Covid19 to Covid2.0: Did we learn anything?

By Patricia Mukhim

Just as we were all hobbling back to what we thought would be a ‘normal’ life albeit with masks on (at least most of us had not abandoned our masks despite the fall in Covid numbers), back comes the virus with a more virulent strain. Sitting at home one hears the sound of the ambulance more frequently these days. Watching the news deflates whatever hopes one has accumulated through meditation and prayer. Yet one needs to connect to the world to know if hope is near at hand. Alas! Every day brings heartbreaking news. So many colleagues from the journalistic fraternity have succumbed to the virus while on their line of duty. Perhaps the vaccination regime started a bit late and as cynical humans we tended to listen to conspiracy theories that confirm our biases and delayed the vaccination further. Science tells us that while we may test positive after the vaccination the ferocity of the virus is tamed down. Call it a placebo effect or whatever but I believe that famous “mind over matter” philosophy/psychology. The mind has a powerful influence over the body.
An article in Forbes magazine titled ‘Mind Over Matter’ the writer Alice G. Walton quotes from an interesting study by Stanford University to suggest that this may actually work when it comes to health. The study finds that just thinking you’re prone to a given outcome may trump both nature and nurture. In fact, the study reinforces that simply believing a physical reality about yourself can actually nudge the body in that direction. In their study the researchers focused on two critical areas, namely endurance during exercise and satiety during eating. For the endurance part, they did genetic testing on the participants to see whether they carried variants of a gene that make a person more or less prone to tiring easily. They also had people run on a treadmill to measure their endurance. Then, they randomly split the participants into two groups, telling one they had the gene variant that made them tire easily and the other the gene variant that’s linked to endurance. Actually they had randomly divided the participants into these two groups, so some were being given accurate results and others the exact opposite.
When the participants ran on a treadmill again, their endurance changed measurably. Participants who were told they had poor endurance genes couldn’t run as long. They stopped 22 seconds sooner and had poorer lung capacity, and their bodies didn’t rid themselves of carbon dioxide as effectively. Those who were told they had better endurance ran a bit longer, regardless of what genes they actually carried. The result of the eating exercise was almost the same. Hence Alia Crum the lead author of the research whose lab has been studying how mind affects the physical body for some time, says that the mindset that you put people in when you deliver genetic risk information is not irrelevant. “The mindset of being genetically at risk or protected can alter how we feel, what we do and as this study shows, how our bodies respond.” Alia Crum says that for those who may not want to go through genetic testing, the study is a good reminder of the folk wisdom advice, “mind over matter.” She says the very fact that we believe something to be true (in this case that we have good genes) can help us run the extra mile.
So during these stressful times it might help to tell ourselves that we are capable of overcoming many of the health worries that we have accepted as our lot. While we can continue to be on medication and other health regimen, it would not harm us to tell ourselves we can overcome some of the things we believe are ‘impossible’ to do. Perhaps the worst assault to our bodies (and it is something that many are guilty of) is to be on social media far into the night and then sleep in the wee hours to wake up late the next day. I don’t think there’s a more harmful routine than this. Sleep at the right time is an important healer but so is waking up early and getting that daily walk outside in the fresh cool air of the morning. And a walk is not just a walk; it is also a quiet, contemplative time that does good to our souls. I know of many that took to this routine during the last one year. Let’s not give up these good habits when the world returns to its frenzy, post the Covid fear.
There are several personal lessons we have learnt. Many shared how they learnt empathy and caring for more than just oneself and one’s immediate family or neighbours but that the empathy extended even to those in greater need of our caring concern. Friends I spoke to say they fussed less over their appearances and women friends said they didn’t think jewelry or make-up was important and that they felt liberated by this feeling that they didn’t need to invest in these extraneous things when surviving the pandemic was all we were thinking of.
And now before we know it and are prepared afresh to deal with this bigger threat, there is need to remain calm even as we do our best to follow Covid protocols ourselves and also influence others to do the same. Wearing a mask is a huge behavioral change which is always difficult to achieve but achieve we must if we have to come out on top of the second wave. The DHS has bluntly told us that if a hundred people were to suddenly need critical care the system would collapse. He is warning us to take all precautions and not to be careless with our behaviour because that is what even the educated and well-to-do are guilty of sometimes. Remember the Greenwood resort marriage celebrations?
Not all is bad about the pandemic. Last year taught us that travel can be largely restricted and we can accomplish much through online meetings. Organisations saved money that they would have spent on their travel and on holding in-person meetings. But as far as online classes are concerned the jury is still out on what the impact on students is and the social rupture that the pandemic has caused. Families with small spaces found that they ran into each other to the point of irritation. Violence against minor girls escalated and continues even today. The newspapers are replete with reports of murder and sexual assaults of school going girls. One would have thought the pandemic would change peoples’ moral compasses but it hasn’t
The work from home was fine for some but not so good for others. We griped about poor internet connectivity but forgot those who lost their livelihoods while we still held a job that permitted us to work from home. We also took for granted those Municipal workers who are continually exposed because of the demands of their job. There are people who serve us by delivering food and groceries at our doorsteps wearing their PPEs. God bless their souls. Where would we be without this circle of selfless workers who don’t even demand much from us and who we forget to remember once we are out of the emergency drill.
This second wave must change us for the better for, human selfishness like our selfish exploitation of nature extracts a heavy cost and the pandemic could be the price we are paying.

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