Community, Health anxiety and Coronavirus

I am finding the current state of the world to be highly alarming. I have pretty bad health anxiety at the best of times (something which I have been reluctant to acknowledge for a very long time, but really is undeniable) so this current situation is making life even harder to process.

With new advise on social distancing today, things have got even more serious.

There is so much to consider and think about, and it is very easy within it all to think more about myself, my family and friends than the wider community of which I am a part. Anxiety is a state of heightened everything. It is essentially a permanent state of fight or flight, in such a situation you naturally think about your immediate circle before anyone else. This is nothing to be ashamed of, but it is something we need to be aware of when the reality is that most people will be operating in this way at this time.

However, if we button down the hatches and hide ourselves away from the world with all the toilet paper, pasta and hand sanitiser we can get our hands on we will find when we emerge that others mental health has deteriorated to such a degree that they are in serious trouble. We will also come out of this crisis in an even more individualistic society than we have now.

So, what can we do? There are things we can do as individuals, but also as community. We need to get organised and communicate with each other if we really want to ensure that those stuck in self isolation without family or community nearby do not find themselves alone and lost and climbing the walls through loneliness, fear and anxiety.

I, by no means, have all the answers and there are many people out there offering ideas and solutions, so getting connected online to others looking for solutions to these things is wise. However, these are my thoughts.

Firstly, don’t panic shop. This is a really hard one. I have absolutely been sorely tempted and am struggling to resist the urge to stock up with a few weeks worth of dry food and freezable food. However, the reality of doing this is that whilst it ensures that you will be ok it leaves other people struggling to get what they need for now. There are many people within our community who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus and are also less able to get out and about to various different shops looking for what they need.

If people cannot get what they need for the next few days without having to go to multiple shops, exposing them to more risk, when they are already vulnerable we are enabling the spread. My friend had rice taken from her trolley yesterday – I wouldn’t advise doing that…

I do understand the fear that drives this though. For those who struggle to get out and see the shelves emptying. For those who are self employed and worried about their financial position and ability to buy supplies when they may not be getting as much money as they need in over the coming months it will be particularly alarming. So…

Secondly, do build community. This is something that churches and other religious organisations/social clubs can get very involved in. Spread the word through social media and your usual means of communication what you are organising. Let those particularly nervous about grocery shopping and their health vulnerability know that you will have people available to help with delivering groceries to peoples door if they are required to self isolate, phone them for community etc.

There is a brilliant postcard doing the rounds on social media that is an amazing template for how we can serve our communities. Whether this is through organisations such as churches, or individuals posting them through their neighbours door this is a way that we can help build community during a time of crisis and help people know, even when we are not in crisis that there are people around who care about their wellbeing and health. Link to postcard template here.

Thirdly, for churches, obviously we need to pray. However, our response needs to go beyond the sensible advice being offered about washing hands, avoiding contact where it isn’t needed etc and the usual pray for protection and spiritual response. These are both valid and important responses, however we have to mobilise into action responses. We can’t rely on individuals in our congregation to organise the response alone and say ‘look at this great response, why don’t others of you do this too!’, encouraging each other to act is important, but doing it this way alone will mean that those not in groups/new to the church/introverts and our most vulnerable could slip through the cracks.

The response needs to be front led as well as grass roots. Without that we will find members of our congregation finding themselves feeling unloved and unknown within a community that we have been called to. A community that is meant to be family.

Finally, we MUST ensure we are all doing the obvious. I went to see my granny (90) at the weekend and was doing an elbow bump with her instead of hug and kiss. We washed our hands every time something in our environment changed and we kept our distance where possible.

If and when she needs to self isolate, we will, as a family, be organising a rota for phone calls each day, even though some of us will call when we are not on the rota naturally anyway, it will guarantee that she will not have a single day without at least one conversation with another person.

We need this – the hygeine response, sensible measure to protect our most vulnerable, but also the human contact response because loneliness and mental ill health will soar through this crisis.

We have a responsibility to those we love, but also to those we are around but don’t necessarily know to fight that inevitability with everything we have. Lets not make this health crisis a mental health crisis too. Let’s organise and fight it together, as community and show that actually, we care about those around us not just those we love.

With these increased restrictions coming in today, loving and being aware of each other – regardless of whether you know each other already or not – is essential to protect the mental health of our society.

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