Keep Calm and Carry On

08 April 2020 Kate Bleakley

woman sitting comfortably at a desk reading off an ipad with a lightbulb that has a brain silhouette inside it to insinuate productivity and calm

As actuaries, we are lucky in these challenging times to be able to work remotely with most insurance companies having Business Continuity Plans and so are somewhat prepared for this situation. At times like this, having insurance companies fully functional to handle claims and give some reassurance to new and existing customers that they are covered for worst-case scenarios is more important than ever.

Humans are wired to cling on to threats as it used to be a matter of survival and so can have a disproportionate tendency to fear. According to Dr. Veissière, an anthropologist and cognitive scientist, “The human mind is really, really, really bad at estimating the statistical probabilities of anything. And human minds have evolved to specific cravings for different kinds of information, in particular, anything that conveys information about potential threats or danger.” 

With a lot of us dealing with mortality and morbidity rates as part of our everyday job, we can take a more educated view of the coronavirus statistics and how these compare to other illnesses out there. We also know that statistics can be interpreted in many ways, with the classic joke of ask five actuaries their opinions and you will get at least five different responses! So it is up to each individual how they view the current ‘pandemic’.

I’m not here to give an opinion either way as the reaction to the virus on such a global scale is unprecedented and highly charged, and a lot is still unknown, but rather to give some practical tips of what could be done at this time to stay positive. Our mindset is very important and I was inspired by what Hal Elrod said in one of his podcasts, “No matter what’s going on around us we almost always have the freedom to choose what’s going on inside of us. We can choose what we focus on. We can choose our inner dialogue”.

Hal goes on to say that the Chinese word for crisis is composed of two Chinese characters signifying danger and opportunity respectively.  He tells the story of a farmer whose horse one day runs away, and his neighbour comes over and says, “I’m so sorry about your horse.” The farmer says, “Who knows what’s good or bad?” The neighbour is confused because this is clearly terrible. The horse is the most valuable thing he owns. But the horse comes back the next day, and he brings with him 12 feral horses. The neighbour comes back over to celebrate, “Congratulations on your great fortune,” and the farmer replies again, “Who knows what’s good or bad?” The next day, the farmer’s son is taming one of the wild horses and he’s thrown and breaks his leg. The neighbour comes back over, “I’m so sorry about your son.” The farmer repeats, “Who knows what’s good or bad?” The next day the army comes through their village and it’s conscripting able-bodied young men to go and fight in the war, but the son is spared because of his broken leg. This story can go on and on like that.

Now is a good time for us to bring out the best in ourselves and the situations we are facing. How can you turn the current crisis into an opportunity and stay positive? Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Stay healthy in body and mind. Fear weakens the immune system so focus on what you can do to build your immune system and morale:
    • Eat healthy fresh foods and avoid foods that cause inflammation in the body, like sugar and other processed foods.
    • Get regular exercise and movement. Be creative if you are in lockdown, lots of online exercise, yoga and dance classes are now being made available for free.
    • Watch how your children use the house as a ‘gym’ and pick up some tips from them.
    • Get outside for some sun exposure if you can. The vitamin D will boost your immunity and being in nature is mood-lifting. Plus, the sun and heat kill viruses!
    • Expose yourself to uplifting audio and written materials, or just take time out to find your inner calmness and reflect on what is really important to you.
    • And of course wash your hands (and the rest of you) properly and regularly!
  • If you have family at home, now is a good time to reconnect with them. Perhaps your children have been struggling with some aspects of their school work and now could be a good time to research and find creative ways to help them. Encourage curiosity and being creative by supporting them with their interests and projects, as well as school work.
  • If you can’t connect with people in person, reach out in other ways: phone calls, video calling, messages, group chats or even letters and cards. Human connection is really important at this time when so many are isolated.
  • Take time for your hobbies and interests that you might not otherwise have had, or develop a new skill you always wanted to learn.
  • Get done the home DIY you’ve been putting off. Or the de-cluttering and sorting that there never seemed to be time for previously, and get any captive family members to help too!
  • Be resourceful, toilet paper didn’t always exist, we still have running water! Think outside the box (as we are often told at work) to come up with solutions to challenges you face and perhaps turn crisis into opportunity (as I’m sure those savvy in stock market investing are doing right now).
  • Have a sense of humour and engage in things that make you laugh – laughter is a great healer and good for the soul.

Now is a great time to prove to your employer that you can effectively work from home, which could create greater flexibility in the future when things return to normal office working and perhaps you want to work from home or remotely at times. There are many resources available with tips on setting up an effective work-from-home environment and schedule - try out different things and see what does and doesn’t work for you.

However you view the current situation let’s make the best of it we can, and hopefully come out stronger, kinder, and more aware of what is really important to us and what we should put our focus on.