Our strong will to survive the worst, to experience the best
Written by Rishika Kannan
Students, teachers, mothers and fathers all have one struggle in common and one united goal: to get through this time stronger and smarter. As someone once said, “To be the best you must be able to handle the worst”.
700 years ago, the first-ever recorded, global pandemic hit the world: the Black Plague. The Black Plague is estimated to have caused 30 to 50 million deaths, changing the world permanently. It was this time where the word quarantine came to be- originating from the Italian word quaranta which translates to 40-days. Imagine, being infected in a time where people had no knowledge of germ theory or the importance of good hygiene. How did they cope? Unlike today, where the pandemic has tested our mental strength, in the 14th century the challenge was to survive physically. However, the strong feeling of hope for a better future and the united motivation to fight through the pain and suffering is the same then and now.
It is a given that without coping strategies and methods to adapt to the changing environment, it becomes difficult to motivate yourself to go on with everyday life. Even though we have social media to keep us connected and let us know that we are not alone during these trying times, it can also make you feel even lonelier and isolated (Primack et al., 2017). As we may have all experienced at one point in our life, social media can make one feel left out or spike feelings of jealousy. Hence, how are people coping today with COVID-19 stress and maybe even social media stress? I have interviewed a few people who have given me an insight into how the pandemic has affected them and what they are doing about it.
One of my many teachers, but somebody who came into my life at an important time, was the first person I asked. Krishna Prakash teaches the practices and lessons of yoga from the comfort of his home and ashram (a general term used, defined as a place where the practices of yoga are taught), Shrimath. However, due to the whirlwind of the effects the pandemic had, he has now moved his classes online. Where students used to get a full month of immersing themselves into the life of a yogi, they now can only do this for two hours every day in the midst of their own busy homes. As you may have guessed, teaching practices had to be adapted and even though there were some positive changes there were also many losses.
However, as Krishna sir says, the knowledge that is keeping him sane can be found in the Indian tradition where it says that everything is impermanent. The Indian tradition believes that as humans, there will always be suffering and pain on our paths. However, this should be looked at as a bump on the road. Just like you can manoeuvre your car to pass the bump, you will also be able to manoeuvre yourself through this tough time. As long as you keep this positive thought in your mind.
Furthermore, there is always something new to learn every time a challenge faces you. Krishna states that the pandemic has made him more well-versed with online tools and teaching methods. It has also made him realise that he can target a different audience of potential students.
Having faith in one’s tradition or religion has always been a practice, a superior quality that separates us from our animal counterparts. Even during the Black Plague, people fell back to religion to give them hope and clarity into the changes around them.
What about mothers, fathers and other caregivers? Suddenly, their children are continuously at home and food consumption has increased tenfold! Nandini Saraf, the mother of a 17-year-old daughter, someone who always seems to have a smile on her face and a joke on the tip of her tongue, has given us an insight into how she is staying sane.
The pandemic has affected her life in the way that she has realised a new perspective into what really matters, and the true blessings in her life. She says that having her whole family together in one place has made it easier to go through the changes. In addition to this, she believes that being grateful for what she has is important as she could still live a normal life even with all the mishaps. During this time, she learnt the joys of cooking fresh meals and how it can be both nutritious and therapeutic; a way in which her family can come together.
Even though we may not all be together with our families an important understanding is that we must make the most of what we have. A way of living that has gotten our ancestors through their respective pandemics.
Finally, the last group of people I talked to were students. Two of my closest friends, Vartika Law and Gowri Vishwanathan, second-year students at the University of St Andrews, reflected what many students are going through with online college. The two of them are doing college remotely from home, however, even though they are not missing much academically, the sudden decline of contact with friends and the vibrant St Andrews community has affected them greatly. Vartika explains that she often felt unmotivated to complete work and tasks but found that staying organised and writing things down helped her stay sane and energetic. Gowri misses the exciting life of a student and meeting new people. However, she has also enjoyed the increased time spent with her family, friends and most importantly- her dog. She keeps herself active by doing online-courses, reading, doing yoga, watching movies and learning new things from online courses have helped her.
The two of them have also found the small joys of cooking and baking, having more time to experiment in the kitchen. In addition, Vartika learnt how to knit and finally knit a cardigan that Harry Styles wore (one of her many obsessions, one that drove her friends insane).
As we can see, everybody has their own coping strategies, depending on where they live and the time of life they are in. There is a lot of awareness, especially in our university community, about making sure to take care of our mental health and physical wellbeing. However, sometimes even these coping strategies start to become mundane and repetitive, that’s when we should step back and trust the process. It is important to look at past historical outbreaks to understand that nothing is truly permanent and changes for the better will come out of this, we just have to be patient to see it. The end of the black plague lead to highly improved hygiene and medical procedures, maybe this pandemic may give us an insight into cures for mental disorders.
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