COVID-19: One man’s thoughts

March 20, 2020

My grandfather remembers that he was walking home from school when he learned that the US had entered World War II. My mom listened to Neil Armstrong take a “giant leap for mankind” on the living room TV. I remember sitting in my seventh grade English class when I heard about the World Trade Center.

History’s most indelible moments imprint in our minds where we were and what we were doing when they happened. With the coronavirus pandemic, we will remember where we weren’t. March Madness, Broadway, South by Southwest. Church services, St. Patrick’s Day parades, elementary schools and universities. Disney World, political primaries. All of them — closed, cancelled, or postponed.

I was transfixed by these headline-worthy changes last week, but now I’m experiencing a trickle-down effect of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s the changes not reported in the media, the changes to my personal routine, that confirm this new reality — the postponement of two friends’ weddings, a cancelled vacation, secretly planning and then secretly rescheduling a surprise baby shower.

When COVID-19 arrived in Louisville, where I live, I felt a sense of anxiety and stress that I couldn’t shake. The governor held a daily press conference, closed schools throughout the state and, most recently, closed all bars and restaurants.

Mercer informed US and Canadian colleagues that we would work from home through the end of March, if not longer.

In some ways, these actions reduced the stress and anxiety that I and others felt, because they limited spread and exposure. But, the practices of quarantining and “social distancing,” though necessary, create new, less tangible stressors.

It’s unusual that so many people experience the same thing at the same time, and our current situation creates an opportunity to discuss mental health and strategies for increasing our mental wellbeing during this trying time.

Know what you can control.

Focus on what’s within your control; let the rest go.

If you haven’t already, you can learn the symptoms of COVID-19 and what to do if you get sick. Continue to stay informed with Mercer’s daily updates. It will take many individual actions rooted in personal responsibility to mitigate the pandemic and to ease the pressure on healthcare workers and first responders.

If you’re fortunate enough to be able to work from home, then do that with the knowledge that it will not be “the same” and it will likely be challenging, particularly if you have children whose schools have closed. But, you’re not alone. Check in with others for whom this is the new reality — likely you’ll be able to share some tips and tricks.

You can still connect with friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors. You can still have taco night. You can still stay up too late to watch one more episode. A lot of small and local businesses have also suggested ways you can support them during this critical time. A quarantine doesn’t mean ignoring your community; it means putting your community first.

Refresh yourself, not the news.

It’s a habit. We refresh the news and our feeds for more updates, and with the current pandemic, we’re “rewarded” more often. But when you start to feel like you have a sense of what’s happening, or you have a feeling of powerlessness, it’s okay — encouraged, even — to step away.

If circumstances allow, go sit in your backyard or go for a walk, text a friend, start something new.

The coronavirus has actually increased how often I’m talking to my friends, most often through emails and texts, but also through video hangouts. As a matter of fact, some friends and I are dialing into a video hangout this week just to catch up — friends I haven’t chatted with in quite a while.

From what I’ve seen, parents are getting creative with virtual field trips and online learning. And the talented artists of our great country are contributing by hosting online story time, presenting free operas, and facilitating virtual performances of all types. We do live in an amazing time.

Find ways to move around, exercise. There are guided meditation and yoga videos online, and several gyms are offering free daily workouts through their social media.

Watch that show that’s been on your queue for weeks. Read a book. Write a book.

Live with empathy.

In the last six months, I started two book clubs — one with my coworkers and another with a group of friends from business school. Unintentionally, both groups recently read different books about diversity, inclusion, and privilege.

With those conversations fresh in my mind, it’s impossible not to think about how even though we’re all affected by this pandemic, we’re not all affected in the same ways. Not everyone can work from home and not everyone has paid leave. The service and travel industries are experiencing exceptional volatility that some others may not be experiencing.

When you feel frustrated with the circumstances and the quarantine, try to remember this is a gut punch to everyone. When you’re at the grocery store, remember that everyone else is trying to take care of themselves and their families, too. Empathy doesn’t solve every problem, but it can put things in perspective.

Aside from the benefits to our individual mental wellbeing, there’s also a business case for empathy. In the coming weeks, Mercer will release its fifth annual Global Talent Trends Study. The 2020 report draws on conversations with more than 7,000 C-suite executives, leaders, and employees in 34 countries. The report addresses some of the most significant issues to the future of work, including AI and automation, diversity and longevity, and HR transformation.

Given our shared circumstances, this year’s report, which was completed earlier this year, is prescient in its findings — companies that use empathy to make decisions fare better than their peers on many key metrics.

In the coming weeks and months, life may become more constrained than it is now. There will probably be new restrictions, and they may last longer than we anticipate. Your daily life will feel smaller. In those moments, it’s important to take a breath and remember this won’t last forever. It’s important to text a friend, message a colleague, or call someone. It’s important to remember where we are — apart, but not alone.

About the author

JD Mitchell is a Global Account Manager at Mercer, where he collaborates with the compensation and benefits teams of multinational organizations. He joined Mercer in 2015.