Gratitude as an antidote to the effects of the pandemic

So how do we deal with what scientists identified months ago as "pandemic fatigue"? There may be many answers and many alternatives.

Gratitude as an antidote to the effects of the pandemic
Gratefulness in response to the effects of the pandemic. Photo by Mikel Parera / Unsplash

The news about the Omicron variant began to be heard since the beginning of December. Then, as in the very first wave (in that distant March 2020 that seems from another life), this new stage of the pandemic that appeared earlier in other countries was showing its most contagious behavior, with symptoms and severity not yet determined then. Again, as then, the situation increased by the upcoming holiday period, precautions were minimized and strategies to reduce contagion were insufficient.

Most of us, to a greater or lesser extent, have become accustomed to following the news, and sometimes we just go from wave to wave: after alpha, no one thought a Beta could come, after beta, no one thought Delta would arrive. Just when we all thought that that was the end of the matter and we could almost return to the lost normality-never forgotten-this new variant arrives, as or more transmissible than the most contagious infectious bacterial disease (the antediluvian measles) and whose milder effects are only due to the reducing effect of vaccines.

The supposed mildness of this variant is misleading, since minimizing it has not led to a reduction in contagions or hospitalizations and, what is worse in terms of mental health: hopelessness, and discouragement in our context and the population in general. We have also become accustomed to the different emotional reactions that the pandemic has produced, which I liken to a prolonged and complicated mourning process: first came denial when some people said that Mexicans would not suffer the effects of the pandemic by eating tacos in the street, and then came anger when many of us were forced to stay at home.

As a third phase came depression when we became aware of how much of life as we knew it was being lost; then negotiation when we understood that if we did certain things we could increase our chances of being well and finally acceptance, which comes when we acquire the ability to continue with our lives despite the loss. In this sense we have been doing it, assuming the cares, the changes, the renunciations, and, although we do not stop missing many of the things we used to do, we have continued with our activities as far as possible or even acquired new ones.

Some recent authors add a new stage to the mourning process: learning. This implies reaching a more evolved situation than the one we had before the loss.

This fact, probably identified in more, let us say, "traditional" mourning, has not been able to fully explain the processes we have experienced in this prolonged situation, since, although some of us have acquired something new or even identified some advantages (educational, commercial, lifestyles), no one with a little conscience could say that they "thank" the pandemic for such or such learning or habits, which, by the way, were already within our reach and we did not exploit.

Exploiting opportunities

So how do we deal with what scientists identified months ago as "pandemic fatigue"? There may be many answers and many alternatives, and perhaps generalizations do not explain what each of us suffers and how we adjust our coping.

Last October 29, 2021, the outstanding Dr. Julio Frenk Mora, the world-renowned former Mexican Secretary of Health, received an Honorary Doctorate from the Autonomous University of Guadalajara. In his brilliant speech, Dr. Frenk expounded on the need for a "better normality", rather than the "new normality" that until then was identified for the changes arising from pandemic life.

My view of the "better normal" concept implies that the painful and complicated grieving process we have experienced for two years helps us to have a more mature view of life, more aware and even generous than we had before.

Why can't we be creative in finding the best way to manage our interpersonal relationships despite the lack of physical contact? Why can't our health habits be better, even if we can't develop them as we did before, or just because of that? Why don't we live our lives with greater intensity and awareness now that it has been threatened? Why don't we reach out to others for real contact now that we sadly don't know how long we will have them? Why don't we express our experiences in various ways now that we finally know that we share them with many others around us and that we most certainly will not be judged?

Whenever there is a New Year, the tradition is to make resolutions. Common places like achieving a weight more in line with our desires or acquiring good habits like exercise or saving money should not be left aside now, but on the contrary, keep them and add some new ones like thanking God every night and every morning for life, for health and for the ability to enjoy, and thanking those around us for being there, for understanding us, for being our companions in life... praising their qualities and reminding them how important they are to us.

We know that we are exposed to chronic and intermittent anguish at every variation in the evolution of the pandemic; however, internal resources will be our best allies. We have talked about resilience, coping, and stress management among other resources; all of them are very good, but the variation now is to try to include gratitude as the best vaccine and the best reinforcement for hopelessness.

If we practice it, we will discover that something as seemingly simple as gratitude brings us a different position to the one we have when we are dissatisfied, upset, and resentful about life situations. Attitudes that annihilate the spirit are as dangerous and contagious, if not more so than the viral pandemic that plagues us, and if we allow them, we cannot blame fortuitous circumstances.

By Dr. Beatriz Corona Figueroa, Coordinator of the Research Committee of the Social, Economic and Administrative Sciences Dean's Office. Source: Bulletin of the University of Guadalajara