This week, I start my seventh calendar-week of “Corona-confinement”.
Like a lot of people, I have gone through all sorts of reactions and phases
over the last six weeks, from anxiety and sleeplessness to connecting more
often and deeply with loved ones by phone and internet. I have – often
unconsciously – tried a wide range of coping mechanisms: eating/ virtual
book-clubbing/ drinking/ puzzling/ doing the plank – you name it. I even set up
a Facebook group for planking in quarantine. I spoke to friends that I have not
connected with for years. And throughout, bit by bit, I have had to define, in
my own terms, what lock-down means for me, every day.
So, I asked myself: how OK is it to chat to the elderly lady
in the street who seems oblivious or indifferent to social distancing? Do I
pick up the thing she just dropped for her, and take her groceries up the stairs,
or might I be putting her (or myself) at risk? Can I share a walk with friends,
if we agree to walk at a respectable distance, and are we going to be
able to stick to this distancing-agreement when we relax and it just feels
wooden and odd not to interact normally? How worried should I be about supplies
in my kitchen and bathroom, and what should a gap-year in confinement look like
for my daughter?
These questions will be familiar to some of you, too. When
talking to my friends, clients, colleagues and people generally, I am struck by
the vast differences in reaction to the day-to-day concerns of being in a
pandemic. While one friend thinks nothing of regularly driving to ride his
horse, others will not put a foot outside the door if they can avoid it at all.
The two know each other, and there are some sharp exchanges on shared WhatsApp
groups, illustrating my point: people are different and often struggle to
understand the other perspective. Then there is judgment, mobbing, loneliness, outcomes
that are not very helpful and maybe unnecessary. So, what is going on, I asked
myself, and what can be done?
Our personalities are complex, and many studies have been
made to understand and define personality, and how personality affects our
behaviour and our reactions to events. I find myself thinking about this a lot
recently as I observe my friends´, colleagues´ and neighbours’ different
reactions to the current pandemic and the pressures of confinement and social
distancing. I decided to investigate this, ask some questions and maybe find
ways of understanding each other´s reactions better.
Very quickly I discovered just how complex a topic this is
and realised that by no means am I qualified to write this article – but draw
attention to the issue, I can. Essentially, we are all amateur psychologists on
some level (or one would hope so). And if not, I would encourage you to read
about the five personality traits and consider finding an online test in an
idle hour, to understand yourself a little better. The so-called five pillars
of personality are described as openness to experience, conscientiousness,
extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Chances are that you already know a
lot about your own personality, but it is a fun exercise and it is surprising
to see the vast differences, even within families.
One thing that is worth mentioning in this context is the
way a person handles risk – as, ultimately, we are living in a time of
heightened risk to body and mind, and looking after the former can negatively
affect the latter. Your risk-appetite is quite deeply entrenched in you, and it
has a substantial impact on how you deal with this current Corona crisis. If
you are high in neuroticism you will – you guessed it – be unlikely to be out
and about and mixing with crowds any time soon. Similarly if you have issues
with anxiety or have reason to be risk-averse, such as underlying health
issues. We will most likely all determine new limits and what is acceptable for
ourselves, in line with what our governments will put down as rules and
regulations of how to keep ourselves and others safe. For some of us, this
might mean not hitting the Piccadilly line during rush-hour; some might wear
facial masks, while others may take a more lackadaisical approach.
In any case, understanding ourselves and those around us
better can essentially help us tolerate behaviour that deviates our your own –
surely a key skill in times of lockdown with your nearest and dearest.