Empathy in the time of Covid

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It seemed that initially in the first few weeks and months of the current pandemic people initially reacted by realising what they may have taken for granted over the years – bars, restaurants, holidays, last minute trips, drives, seeing family and friends, BBQs etc. We could understand and sympathise with others because it was something we were all experiencing. We didn’t need to reflect or empathise too hard to have a basic understanding of a shared experience. We could understand that people felt worried, anxious, lonely, isolated, disappointed or that they missed family and friends. But the longer the pandemic has continued, it’s easy to write off how others feel. “We’re all in the same boat” or “I have it tougher than them because of A, B, C” etc. When we’re all feeling under the pressure of months of difficulty and challenge we can start to become emotionally fatigued. We start to tire of thinking of others because we’ve had the same thoughts and challenges for such a long time, thinking about our own feelings and those close to us can start to feel burdensome enough. The lack of variety in the lives of some or groundhog day covid style can also leave us feeling overwhelmed because we have less options to “reset” ourselves – a trip, a walk, a holiday, a family catch up, letting your hair down with friends, having a few drinks down your local pub – many of these activities are off the cards for many depending on the rules in your area or country or through personal choice.

In essence we have high emotions mixed with lots of uncertainty and anxiety. Then we have these emotions and fears continuing for a long period of time with less opportunities to snap ourselves out of it or refresh ourselves. All of this means we start to become less and less sensitive to the needs of others because it becomes very difficult to focus your attention and empathy on others when your own emotions are going through a marathon style event. It’s understandable and I’m sure the mental and emotional impacts of this pandemic will continue long beyond our return to some kind of “normal” whatever that looks like and when it will be. I’ve already seen lots of reports and articles about rises in alcoholism, mental health issues, relationship breakdowns and domestic violence.

I’m not trying to stand on a pulpit and preach anything because I’m in no position to and I don’t for a second think I can fully understand someone’s individual circumstances – their emotions, their lives, who they are. But I do know that obstacles and challenges can either bring out the best in or the worst in us. Right now we all have an opportunity to react negatively or positively when it comes to how we deal with others. We can either retreat into our own problems and sufferings. Or we can ensure that we do what we can with what we have to make our own little corner of the world just a little bit better. Just a little. Just by trying to do our best to reduce the burden on others – just a little. Empathy is a powerful thing. Be a friend to others when they need it most.

“You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world, that is something you are free to do and it accords with your nature, but perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could avoid.” – Franz Kafka