How can I feel in control when everything seems the opposite?

With so much upheaval and uncertainty, I need to remind myself that this will all pass. In the meantime, I'll wash my hands, keep my distance, and live with this new normal.

Self-isolation during the coronavirus COVID 19-20 pandemic That's a little too close for comfort. Six feet apart, please. (photo: via creative commons)

“So…what’s going on?” Those have been about the only words I’ve been able to muster since about…as long as I can remember. Realistically as I write this, it’s been less than two weeks since Dalhousie made the announcement that we’d be moving to online classes and Canada made a more concerted effort to promote social distancing in an effort to quell the spread of the-virus-that-shall-not-be-named. It’s felt more like six months than a week and a half, though.

I think the most difficult part, the thing that’s been causing the most anxiety and uncertainty, though, hasn’t been the virus itself, but the way that things have been constantly changing—seemingly by the minute. With many provinces (including Nova Scotia and Ontario, where I’m now back at home) recently declaring states of emergency, and the potential for the federal government to make a similar declaration in the coming days, it’s easy to feel like you’re in limbo. In fact, it’s hard not to.


For me, a stage-five creature of habit, it felt like the life I’d come to know and be comfortable with had been pulled out from under me. That may sound dramatic, but it’s true. 


For the first couple days of establishing the “new normal” for day-to-day life, decisions as minute as what to eat and when to shower caused an almost agonizing amount of stress. Each night I’d fall asleep in a panic, worried that I wouldn’t have enough to keep me occupied the following day—knowing that if I found myself with nothing to distract me, I’d invariably turn to the news, which is still a constant barrage of dire outlooks, horrific accounts, and insufferable politicians.

It was confusing at the beginning, and at times it still is, this concept of social distancing to prevent the spread of the disease. It’s natural for us to want to reject the calls of governments and health organizations to refrain from gathering in groups—most of us rely on seeing and hanging out with our friends every day to bring levity to our otherwise stressful lives. Levity that, given the current situation, is more welcome than ever.


But the social distancing—the limiting of the number of people we interact with and places we go every day—is critical. We’re not only doing our part in preventing the spread of disease when we choose to stay inside, we’re saving lives.


This was hard for me to wrap my head around at first. Isn’t it my own problem if I get the virus? Didn’t Dal kind of jump the gun on cancelling in-person classes when Nova Scotia had yet to confirm even one case of Covid-19 in the province?

The issue, as many are, is more complex than that. Out of all of the students at Dal, not one of us is an expert on the spread of pandemic viruses—heck, none of us have ever even experienced a pandemic of this calibre. So, on that note, please don’t think that you know better than the experts who are telling you what to do. That’s a note to myself as much as it is to anyone reading this.

In such a time of uncertainty, it’s hard to have any idea what we should be doing. So my advice is just to listen. Listen to the experts and to the facts. Don’t listen to too much news, because at a certain point it becomes counter-productive. Take it from me: for the first few days following Dal’s closure, my eyes were glued to the news, watching the number of infections in Canada continuously creep up, feeling utterly helpless and useless. This sense of despair can only lead you to believe that things will never get better, which, despite it feeling that way, isn’t true.


What can we do to regain a sense of control while still doing our part to flatten the curve? Create a new normal. 


Make reasons for yourself to wake up at the same time every day, eat regular meals, and see your friends (even if it can’t be in person). Just because the situation is overwhelming doesn’t mean your day-to-day should be overwhelmingly bad.

It’s easier than you think to maintain the schedule you had before the crisis from your home. Keep up your class schedule by taking notes on online lectures at the time you would normally have the class, set up designated spaces in your home for school, relax and exercise to make you feel less trapped and, if you can, make a point to get fresh air at least once a day.

The most important thing to remember while you go through this confusing time is that you’re not alone. Even if you find yourself physically isolated from friends and family, know that there are hundreds of thousands (millions? billions??) of people in your exact situation, who are all trying to weather the storm just like you are. The best way to feel less alone is to reach out to your friends and loved ones – that makes more people feel better!

Wash your hands, stay home, and we’ll get through this together.