Sometimes the best thing for us is to disconnect from the news and connect to our surroundings
As I sit down to write this, the first words on my mind are, “here we are again.” Roughly two years ago, the whole world was talking about a virus which ended up being declared a pandemic by the WHO.
One Friday afternoon, we got an email from the university administration stating that we were moving online for the next little while to avoid a contagion. That was two years ago, and the university is still not completely back to in-person teaching and research for many of us. We have had two, maybe three shots of a vaccine. We have worn a mask everywhere and missed out on untold social opportunities. Every month, we express the ardent hope that things will start getting better soon. So far, our hopes have not really been met with unequivocally positive changes.
As of last week, it seems we only just survived a pandemic, a near coup in a neighboring country, and substantial economic downturns, only to witness the Third World War. What makes it worse is that this time nuclear warheads are in the equation.
People tend to have very different levels of reaction to the world around them. For
someone like me, with an already fragile mental state, the last two years have been very hard. Most days have been a tug of war between “let me try to do the best I can under the circumstances”, and “what is the point, we are all doomed.” This may sound fatalistic, but the fact is this is not the world I thought I would be living in five years ago. The world I wish to live and make a life in seems to get further from reach with every passing day.
When the pandemic first broke out, I was one of the many that got addicted to doom-scrolling on my phone to see the number of cases, deaths, hospitalizations, etc. Looking back, maybe we all did that because in circumstances that seemed so far beyond our control, this act of being constantly plugged into the information gave us an illusion of control. Thankfully, I was able to recognize how this, and social media in general, was wreaking havoc on my state of mind. I should have done something far more drastic like deleting all my social media accounts. But living away from home, with my childhood friends in three different continents, that approach seemed unsustainable. Instead, what I did was turn off all push notifications on my phone and begin to spend more time away from screens, reading an old-fashioned paper book, and of course working on my classes. I often fell off the wagon, but I can say without any hesitation that the times when I was able to live by this structure, I felt better.
Two years later, there is another challenge to all our well-beings. In many ways, a war in a different part of the world is far worse than a global pandemic. Perhaps, now, the direct threat to our persons is limited, so far away from the actual warzone. There is the sense of impending doom, potentially in the form of a recession and a rise in prices of things at a time when we are already struggling with finances. There is the toll on our conscience when we see news reports of innocent people who lost their homes in this invasion and of children too young to even comprehend how they are being wronged by the world. Lastly, there is the ultimate fear – that a maniac with little to no regard for human life, and obsessed with his own inflated ego, may well resort to something the world has been trying to avoid since the 1950s.
If you are reading this and you also feel this way, I firstly want to acknowledge that your feelings are valid. You are right to feel desolate and forlorn, in a world that has already failed you so many times and is set to do so at least one more time in the future. However, since the world is not coming to save us, we must take care of ourselves. None of us know what is ahead but, at this moment, take care of yourself. Focus on the things that are in your control, whether that is making a little progress on some homework, reading a couple of pages of a book that is still on your TBR list, or just going for a walk. I am not saying this as some detached ivory tower egghead. I am telling you the things that worked for me. In a world where there are many things that I am deeply concerned about but can do nothing to influence, I make a conscious effort to focus on those things I can influence; even if it feels like there is no such thing, there is always one. We can always choose how we respond to the circumstances and what we give our energy to.
So, unplug from the screen for a bit. Turn off your devices altogether. I wish I could say that the world will still be there when you are ready to return to it, but to be perfectly honest, I cannot say that with confidence. What I can and will say, though, is that there is not much we can do right now to change the world out there; we may just have to settle with changing ourselves.
Take care of yourself. Make a little progress on your to-do list, call a friend, watch a show, and laugh a little. With any luck, we will be on the other side of all this. Even if not, it would be far better to spend our times creating, doing, and cherishing life. Excuse me for sounding morbid, but if these really are our last few weeks on this Earth, I would rather read some books and not scroll the monstrosity Zuckerberg built. I hope and wish that you do the same.