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Your Wellbeing: Viral Corona News and the Art of No (re-)Action

Revd Chris McDermott, Lead Chaplain for the University of Sussex

If I can be quite candid, I do not think I have ever washed my hands so much as I do nowadays – of course, with the encouragement of government advice, the media and countless signs around campus promoting care amid the COVID 19 virus now rampaging around the globe.

Is ‘rampaging’ too strong a word? Or has the reactionary energy - as much a pandemic, I think, as that now formally declared to be the case by WHO regarding COVID 19 – also affected my choice of language. It certainly seems to have affected our shopping habits, especially – and mysteriously – in regards to loo rolls. Hand sanitizer is also hard to come by these days as shoppers have cleaned the shelves – no pun intended – of every last Carex dispenser.

At least this is the case in my local Sainsbury’s and the Superdrug store down the road from me. (Desperation has even motivated someone to ‘borrow’ the hand gel we keep in our kitchen at the Meeting House. I’m sure it will be returned.) A nervous women I met in the aisle at my local store, also looking for hand sanitizer, was wearing gloves and other protective gear and taking every precaution to avoid the virus.

Apparently the American televangelist Jim Bakker – if you haven’t heard of him, well, good! - has been marketing his ‘Silver Solution’ which he has claimed can kill the Coronavirus. Apparently it also kills SARS and HIV pathogens – according to Bakker. He claims, ‘God gave us this product’ and its all yours for only $40 (£31) a bottle! Unsurprisingly the FDA (Federal Drugs Administration) and the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) have issued cease and desist orders on Bakker so you may be disappointed if you now try to order a bottle of snake oil – or special ‘Silver Solution’ – from him.

Speaking of opportunist shysters, one hardware store in Manhattan took advantage of the panic around the virus and was selling 1200ml bottles of Purell Sanitizer for $79 (£61).

Amid all the news now flowing 24/7 about the COVID 19 virus and its impact on health and economies around the globe it may be a good time to learn the Daoist art of Wu Wei – active inaction. Wu Wei is the opposite of knee-jerk reactivity and entails a capacity to ‘flow’ with life around us, doing what is needed and – importantly – refraining from giving in to needless reactive energy. This is the energy prompting us to go out and buy all the loo rolls you can find in a shop, hoard hand sanitizer, or even buy Jim Bakker’s ‘Silver Solution’ before supplies run out.

Wu Wei helps us to have the capacity to be still, maintain a non- anxious presence amid the pressures to succumb to reactive energies around us. Wu Wei is something we can nurture in ourselves by practice and building different habits for responding to circumstances over which we have no control.

Of course we all need appropriate levels of anxiety. Without a level of appropriate anxiety we might fail to take sensible precautions to keep ourselves safe and well – like wearing a seatbelt, a cycling helmet – or washing your hands.

In the meantime, if you are feeling anxious amid the rounds of viral news stories, take heart. There is a world leader with MIT in his DNA and a natural ability to understand and take on COVID 19.

Video: meditation exercises

A priority at the moment for all of us is to nurture our capacity for staying grounded.

These meditation exercises provide some practical strategies for sustaining a non-anxious presence amid the pervasive anxiety now weighing heavily on so many people.

More than ever we need to be present for one another.

Taking time and space to hone some inner stillness as a counterpoint to the pull of reactive energy is one small way to help us do that.

Other ways to seek help during this period

Employee Assistance Programme

As a member of staff you have access to our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) partners Care First. Care First are a specialist highly professional organisation that can provide a range of help at difficult times. There is a 24 hour / 365 days-a-year telephone help line that can provide counselling and specialist advice on a range of matters.

You can call the EAP helpline on 0800 015 5630.

The service is confidential and you can refer yourself. There is no need to inform your line manager and Care First will keep all their contact with you completely confidential. Whether is it a family matter, moving house, moving job, a major life event, neighbourhood concerns, consumer rights, or even a brush with the law, they can provide advice and help - and signpost you to more specialist services if they think that you need to access them.

All the staff at Care First are qualified and experienced in their field. 

Register with Care First now (username: lifestyle1234 / password: carefirst)

Mental wellbeing smartphone application

As a member of staff at the University of Sussex you also have free access to: 

'Thrive' is an evidence based smart phone app providing in-depth tools and support for anyone to improve their mental wellbeing.

How to access the Thrive App:

Step 1. Find the log on page:

Step 2. Enter your e-mail address, and verify it. Then enter a password of your choice.

Step 3. Enter the University of Sussex Company access code: AVIVAIYP1116

Occupational Health

Our on site Occupational Health team are still here and continue to offer advice on health, safety and wellbeing at work. Referral to occupational health is via your Line Manager or HR. Read more about Occupational Health at Sussex.

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By: Sean Armstrong
Last updated: Friday, 20 March 2020

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