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Staying Social in the times of distancing : Kanak Gupta, Director, Seth MR Jaipuria Schools

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Kanak Gupta, Director, Seth MR Jaipuria Schools

Before you read any further, do something for me: take a deep breathe. Relax. I fully understand that the present times must be very stressful for you. It is even more stressful because of the unknown, and the fact that a solution to the problem seems far, far away. However, we are all in this together, and I strongly believe that with our collective efforts, we, the humanity will win this battle against Covid19. 

Given the anxiety and uncertainty that Covid19 has brought about, I also firmly believe that each of us would react differently to the circumstances. Moreover, I am talking from a behaviour perspective. At Seth M.R. Jaipuria Schools, our students, parents, our teachers, staff, all stakeholders are at the centre of our being. I strongly believe we are a big family of 30,000+ across 34 schools in 25 cities pan-India. Therefore, first and foremost, we have turned all our focus on the health, wellbeing and safety of all our stakeholders. As a secondary concern, we are working round the clock to enhance, monitor and maintain the functioning of our Schools and Institutes through online tools and advisory. We realize that despite the prevalent social distancing, fear and anxiety about this pandemic will be overwhelming and may cause strong emotions, especially amongst children. How we cope with this stress will make us and our communities stronger. 

There would be bouts of mental stress. And, now that you’re staying home so much, there would be natural irritations, disturbances and changes in your body: stress can lead to stress-eating, and you may put on weight. (It’s happening, isn’t it?) On the other hand, stress will lead to hallucinations and you may feel the world is falling apart. I strongly suggest- try to keep up with regular routines. Since schools are closed, create a schedule for learning activities and relaxing or fun activities. Be a role model. Take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. (Psst: I’m not going to bore you with work-from-home do’s and don’ts and importance of routine, or give you details about the pandemic. You know better than me! ☺) 

You are not alone in facing the trauma. We don’t know if this is the new normal, and how much longer before we come out of this. As we go into battle mode, I urge you to take care of your health: both mental and physical. Yes, the mental trauma right now is real. Yes, the lethargy you are facing due to unplanned work-from-home during this outbreak induced lockdown is real. You can help yourself and those around you tremendously if you get organized. 

  1. Identifying stress during these times: Watch out for sudden changes in your lifestyle and of those 

around you. Acknowledgment of the problem is the first step towards recovery 

  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones 
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns, and difficulty sleeping or concentrating 
  • Worsening of chronic health problems, and increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs 
  • Mood swings, and constant fear and irritation

2. Distractions Help: Do keep in mind that those around you- your family members, your immediate neighbors, your friends and family who are now connecting to us only through phone calls and smartphone- would be facing high anxiety. A degree of worry is to be expected, and given the situations, perhaps it is even needed, however, too much anxiety has a disturbing influence. When threats are uncertain, people can easily overestimate the actual threat and underestimate their ability to cope with it. Be the change-maker, and keep calm, help people carry on. Three C’s: Calm (don’t panic); Communicate (using technology) and Clean (wash, wash, wash!). Hey- why don’t you go wash your hands about now? Great. 

Psychologists generally define problems with things I can do something about, and then things I can do nothing about. You may feel the second part right now, but there is something you can do: Social Distancing. (PS: This WILL be the Oxford Dictionary phrase of the year for sure). You must be feeling some other side effects of social distancing: loneliness, sudden suffocation because you’re told not to go out in a lock down and so on. Social Distancing doesn’t mean you can’t be social. Create a video blog; write a book; read articles and setup an online forum to discuss the same; enrol in a course, speak to your neighbours across the road using a phone yet looking at them. Never underestimate your own creative mind and that of those around you. 

  1. Ration out Technology to beat Overdose: We live in a connected world. Using technology for everything is sort of hygiene factor for us. And, given that we are saving lives by staying home, there will be a lot of dependence on technology to keep you engaged. For instance- In ONE DAY, technology helped me a lot. My productivity is sky high! I did a two hours back-to-back super productive meetings with 53 colleagues (we were delighted to see each other and now wondering why do we have offices in the first place!); I did a script reading session for an Indian play adaptation of the Bard’s works (yes, I will soon be back to theatre); I jammed rock songs with my college band after almost 15 years (I’m still a terrible singer); I did baby-sitting duties for my sister in New York whilst I am in New Delhi (this one was easy, as I was merely playing assistant to my daughter, nephew, niece who were in the lead role); I I helped my daughter learn coding whilst watching videos (she wanted to pick new skills); I had a deep discussion about the Bhagwat Gita with my mother and sister who are in Kolkata (little philosophy goes a long way). This, of course, whilst simultaneously communicating on Whatsapp about all Covid19 updates, work, general discussions (including conspiracy theories and how we, Manchester United will win the EPL next year and what would Virat need to do to lift a cup). Yep, all this in just ONE DAY. And, there’s still time for a stroll with the Missus, and a pleasant dinner with family, and maybe a little Netflix too. It is possible to be social whilst keeping distances. 

However, it is important to keep your head in the game, and don’t indulge way too much into technology. Please balance in out. Smell the flowers, take a walk, do the dishes, cook a family meal, read a proper book, take time out. (Internet is getting choked and slower anyway, right? wink

  1. Children engagement can be tricky: Not all children and teens are engaged in the same way. There would be a lot of material that children will get from schools. There are a LOT of suggestions for apps that can be used to engage children. There would be a lot of boxed content companies reaching out to ensure learning can continue irrespective of school. Remember, all of that is there, but it is very important at this time for you to support children- both as parents as well as educators. Take time to talk with your child or teen about the COVID-19 outbreak, and answer with facts in a way that children can understand. Reassure them that they will be safe with precautions. Let them know it is ok if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you. Limit exposure to news coverage of the event, including social media. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand. Remember, it’s a HUGE challenge for them, too. 

For years, I have been advocating that we take care of our natural world; otherwise, the ecological balances would be catastrophic for us. I asked the world, to give me #My Right To Breathe, as we choked with air pollution all around. We refused to slow down. Perhaps, this pandemic is what was required for us to reboot, and take the road less taken. I am optimistic that by being physically distant from each other, we will come closer socially and emotionally, and ultimately, we, the humanity, will win. As we battle to overcome these tough times, go easy on yourself, your emotions. Let us unite and make sure that never again do we have to face a situation as such. Mother Nature has shown us that she is the boss, and we will do well to right the wrongs we have done in the society. Nevertheless, more on that some other time. For now, take one more little moment and take a deep breathe. Feel better? Good. Remember, we are in this together. 

Author: Kanak Gupta is Director with Seth M.R. Jaipuria Schools Group. He is co-founder of citizen’s social cause against pollution My Right to Breathe, and co-founder of India’s most prolific English theatre group, Theatrecian. A Purdue University and St. Xavier’s Calcutta Alumnus, Kanak can be seen regularly on television debates, and his articles appear regularly in leading national dailies. Views expressed in article are personal.

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