Opinion: Uncertainty

OK. So, there is a lot of bad news … fuelled to an extent by the media, and fanned by rumour and social media. Yet whilst living in fear of COVID-19, Australia is still in a better position than much of the rest of the world. But with fear, there is uncertainty.

As a second COVID-19 wave affects parts of Australia, people understandably wonder just how bad things are going to get. However, Australia is lucky, being able to tackle the outbreak with insights and resources learned from other countries. Notwithstanding the recent outbreaks, we have controlled and contained the virus well. Our infection rate and deaths are relatively low by worldwide comparison. And Australians are, generally, still mindful of one another and are doing the right thing. We are testing. Our track and tracing is good. Our hospitals are coping. But until a vaccine is found, uncertainty is the new normal.

Uncertainty is all around us. Uncertainty about the economy, employment and health. Uncertainty about the future. The very basic of human needs include food, water, shelter and security. Personal safety, including our health, is a vital need. We all desire a sense of control over our lives. But COVID-19 has robbed us of our sense of control. This has created anxiety, stress and irrational behaviours usually associated with deprivation. For example, panic buying of toilet paper and hoarding basic necessities, highlights the unpredictable future we now find ourselves facing and provides us with a small amount of control.

Everyone is different and some can tolerate the uncertainty more than others. For me – a slightly OCD introvert – the lockdowns and isolation are not a major issue. I’ve been trying to self-isolate for many years! But the lack of ability to forward plan and organise things is distressing. I like to make lists and be organised. This is hard when things, out of my control, change quickly. For my partner – a spontaneous extrovert – being unable to socialise and mix with family and friends is a challenge. Being stuck at home with me is probably worse! For both of us, having to cancel a family gathering for a 90th birthday, at the last minute, due to changes in gathering restrictions, is frustrating, not to mention costly.

Uncertainty has major implications for business, especially hospitality and retail. Not knowing when you can re-open. Not knowing how many guests you will have. Not knowing if you will have to shut again. When a shopping precinct is named and implicated in a COVID-19 case, business can fall by 90 per cent. Shops and restaurants not immediately involved in the outbreak are still affected by the naming. With every outbreak of COVID-19, there is an erosion of public and consumer confidence.

Isolation, uncertainty, fear and lack of control cause anxiety, stress, confusion and anger. Wearing masks, using sanitiser and social distancing are now facts of life. We need to accept the things we cannot change and focus on the things we can. It is important to recognise these changes and respond in positive and productive ways.

Concerns about social distancing, the safety of public transport and working from home are turning once bustling precincts into ghost towns. Hospitality is, by its very nature, the business of getting people together. Hospitality is the act of generously providing care and kindness to whomever is in need. And the serving of food is one of the most hospitable acts. But in this new world, hospitality has been hit hard.

Running and working in restaurants has always been tough. The hours are long and unsociable. Most kitchens are “pressure cookers” fuelled by stress and adrenalin. Depression and anxiety are well-known issues in the hospitality industry. It is more important than ever to ensure that we are all OK.

Stress and mental health problems used to affect one in three people. This is probably now higher during these uncertain times. But mental health issues can be managed like any other. 

The Australian Government has published a guide to looking after your mental health during COVID-19 uncertainty. You will find it here.

In short – focus on the things you can control, be positive and look after yourself and others. Ask your friends, family and colleagues – are you OK??? 

And remember, it’s OK not to be! 

It is perfectly normal to have worries, to have some anxiety and feel a bit unsure of what is happening. You may feel tired, a bit tense or have trouble sleeping. Things are not normal. Our worries and problems feel heavy, and the days go by slowly.But if these symptoms get worse, you should talk to family and friends. Share your worries. Seek help if you are concerned or not coping.

Thursday, 10 September is R U OK? Day. This is a day to reach out to your mates to check that they are OK – something you should do often. It is a day to promote the “R U OK?”message (ruok.org.au), that is, the need to start a conversation to ensure everyone around you IS OK and coping.  Do this every day or every week. And listen!

There are glimmers of hope and together we can all get through this, and live to dine another day.

     Ring the bells that still can ring.
     Forget your perfect offering.
     There is a crack in everything.
     That’s how the light gets in.

                                              ~ Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”, 1992

By Jeremy Ryland. 28 August 2020

Image: Glimmers of Hope: Photo by Jeremy Ryland at Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal

Please leave a reply