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  • Louise Oliver

How are we going to ride a second wave?

It’s been about six months since COVID really took hold in the UK and pretty much the rest of the world. Aspects of life as we knew it are almost beyond recognition. Here are a few personal reflections that I've been having as we begin to ride a second wave.

There have been so many different feelings and emotions triggered. As well as stark realisations of our complete lack of control and the fragility of humanity. This has been coupled with the uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement which has provided a very necessary and urgent wake-up call. A jolt to those of us who were unwittingly asleep to the reality of systematic racism.


During this time we’ve had the necessary space to sit with the dis-ease of the deeply entrenched unconscious biases and our resulting passivity in a cruel, unjust and unequal society. Not to mention the wider prevailing environmental crisis and the socio-political challenges that the pandemic has shone a light on, and intensified the impact of. The interconnectivity of these seemingly separate perils have made room in our consciousness and caused some of us to have some deep existential thoughts. To say that it is A LOT would be a ridiculous understatement.


Thinking about Maslow’s well known hierarchy of needs (see diagram below), there are many people whose physiological and safety needs are under threat. The two most fundamental layers including the basic needs for food, shelter, health and safety obviously come to mind as the urgent priorities. Whilst craving for love, belonging and self actualisation could feel a little self-centred right now. However these are completely legitimate human needs and the mental health implications of the pandemic cannot be ignored. One thing I know to be true is that we all live in our own experience which is both relative and valid.


MASLOW'S HIERACHY OF NEEDS


  • SELF TRANSCENDENCE (ST) : Being of service and the duty of care for others

  • SELF ACTUALISATION: Achieving one’s full potential, personal growth and self fulfilment

  • ESTEEM: Self-esteem, confidence and respect from others

  • LOVE & BELONGING: Friendship, family and intimacy

  • SAFETY: Personal security, employment, resources, health and property

  • PHYSIOLOGICAL: Food, water, health, shelter and rest

Reflecting from a personal perspective the impact of the pandemic on my life has been significant but not insurmountable. It afforded me the opportunity and impetus to take voluntary redundancy from my job of nearly a decade, taking the leap to evolve my fairly well established coaching business. Which is exciting but also a significant and not undaunting change.


I’m trying to make responsible decisions related to my ‘new normal’ to ensure that I do the right thing for the greater good and those more ‘vulnerable’ to COVID-19 who are close to me. But at times I can’t help feeling that my world has got smaller. As a result, I’ve been trying to reconcile the parts of my pre-pandemic life that were unsustainable, a product of our ‘More, More, More’ society and those that were precious.


Early on in the pandemic David Kessler (the world’s foremost expert on Grief) talked about grieving the loss of what we’ve had to let go of as a result of the pandemic. So I decided to write a list of the some of the things that I miss most because I cannot/or have chosen not to do (*based on my personal circumstances and responsible choices).


Things I can't do*:

1. Hug my friends or (the majority of) my family.

2. Spend time with friends in the way I used too. Going to exhibitions, gigs or visiting each other’s houses.

3. Go on a date. It currently feels challenging and stressful on too many levels.

4. Enjoy live music, the collective energy and be in the carefree proximity of people.

5. Make future plans to travel outside the UK.

6. Go to a yoga class.

7. Go dancing.

8. Spontaneously get on the tube or bus without even thinking.

9. Do the majority of my work face to face.


I am very mindful that in relative terms this list is low on the hardship scale. In comparison to those who have lost loved ones, are fighting for their lives and are experiencing a very immediate threat to their own and families livelihoods. However for me, most of the above represents human connection and as Maslow’s work suggests this is still one of our the most fundamental needs.


As a coach and someone who is endlessly fascinated by human psychology and resilience; I have tried to see lockdown and beyond as an opportunity to learn, grow and support others to do same.


So I also decided to write a list of the things that I feel grateful I have been able to do during lockdown and the various stages in between.


Things I can do

1. Socially distance whilst it is difficult and unnatural, it is a privilege that many people don’t have.

2. The time to meditate every day – for my own inner peace and growth but also to expand my perspective.

3. Spend precious time with my family.

4. See friends outside in smaller groups.

5. Work from home connecting with new people around the world.

6. Have the time and space to build my business.

7. Dance in the kitchen.

8. Be in nature and develop a greater connection with the seasons.

9. More time to cook - one of my favourite things to do.

10. Use the time to learn new creative pursuits.

11. Read about things that matter and be transported to places that give me joy.

12. Learn and reflect more deeply on the important issues we face in society.


My realisation from this reflective exercise was that the list things that I am grateful that I can do is longer than the things that I miss. So without bypassing these initial very real feelings of loss, it feels important to keep in mind. As we move into this second wave of the ‘coronacoaster’ with an unknown trajectory into the rest of 2020 and beyond, I am going to continue to remind myself of this list. Take one day at a time and embrace all the things that I can do. Because maybe I wouldn’t have this clarity and opportunity if we didn’t find ourselves in these surreal, somewhat dystopian circumstances.


Going back to Marslow's hierarchy of needs briefly; I believe the top four layers hold the keys to overcoming much of the impact of the pandemic both on personal and macro levels. As well as the other urgent social economic and environmental crises of our time. Ultimately the more people self-actualise fulfilling their unique individual potential, the better equipped they will likely to be to make a more meaningful contribution to society.


In turn, Maslow’s later work explored the highest level which he defined as the quality of self-transcendence to ‘be of service and to have a duty of care for others’. His longer more expansive definition was that "Transcendence refers to the very highest and most inclusive or holistic levels of human consciousness, behaving and relating, as ends rather than means, to oneself, to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature, and to the cosmos."


Now this might sound a little lofty to some. But my reflection and modern interpretation is that we have an urgent call to move away from the current individualistic status quo, to be able to build a society that moves closer towards the true value of altruism. This is no easy feat but there has never been a more compelling case for it.


Some of the questions I have found it helpful to frequently I ask myself during this time:

  • How can I be more present and aware in my life order to do better?

  • What can I personally do to act in the interests of the more vulnerable and marginalised in our society not the few privileged?

  • How can we find more purposeful and sustainable ways to live?

  • What am I grateful for?

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