – financial or psychological, that you are going through. Our final article for the year is but a modest reflection of the many themes and personal realizations from an eventful year – things that we’ve come to realize for having lived through an experience of unprecedented change and a reassuring message that we’ve navigated what could very well be one of the most challenging time of our lives.
Quality Social Connections Matter More than Ever
The pandemic and movement restrictions imposed made clear that relationships and connections with others matter. Money sustains livelihoods, but it is our close connections family and friends that sustain our emotional well-being. Movement restrictions, quarantining, self-isolation, and social distancing policies have all effectively frayed our close connections. This has led to increased feelings of loneliness and subsequently, poorer mental health outcomes . Countless studies show that the quality of our relationships helps us flourish; the quality of our social connections is associated with psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety . Sadly, this also means that poor-quality relationships can have a detrimental effect on our mental health. Reports of conflict within households, to domestic abuses, have been brought to light in recent reports, highlighting that social connections – close, supportive, and empathetic connections with others is an important contributor to our well-being. Our social bonds will become increasingly important in a world that will now be reliant on virtual, online connections.
It’s OK to be Unproductive
We’ve seen numerous calls for greater productivity – what some even consider an increase in ‘productivity porn,’ each offering advice on how to make the best use of your time during the lockdown. It is important, however, to not equate a pandemic as a time of abundant opportunities. This is, of course, not to discount or discourage the efforts and accomplishments of remarkable individuals who have worked extensively during this time (say, scientists in the development of vaccines) and made remarkable progress during these uncertain times. But even so, there’s been no shortage of reports of workers – front-liners, in particular, experiencing enormous amounts of burnout from their roles . Busyness is not productivity, and neither should the assertion that over-work be taken as a sign of organizational commitment or loyalty. We draw the line as well when it comes to shaming, comparing, and making others feel inadequate for just making it through the day. Productivity cannot – or rather, should not be demanded of us at the expense of our mental health. We have said it once and we will say it again – it is OK to be unproductive, to feel unmotivated, or feel apathetic – you’ve not lived experienced an event like this before. The least reasonable thing to expect of yourself is to get to inbox zero when there’s a storm brewing outside your house. Be kind to yourself and know you can always try again next week. Or next month.
You Cannot Sugarcoat Another’s Pain by Forcing Positivity
A popular meme making its rounds on the Internet is a picture called “fixing leak with flex tape,” and consists of two halves. The top frame of the meme depicts a man standing next to leaking container, while in the second, lower frame, the picture zooms in on the man’s hand applying a thick, black tape to the leak, effectively stopping the water from spilling. The meme is often used to represent quick, yet ineffective ways to resolve problems and serious issues. Sure, the leak has stopped – but the water container is still cracked; the permanent damage likely to cause further leakages. The meme reminds us of the numerous inappropriate – daresay, callous and insensitive responses to others’ pain during the pandemic. You might have words such as “depression,” “anxiety” and “financial problems” running across the picture of the leaking container in the first frame, which is then glossed over with words such as “think positive,” “be grateful you still have a job” and “my friend has it worse” over the flex tape in the second frame. Forcing others to be positive without acknowledging their pain and suffering is a bad idea, as is much of the advice that centres around the idea of ‘toxic positivity.’ Indeed, one recent study shows that forcing, or over-generalizing positive attitudes can exacerbate harm and abuse in toxic relationships . Our advice? Be wary of claims that and statements that offer that “quick shot-in-the-arm’ positivity for problems during this time. And don’t be the one that dispenses those shots, either.
Power and Empathy are Inversely Related
The world, through numerous media outlets, cast its attention to countries that successfully contained the outbreak, contrasting these success stories with nations that struggled to keep cases under control. We heard acclaim for women leaders, those who sought out the advice of scientific advisors and communicated clearly to citizens on national strategies to contain the outbreak. But one quality sets aside leaders who receives such praise from those that drew criticism or scorn – empathy. Power and empathy are inversely related . The adage that “power corrupts” holds, as does Abraham Lincoln’s quote: “Nearly all men can withstand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Not every leader who navigated or directed organizations and teams during this time did so with empathy. Some paid lip-service to this important quality, preferring instead to gloss over others’ pain, further disconnecting them clearly understanding and meaningfully connecting with their followers. The key take-away from this? Just because leaders are hearing does not mean that they are listening.
You Are Stronger Than You Think
A quote by English author A.A. Milne (who many of you may know from his writings of stories of Winnie-the-Pooh) seems apt for our final reflection point: “You’re braver than you believe and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” Milne’s words reflect the essence of what psychologists have come to call post-traumatic growth – the experience of positive change following adversity. Indeed, some studies indicate that individuals do recover following difficult life-changing circumstances such as severe health complications. They do so by reappraising their life and priorities and engage in an existential re-evaluation of their lives . A recent study also highlights that this positive change – a re-orientation of one’s life priorities, renewed sense of self and increase gratitude, was also evident in accounts of individuals recovering from mental health issues . We end not by telling you that your challenges, problems, and difficulties will just go away – but reminding you that you have it in you to overcome these challenging times. And we know that you will use them to make the most out of the difficult circumstances you find yourself in.