WELL-BEING FIRST: THINKING HEALTHY IN THE TIME OF COVID-19

by Sunetra Senior

A couple of weeks ago we were told of the extent of the Tory government’s negligence during a time of intense international crisis. They disregarded important information provided by advisory committees at critical moments as well as the crucial COBRA Meetings themselves, which are specifically held to ensure strong leadership at times of national emergency. According to the article in The Times, Boris’ earlier inaction has resulted in the number of deaths reaching six figures with the estimated mortality predicted to be 400,000. Of course, in addition to patently disregarding hundreds of thousands of lives, Johnson’s administration has also put the physical health of millions at risk with the virus running uncontrolled throughout the population for a whole month between 24th Feb when the recorded number of deaths skyrocketed, and the announcement of effective lockdown measures in mid-March.

In addition to this, there has been the ongoing issue of PPE shortage for NHS workers on the frontline with little being done to address it. This week, the government also announced an eager plan to return to normal, despite many health experts voicing objection to this as a hasty and reckless move. The UK is now the worst-hit country virally in Europe.  However, as numerous as these revelations are, they are all proof of one simple overarching truth: the complete apathy of the current government in favour of self-interest. Labour’s former leader, Jeremy Corbyn, rightly called Johnson “a part-time” Prime Minister as we learned that he preferred not to work over weekends, delaying the closure of London’s Capital – an obvious hotbed for a contagious, travelling virus – and withholding clear guidance for an increasingly anxious nation. In short, his priority has been keeping business going over securing the safety of the public. This is to be foolhardy. As a corollary, on February 25th, formal medical journal Infection Control Today, announced that “increasing hand hygiene at airports could inhibit potential pandemics by 24% to 69%,” and “Even increasing hand hygiene at just the 10 busiest airports globally would reduce the spread of an infectious disease such as the novel coronavirus COVID-19 by 37%” This included London Heathrow. Aside from sooner implementing a conscientious lockdown then, this means that a simple governmental speech that encouraged washing and supported social distancing at the time of the first case reported in the UK could have cut the infection rate in more than half throughout the country as well as significantly across the globe.

Perhaps lockdown itself would not have had to last so long or be potentially repeated. Instead, Johnson’s ineptitude has tellingly resulted in what has been referred to as an existential threat by the hospitality industry. This descriptor perfectly encapsulates the unnecessary emotional, economic and physical damage totally wrought at this time. As well as many independent businesses having to close down, with thousands of jobs lost throughout the service sector where many are currently sleeping rough, cases of domestic abuse have worryingly risen while those already battling severe mental health issues including underlying anxiety and loneliness are struggling even more. The Samaritans have documented and marked an increase in calls with 1 in 3 being stoked by COVID-19 in particular. This will not so much affect those at the top of large corporates and those already coping well as employees, those of a lower-income bracket generally and the socially vulnerable. This is not only a reflection of the Tory government’s already obvious social failings, but also the depth of the destructive dismissiveness of the simplistic capitalistic order to which they have subscribed.

Here, Trump has recently been admonished for his likely narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) in an incisive article published by the New Yorker: a condition wherein an over-inflated sense of self is tyrannically exercised upon others for the sole purpose of affirming it. I had also reported this strong narcissistic tendency in a prior piece, The Troll Vote, in which I further talked of voters having their own egos basely triggered in the US elections to come to compulsively support Trump’s megalomania. The individual with NPD relies on the human need for emotional validation, not only shamelessly exploiting, but also undermining it over time to stay in control. This is often through an invasive psychological mechanism known as ‘gaslighting’. A subject is made reliant on the otherwise unfavourable dark authority by subtly but powerfully eroding their autonomy to finally leave them helpless so that they desperately cling to the abuser as the only certainty outside of them. A sense of self is then being collectively corroded.

a reflection of the Tory government’s already obvious social failings, but also the depth of the destructive dismissiveness of the simplistic capitalistic order to which they have subscribed

As Johnson boasted surviving a very serious illness in the face of the immense public disruption, it seems our entire western political system is being hijacked by a network of grossly neglectful and avaricious leadership. His pompous behaviour subliminally encourages people to break the rules. The public seem increasingly distracted by a superficial show of concern otherwise known as political arrogance, blindly taken by the casual illusion which continues to divert from the systemic destabilisation of fundamental needs such as social care and safety, financial stability and real personal security. Indeed, the Tories have applauded the NHS while denying them vital equipment and general funding. Additionally, they might have created a financial bail-out package but only after the ongoing undeserved punitive turmoil endured by the people. There has been no long-term security within the plan with many cuts to the wages that could be claimed and big lingering social questions that have yet to be answered. The character with NPD thrives on general panic and confusion which heightens an exasperated feeling of dependency to secure a misplaced trust in them.

Furthermore, this complacent right-wing governance is an exacerbation of the inherently manipulative system that is capitalism. Already, we live in such a way where self-esteem is severely outsourced to an external judgemental order through an unequal dynamic of authority figure and wanting subject. A person is basically made guilty for the necessity to live.  They are told that they must earn respect. Indeed, the mainstream media, who are predominantly right-wing, have revelled in blaming the public at this chaotic time, picturing people in crowded parks while the somewhat patronising #StaytheFHome hashtag is being readily bandied about. However, this exhibits the same resentful mentality that justifies austerity politics and shames those who are defenceless for having to claim benefits. The responsibility that should be taken for the harmfulness of a flawed system is unfairly deflected back to burden the individual.

Thus, the establishment’s handling of COVID-19 explicitly demonstrates an ideological toxicity at its worst. There is a reason why an apocalyptic viral infection has become reality: it has been latent in the behaviour of recent society. Before the return of money-minded governance in 2010, we were witnessing a socially tempered era in which attitudes at the top provided somewhat of a foil on the rampancy of the dominant global economic order. Indeed, Nobel Prize Winner of Economics in 2001 Joseph Stiglitz has even stated how capitalism can emerge with a progressive legacy if the mindful legislative protections are put in place. This includes regulation of the economy via socially conscious targets. However, now with leaders prioritising their immense power, we are beginning to enter an essentially cut-throat capitalism ultimately detrimental to all: people who are disadvantaged will continue to suffer, those better positioned will fearfully accumulate while our leaders themselves, flimsily validated as infallibly right, will be increasingly reckless, possibly destroying the environment to the point where humanity is endangered. This is an incestuous, incensed notion of progress where that otherwise promising objective concept is muddied: it is to live on the basis that life is centred on a steely grinding machine, paradoxically frenzied, losing sight of an original humanity, and with it, the sanctity of the self. More specifically, it is to normalise a fragile ego on which a true paradigm of fitness can never be built. It is no coincidence that both the ruddy-faced Trump and breathless Boris do not themselves heed healthy lifestyles. Health is not simply physiological, but rather a total constructive philosophy. It is a powerful mental movement that celebrates the right to wholly exist.

Bright stillness CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Colin

As a result, we must adopt the aptly deep psycho-social response in order to recuperate:  practicing calm and assured reason. This starts with a conscious self-care which naturally expands into a wider political compassion. Being defensively angry at other people is an internalisation of a self-centred cynical culture. It deviates from one’s own unaddressed sense of powerlessness, perhaps also signalling an irrational competitiveness which only reinforces the mainstream misanthropy and alarm. Instead, remember that it has been the government’s misguidance that has predominantly confused and divided people and that it is far better to use available energy to spark a dynamic, rightful relationship with the surrounding world. This promotes a strong individuality as beneficially interconnected with others.

As well as sensibly stressing the importance of reducing the burden on the NHS and continuing to stay at home, acknowledge that the outdoors is still available to you. Embrace the benefits of exercise at this constrictive time and welcome safe and necessary travel. Remember that not everyone has the luxury of eagerly welcoming months at home. Explore hobbies and a playful intuition before you jump to ‘develop another vocational skill’. Go for long distanced walks in the open air and sunshine, and keep positive relationships with your friends. This is at once emotionally freeing where there is an experiential reclaiming of autonomy even as you limit your social interactions. You build yourself up as you externally cut down. To really value yourself is to think healthily and truly challenge a current diminishing, individualistic culture: it is placing Well-being First. Furthermore, a meaningfully robust stance organically allows one to empathise with the otherwise unseen struggle of others. Fulfilled and better perceptively aware of the situation yourself, you move unconsciously to turn a concerned and creative open mind towards the cracks in the wider world. In addition to being more neighbourly, you foster a spirit of social sensitivity.

As well as sensibly stressing the importance of reducing the burden on the NHS and continuing to stay at home, acknowledge that the outdoors is still available to you.

There is understanding in lieu of knee-jerk judgements: with a myopic distortion dissolved, you can see the woman who has always been trapped in abuse, and through little control of her own, the financial rockiness for those in the service industry and on limited wages who are now also struggling to adapt, the person with anxiety whose social ties make all the difference between success and depression, and the families squeezed into one bedroom flats where being able to manage basically is a job in itself. Instead of pointing the finger at each other, there is a mental invigoration towards a socially democratic state.  The inner invigoration replenishes the gap of inequality. Finally, looking after oneself during the time of Covid-19 is more than boosting the biological immune system: it is a broader stimulation of an inclusive, sustainably functional order. One in which the overall happiness of people is the driver of our economy over the narrow-minded aim of exclusive commerce. Indeed, following a complete definition of fitness is the blueprint for true productivity: a system that allows for every indispensable, mutually affirming facet of life to be nourished, leads to a universally motivated workforce where the work just willingly flows. There would be inspiration through joy of living rather than stress of a hostile fight to survive.

Additionally, there would be time and an intuitive pull towards physical wellbeing as attention is honed in on the caring concept of the self. Such a system would also be inherently fair, based on personal fulfilment over the acquirement of invincible profit. With likely many more years of enervating Tory leadership to come, we must defend our livelihoods, championing a counteractive social narrative that could affect the invigorating institutional equality. People have seen that there can be a significant disruption to the apparently insurmountable order so let’s grow and preserve the potential freedom that also characterises this time, leading by confident and self-sustaining example as part of an clear oppositional campaign. 2020 needn’t be a runaway consolidation of corrupt consumerist men, rather a remedial reconstruction of a shared everyday existence. Unsurprisingly, it is healthy psychology that will result in a stronger, healthier world.

Featured image CC BY 2.0 Gordon Robertson


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