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How to survive a global pandemic

CultureHow to survive a global pandemic

Every minute, social media spills out endless streams of bad news, overwhelming opinions, and far-fetched conspiracies. If you are not swirling in a whirlpool of anxiety and fear, then you are made of tough stuff. When stuck at home, it is difficult for even the most positive among us to stay upbeat. And yet, that’s what we must do!

As I’m a writer with a wild imagination, my brain tends to create the worst possible scenarios. It keeps me up at night visualising our world becoming a dystopian landscape, the likes of which are only seen in science fiction disaster films. Come the morning, my mind is a sluggish mess. When life throws me off balance, I tend to wallow in the dark dirge of the awful. And worst of all, I get hooked on the Internet, trying to understand why and where this virus came from, and trying to fathom the karma behind it, that is causing mankind to suffer. I also look to the past for answers. I discovered that the 14th century plague, better known as the Black Death, was one of greatest disasters, in terms of fatalities, the world had seen. Is this news relevant? Yes and No.

No, because COVID-19 is not the Black Death.

Yes, because mankind has made tremendous advances in science and technology to tackle this deadly virus. We have not only the instinct for survival, but also the education for it. We know that the lockdown is for our benefit. Staying healthy, maintaining proper personal hygiene, and keeping a distance from people is the way to cut the rate of infections.

Mankind is wired to survive. When we humans are faced with danger or stress, a biological trigger helps us decide whether to stay and fight the enemy, or to run away — you may have heard of this as the ‘fight or flight’ response. In this case, we are not fleeing, but we are avoiding the many sources of danger. All over the country, schools, public transport and almost all social and economic activities have been shut down to reduce the risk of spreading or catching the virus.

In our digital age, we are inundated with information. This is not necessarily a bad thing — we can use every bit of useful knowledge to our advantage to tackle this contagion. This strain of coronavirus has brought the world to its knees, with the number of infections crossing a million in a matter of months. But we have the determination to fight back. Resolute experts from the medical and scientific fields across the globe are battling this deadly virus. They are working vigorously to find an effective cure and a vaccine. Back in the 14th century, the plague wiped out about 75 million people in five years. COVID-19 will not get that far.

Are we really facing another world catastrophe? And will we be able to stop it? Only time will tell, but I am optimistic.

We have no control over what is happening to us. Our best course of action is to follow the guidelines given to us by the experts. What is the point in complaining about it? Instead, we can refocus our attention towards what needs to be done and to do it daily — this is what is called for in this challenging period of our lives.

Our health and wellbeing have become top priority, even a sniffle or a common cold should be dealt with immediately. For me, Vitamin C is a daily necessity. Hot water infused with lemon and turmeric, with a pinch of black pepper, is my first drink in the morning. I also prioritise my daily exercise routine, and make it more fun by maintaining variety, from high-intensity to dance workouts.

Along with physical health, our mental wellbeing is vital to stay fit. When the news causes our minds to spiral into a panic, we need to mentally take a step back and switch off our devices — it helps us maintain a balanced mind. Listening to music or watching television eases the tension. It is also important to be grateful that we are in the comforts of home, with loved ones, and that we are safe. Research shows that gratitude changes our brain chemistry and anatomy, which positively affects our health. It helps us develop an optimistic perspective.

Everyone has a different way of dealing with problems and daily issues. Whatever ways one follows, in the end, the right attitude is what matters. My preferred way to develop mental strength is to write. I have written 10 books in the past two decades, which has transformed me, enabled me to develop a positive outlook.

In my latest book, The Blue Jade, I have written about topics that are close to my heart — art, heritage, and culture. It took me a few years to write this book because there were many unrelated themes that I wanted to integrate into a fluid storyline. It had to be a thriller, but with a parallel story of Mirabai, the princess-saint. I also wanted to include a storyline with black-market smuggling of artefacts. Importantly, the book had to have a strong female lead character.

I took an online course to study art crime. That’s another exciting opportunity that comes with a lockdown — one can learn so much through online courses. There’s so much material available at our fingertips, and now we have more time to spend on learning it.

After many rewrites, I completed The Blue Jade, and was quite satisfied with the outcome. Writing is such a soothing and satisfying tool to overcome anxiety, that I would recommend it to everyone.

Here’s how it helps:

  1. It distracts me from troubling news.
  2. I am not picking up my phone for every ping or buzz.
  3. I don’t feel socially isolated.
  4. This form of concentration brings clarity to my thoughts and feelings.
  5. It is incredibly satisfying, and even more so when I achieve a word count goal.

If you want to try writing as a way to develop a new skill and make positive use of the lockdown, go for it. Take small steps. This isn’t about sitting down and facing the tyranny of a blank screen. Have a few ideas in mind, and then sit in front of your computer for only 15 minutes. Write about the topic that you feel most passionately about. The key is to let your feelings flow, more than getting the words right.

Shobha Nihalani is the author of 10 books, with ‘The Blue Jade’ being the latest. Her debut novel, ‘Karmic Blues’, was translated and published in Denmark.

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