© Darwin Binesh – v0.0.1
Stoicism for COVID-19
And How it Can Help
March 8, 2020
We all share a responsibility to be mindful of what is up to us or not; what we can control, and what we should let go.
During a crisis, our focus needs to be, as always, on how we respond to the obstacles before us. With COVID-19 and its shaping of a new normal, the decisions we make (and the framework behind how we make them), are of utmost importance. For this, we can turn to Stoicism: a practical philosophy to inform our decision-making.
Stoicism was founded by a philosopher named Zeno, who emphasized goodness, peace of mind, and living a life of virtue. This was in Greece over 3 thousand years ago. Its tenants include acting on what we can control, letting go of what we can't control, negative visualization (plan for the worst), and learned love for our fate (no matter what it is).
Since then, this set of values and beliefs has been practiced by Roman Emperors, business magnates, professional athletes, and today's political leaders. This perennial source of mental fortitude remains relevant now more than ever, no matter who you are.
I discovered Stoicism through the grieving process and used it to help me make the most of my new normal. It wasn't easy. I suffered for years before realizing I didn't have to. My suffering was a choice and this philosophy was a big part of realizing that. It's easy to forget: there's no point in dwelling on what we can't control; instead, our thoughts and actions are best spent moving on and moving forward.
No amount of crying, screaming at the t.v. or panic-buying will change the fact that COVID-19 is here and it's real. If not yet, it will be soon. This is a time when you have to sit down and remind yourself, very seriously, that you do not know and it's not all up to you.
Everything you're worried about: most of it doesn't matter. Even if your worst anxieties come true, they could still be positive for you in the long run too. You just have to frame it the right way; but right now, you can act right and do your part in avoiding a catastrophe.
Isolation (the only real action we need to focus on for now), will be an opportunity to learn, grow, and develop. Taking the opportunity now, before it's too late, can be the difference between life and death for many. It can also; in a truly stoic fashion, be how you transform obstacles into opportunities.
What We Can Do Today:
Now more than ever, we need pragmatism, altruism, and compassion.
Let's read (and follow!) the guides from the World Health Organization and our local health authorities. Wash your hands regularly, cough into your elbow, avoid large groups, skip unnecessary travel and work meetings. Stay home, sacrifice your social life for a few months, and just don't be stupid.
People were once called to war, you are being called to stay home. It's really not that bad.
Humanity is a team now, and our common enemy is this virus. Let's review how we can take care of our bodies, minds, and communities, during this world's "new normal". Like ancient stoics, all we have to do is trust in the process of what we can control (and right now!).
Take care of your physical health:
- Social Distancing: we can stay away from people unless absolutely required including our friends and family. Let employees work from home if possible and use common sense. If you're worried about feeling lonely, that's fine, call people. Look: it sucks, but staying home for 6-10 weeks can literally save lives. The opposite will kill people. Just stay home.
- Wash your hands: this is self-explanatory.
- Cancel events: provide virtual alternatives, postpone instead if you can't cancel. Your convenience and/or entertainment puts others at risk, including the elderly who are most at risk.
- Share medical resources: You physical health does not need 200 face-masks, or 50 bottles of hand-sanitizer. Remember that everyone needs access to these resources, especially front-line medical staff. Focus your energy on home workouts, soap, and nutrition. It's the best thing you can do for your physical health.
- Limit Stress: it's a killer. Focus on what you can control and act accordingly. Learn to let go and de-prioritize the things outside your control. Like stoics, we have to focus on the task at that. That will be staying home, taking care of the people around us, and keeping a healthy, stress-free mindset.
Take care of your mental health:
- Keep a journal: Journalling for even five minutes every morning can have a tremendous positive impact on your life. Leave the baggage "at the door" (of the home you won't be leaving soon) and see the overall benefits on your mental state.
- Meditate: At any time in the day (I prefer the morning personally), we can decompress and prepare the mind. Everyone from prison inmates, troubled students, professional athletes, and even Bill Gates has seen the benefits. Worth trying and there are apps available that can help.
- Negative Visualization: Negative visualization helps us understand the worst-case scenario; moreover, it frames how much good we can do today by staying home. The same can be said for making the most of any opportunity. If we know the worst-case scenario with clarity, avoiding it is that much more obvious.
- Connect with people you trust: It's easy to feel lonely while you're in isolation (obviously). The irony is that most of us are fine with staying home normally. Now that we're being told staying home is best, suddenly the masses feel like rebelling and going outside. Stay home anyway. Call people.
- Do not overly consume news on COVID-19: Check in daily, make sure you're up to speed with the situation, but try and see the positives around you too. It's okay to post about good things in your life and the lives of your loved ones. It's okay to talk to people about work. What matters is how you do what you do. Too much negativity in your life will hurt your outlook, mood, and cause stress (stress damages your immune system by the way).
Take care of the people around you:
- Do not hoard: hoarding essential goods hurts other members of the community who lack the resources to prepare. You don't need 500 face-masks or 100 bottles of hand sanitizer as mentioned earlier. Nobody needs that much toilet paper btw. This is especially the case with medical equipment; leave enough for people working on the front lines.
- Support local businesses: Small businesses are being hit hard while remaining the backbone of the modern economy. Don't want to go eat? Fair enough. But maybe instead of buying/hoarding supplies, you don't need: buy a gift card or pre-pay for services. The business will get the cash now, and you can claim the dinner/coffee/service later. It's a win-win.
- Batch your online orders: If you're stocking up reasonably, try to avoid inefficient shipments when you can get everything done at once. It puts more pressure on the supply chain. En-masse, this can seriously limit everyone's access to resources.
- Reach out to the elderly: If you have friends and neighbours who are older or more at-risk, do something for them. See if you can pick up their groceries, prescriptions, or talk on the phone with them so they don't feel as lonely.
After Taking Care, Remember to Live:
Stoicism is for moments like these. We practice it in times of peace so we may act best in times of "war". Do everything you can to take care of your body, mind, and communities. When you've done so, go on with life. Isolation may become normal, and a part of our lives for the remainder of 2020. That's okay. We can take the right precautions and move forward all the same. Life goes on, and it's how we respond that matters
Learn the things you've been putting off. That new language, a new skill, and a new project are all on the table. Where you were too busy before, now's the time. When all of this has passed, and we reach another new normal, we can say we made the most of our time, and have something to show for it.
Let's all do our part. With careful planning and effective isolation, we could end this before it goes too far.