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Opportunity in adversity 2“Inside of every problem lies an opportunity” Robert Kiposaki

Here we are, in the middle of probably the biggest health and financial catastrophe of our times. In a matter of just a few days everyone in the modern world has been affected.  In the past, viruses have originated from China allegedly because of consumption of wild animals.   First it seemed like a distant China problem but now the virus is at everyone’s neighbourhood. There is a worldwide panic.  When we watch doomsday Hollywood movies we seldom think it will be a harsh reality someday.  Please watch “Contagion” a 2011 Hollywood movie.  Our freedom has been severely curtailed.  Our options have been drastically reduced.  Most of what we used to take for granted has disappeared.  The germ is completely democratic.  It does not care for age, caste, colour, language or religion.  There is a certain level of uneasiness in all our minds.  The world that we were used to, in most parts, does not seem to exist.  We are all wondering as to what the world will look like from now on.  We are all being put to extreme test of patience and resilience.  Our heads are spinning as we are bombarded with millions of news items and statistics relating to coronavirus by TV channels, internet and Whatsapp.  We are fed with dozens of untested advice and solutions.  Magically we are learning to live with less.  We have realised that we need very little essential items.  As humans stay indoors, mountains, trees, forests, rivers, lakes, birds, fishes, insects and animals are breathing easy and reclaiming their space in a graceful manner.  The sky is clear and blue not hazy because factories and aircrafts are not polluting the air.  We are now realising what kind of irreversible damage we have been doing to the environment by mindless development and over consumption.  A tiny virus which can only be seen under a microscope has humbled the entire world.  It is bewildering that when the virus is outside our body a simple soap or sanitizer can kill it but once it enters our body then in some humans it causes fatal damage.  There is no proven cure or medicine in sight as of now.    All the super special sophisticated arms of the advanced countries which are so mercilessly powerful in taking human lives, uprooting civilizations and dismantling regimes are powerless and useless to control this disease.  On the brighter side, we are discovering hundreds of new heroes and warriors amongst us who are putting their life at risk to help us deal with this pandemic.  We must salute the health workers, first responders, policemen, sanitation department and numerous others who are taking huge personal risks to save our lives.  Banks are classified as essential services.  Thousands of dedicated branch and frontline staff are putting themselves through hardship to serve the nation.  One thing is very clear that most of us will be a very different personality to what we were prior to lock-down.  In ordinary times we have regrets of the past and worries about the future.  What a waste of energy.   There are stories of family not being able to say proper “goodbye” to their loved one as they leave this world alone in an isolation ward consumed by coronavirus.  We all feel scared and threatened even though only a small fraction of the entire population has been infected and so far less than 200,000 have died.  Fortunately, many are recovering from the illness caused by the virus.  Those who have not been infected should feel very lucky.

That said, the question in front of us is how do we make use of this adversity?  What should we do to cope with this extraordinary life changing situation?  How do we take advantage of the present conditions?  How do we move forward?  There are no easy answers.  Here are some suggestions which you may consider especially if you are a working professional, student, housewife, businessman or senior citizen…

  1. Skill building

No matter what stage of our career, we sometimes get stuck in a rut. We are too busy to know that we are stifled by our patterns. This is a good period to invest your time and efforts in learning a new skill. There are several online certifications that you can easily enrol for. You can also learn from short programs on websites like Coursera and Udemy. Several professionals are offering free webinars that can help us learn new concepts and ideas. You can also listen to some useful podcasts while doing your house chores and broaden your thinking and perspective.

  1. Cultivating a hobby

The one thing that we all sacrifice while working long hours is our hobbies. They are at the centre stage in most of our New Year’s Resolutions and then they disappear as we get busy with work, family, traffic, social events. Now is the time to bring them back on the forefront. Being involved in hobbies is an excellent way to lift your mood, build creativity and blow off steam. Happy is the man who lives by his hobby. Psychologists use the term ‘flow’ to describe this state where we are completely focussed and absorbed while enjoying an activity. Flow has several benefits for our mind, body and soul. So use this time to do that gardening, painting, writing that you have been putting off for so long.

  1. Declutter your home and mind

Remember how you have been promising yourself to declutter your house, cupboard, bag or car? Now is the time. Minimalism is about living with less. You make room, space and time, for the things you love and eliminate everything that distracts you from them. Research from Princeton University has found that clutter competes for your attention. Organized environments lead to a sharp, productive and focussed mind. So start with decluttering your space. Best way is to make 3 boxes “Keep”, “Donate”, “Throw”.

  1. Keep connected

So while we may miss our usual hangouts with our close buddies, its probably a good time to stay connected with our social and professional network. Check in on ex-colleagues, reach out to your distant relatives, and call those old friends. While its a tough time for small business owners, its also an opportunity to stay engaged with customers and prospects. Several business conferences are now being run online. Participate in these to build your professional network.

  1. Fitness

If you don’t exercise, meditate or do yoga now, then the problem is not the lack of time but lack of discipline. Exercise has proven benefits not just for your physical wellbeing, but also for your mental wellbeing and happiness. Train yourself on fitness, form an exercise routine now and there’s a good chance that it won’t leave you even after the lockdown. Get inspired by celebrities who are keeping fit while at home. Several fitness, meditation and yoga Apps for beginners and regulars have made fitness a lot more fun. Some Yoga teachers even conduct classes online. Make use of these.

  1. Acts of Kindness

Acts of kindness are one of the many hacks for a happy and satisfying life. But even with the best of our intentions, we sometimes do not have the time or the wherewithal to give a helping hand to someone. There are many inspiring stories that have emerged of people who have made it their mission to help those in need during this crisis. You can step up too and help in any small way you can.  Check on that senior citizen who stays alone in your building, ask your neighbours if you should bring them medicines or grocery while you step out to bring yours, donate some funds to charities supporting those who can’t support themselves right now. Do your part.

While the above practices will not just make your time staying home a constructive one, it will also form habits that will benefit you much after this is over. Most of these habits are known to improve mental wellbeing and keep us away from common mental disorders like depression, anxiety and stress which seem to be on the rise during this time. But while we focus on things that we ought to do, let’s take a quick look at what we ought not to do during this phase

  • Do not constantly watch COVID news on TV and internet as our body considers the bad news as a threat and kicks off our stress system.
  • Do not spend too much time on social media. Research has shown that excessive use of social media is related with depression, anxiety and an overall reduction in life satisfaction. A few days of complete social media detox will be helpful.
  • Do not let official work fill your day. Its sometimes hard to know when to stop, while working from home. Our brains prefer routines and so stick to a broad schedule to balance work with rest of your life.
  • Do not pick fights with family members. Instead use this time to get to know your loved ones.

To cope with Covid 19 and the lock-down stress, we need to have a proper perspective. Human beings have enormous resilience to overcome any situation.  Please take time to review what catastrophes our ancestors have dealt with in the past?  How did they deal with such extraordinary hardships?  One of the books that is highly recommended is Viktor Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’.  It is a must read for everyone in order to understand how one can find meaning even in the most difficult and hopeless situations in life.  For centuries we endured, suffered and survived smallpox.  Then Edward Jenner found vaccinology in 1796 which helped eradicate the awful disease.  Across the world, there are hundreds of scientists busy working round the clock to find a solution to defeat coronavirus.  So keep calm and have faith.  It is always better to focus on “what we can do” rather than wasting energies on “what we cannot do”.  Listen to music.  Practice deep breathing.  Fill your mind with good thoughts.  Always believe that we have tremendous inner strength to deal with any situation.

A big Thank You to Mr. Murali M Natrajan, MD & CEO, DCB Bank for co-authoring this article with me.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not represent the opinions of any entity or employer with which the authors are associated.