Post-Coronavirus: Be Careful What You Wish For…
This week we have another blog from content and PR extraordinaire, Anthony Peacock. In light of some of our pre-coronavirus freedoms gradually returning, Anthony writes about what life may look like in the coming weeks. He also gives an interesting counter-perspective to those who believe that everything will return to ‘normal.’ So, what will the new normal look like?
Be careful what you wish for…
There are signs in the capital that the UK is waking up from its economic slumber caused by the coronavirus outbreak. In the news, it’s been widely reported that more “non-essential” shops and businesses are opening: despite the government still saying that nobody should undertake “non-essential” journeys – so how does that work, exactly?
It’s also obvious that there are many more people out in parks and on the streets now than there were just a week ago. The other day I even sat in a traffic jam, which for the first time in living memory actually felt like a cause for celebration.
Or was it? Because many people equate the concept of getting back to normal life with merely swapping one set of deep anxieties for another. With more free movement there’s the risk of infection rates increasing of course. But surprisingly that’s not what a lot of people are worried about. (Although it does certainly play a part: only 37 per cent of people surveyed recently by YouGov said that they would be just as happy as before to return to a pub or bar once the lockdown is lifted).
What we’re seeing instead is a dramatically increased level of social anxiety, although not everyone will admit it. Not only have many people become unaccustomed to human contact, they’ve also become actively distrustful of it. In other words, people have in many cases forgotten how to relate to other people, especially if their only medium of contact has been via a computer screen thanks to Zoom and other teleconferencing apps.
One friend of mine, who owns a small marketing company, told me how difficult it has been in the last few days to maintain effective relationships among his employees. Without daily face-to-face interaction, a couple of them had resorted to vicious bickering via e-mail. And we all know how people say things to each other online that they would never dream about saying in real life.
At the heart of this though – as I told him – is anxiety. And it’s self-perpetuating, because of the chain of tensions that it causes throughout an organisation (or family). Even my friend, the business owner, is “dreading going back now”. As well as being a mediator, he’s going to have to take some tough decisions to get his team working effectively again.
For other people, the concerns are more prosaic: how will they cope with getting up, travelling to work, scheduling meetings, dealing with people, coming home, and carrying out their domestic tasks as well? In short, everything that they used to do before without thinking about it. It may have been just two months ago, but it feels like a lifetime.
Through lack of familiarity, even that everyday routine seems daunting. Many people are even questioning if they have the physical energy, courage, and time to cope with it. “It’s going to be really hard for us to find the confidence to peek out at the world,” as one lady interviewed by Channel 4 put it.
She’s speaking for many. Because the world we go back to might look alien and dystopian, with far fewer of the freedoms we took for granted and an underlying climate of fear.
There will be people wearing masks and uniforms, telling the public what they can do, where, and when. Life is going to feel uncertain, authoritarian and perhaps scary. So, for many people, it would be much easier just to take refuge in the now-familiar surroundings of their own four walls – an environment they can at least control – until it’s all over. Whenever that is.
For all the people you hear about who have cabin fever and say they are raring to go out, there is an equal number – perhaps even a bigger one – of people who instead want to hide and stay in.
The workplace atmosphere has also changed. Even without meaning to, the number of people losing their jobs (British Airways alone is to shed 12,000 people) means that the message companies are sending their employees is that they should feel grateful still to have a job at all: and work harder accordingly.
Further job losses in future can’t be ruled out: even when restaurants (for example) re-open, they’re almost certainly going to be operating at 30 to 40 per cent capacity, due to social distancing regulations. Some companies are even creating plexiglass ‘walls’ that could fit around each restaurant table. Is that really going to be an enjoyable experience? No wonder people are frightened or reluctant to go out.
In the latest YouGov survey this week, 29% of people described themselves as ‘stressed’ while 17% said they were definitely ‘scared’. That even includes a number of premiership football players, who are reluctant to return to action despite a plan to re-start the Premier League in early June.
An end to lockdown won’t mean an end to anxiety. But just as the government narrative is that we might have to live with this virus for a while, it’s just as important to learn to understand and manage the social anxiety that inevitably comes with it.
To read more of Anthony’s thoughts on the modern landscape of coronavirus, here are some of his recent blog posts: