For this special edition of In the Lead, we’re sharing a timely piece written by Clinical Psychologist and IWF South Africa member “DrD” Dorianne Weil.

Most of us have experienced unpredictable challenges or crises. Sometimes the initial response may be, “it’s not fair.” But here’s the truth: Life is fair, because it’s not fair to everyone. The difference? This time we’re all in it together. We are living in an unprecedented time of uncertainty and disruption. This global pandemic does not discriminate.

Nothing connects people more immediately and pervasively than a shared emotional event. The sense of community generated by this challenge is palpable. It’s all people talk about and completely dominates the media. There is a minimising of differences and divisiveness – seen as obstacles just a few weeks ago – toward a collective sense of cooperation emanating from recognition and understanding. This is manifested by many stepping up, wanting to assist, and displaying appreciation and kindness that says, “we are all members of the human race.”

The understandable anger that spills out toward those seen as uncooperative in attempting to “flatten the curve” comes from the belief that right now it’s “all for one and one for all,” and if you don’t do your part, you are disregarding everyone.

As we have learned from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, safety and survival are paramount. When resources become scarce, heartwarming cooperation can quickly turn into aggressive competition; the sense of belonging gives way to “me, myself and I.” Sometimes this leads to an almost xenophobic reaction, even politicising and blame. A brother morphs into a rival when there is no food on the table.

One response to this global pandemic is the forced realisation that the future is now. “One day when…” becomes more inappropriate when the rug is pulled from under your feet in a heartbeat. The sense of losing control and unpredictability is fearful and overwhelming. A new sense of urgency emerges that reminds us: This is not a rehearsal.

Self-isolation and social distancing often generates a self-audit. Instead of responding to external demands on the treadmill of life, we have a chance to listen to our own drumbeat and undergo a self-evaluation. “Where have I been? Where am I going? What’s important to me? How do I want to spend my energy from now on? Am I feeling fulfilled as part of this rat race?” We begin to operate more from the inside out than from the outside in.

There is often a wake-up call and priority shift that involves valuing relationships that may have been there but were taken for granted. We do not and should not always live our lives as if we are in a crisis, but we are reminded in tough times what’s really important.

This generated awareness may hopefully result in a small shift in human behaviour once this is over. And it will be. Just a little more time, recognition, appreciation and kindness can actually be life-changing.

During this time of self-reflection, people speak about the power of support and connection. You are not meeting face to face with business colleagues, friends and family, and you may miss this contact. That you do underscores the fact that we are wired for connection; you may want to be more proactive in reaching out than you have in the past. The appreciation of that “how are you doing?” call generates an awareness of the importance of you behaving in the same way. Contact and care is just as important as the advice and information.

With this loss of control comes a re-evaluation regarding the balance of responsibility and self-direction with the harsh realisation that there are external influences beyond our control.

However, let us not forget that we can direct our own responses. They range from denial of what we are facing to unbridled panic. The virus and the panic are equally contagious. Personality traits are enhanced. Typically anxious people will panic, people who haven’t been expressive will appear almost unrealistically calm.

Feelings of fear and anxiety are normal during this traumatic situation. You must own and understand the story to respond appropriately. Emotional intelligence is the recognition of emotions, what triggered them and why, then dealing with them intelligently. It’s a combination of head and heart. Factual information is extremely important, but so are the odd touches of humour that serve as tiny breaks to lighten the load.

During social distancing, it is advisable to not obsessively looking at screens 24-7. Of course, information is paramount, but so is giving yourself some downtime and distraction. With an inability to accelerate the process comes renewed appreciation and gratitude. Simple things like the beauty of a flower, the health of your family, the smile of your child, become blessed gifts and may generate a new resolve to leave this time a little differently.

What helps is an optimistic world view – a belief and knowledge that “this too shall pass.” Doing so allows us to see a future and behave in ways that will manifest that future in a more fulfilling and positive way.

We are immersed in the most challenging of times. We recognise the uncertainty, anxiety and concern that our lives may never be the same. However, we also know that we do not have to let suffering go to waste. Let us value the support and connection of community. Let us value our resilience and know that we can and do overcome. Let us recognise abundance as “being” not only as “having,” and let us emerge with renewed appreciation, gratitude, determination and resolve.

Let us remember that life isn’t always about finding yourself, it’s also about creating yourself. Please do not leave this challenging time with your music still inside you.

Originally written by IWF South Africa member “DrD” Dorianne Weil, Clinical Psychologist.