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Critical thinking: why we need a clear head during the Coronavirus crisis

In part three of her content series on critical thinking Emma Sue Prince explains how critical thinking and recognising our emotions at this time of national crisis can help us all navigate the Covid-19 outbreak. 

8th Apr 2020
Director Unimenta
Columnist
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Right now we are all experiencing rapid change and a high level of uncertainty. Some of the challenges we face are the biggest we will ever face in our lifetimes. I myself have felt on the edge of so many things falling apart and yet I know with 100% certainty – and yes I mean 100% – that when everything around you feels crazy, the only place you can go to navigate through it is by using and building your inner strength.

The idea that you have to be protected from any kind of uncomfortable emotion is what I absolutely do not subscribe to.
― John Cleese

One key skill we all need to draw on now more than ever before is our human ability to think critically. Critical thinking is what helps us name our emotions and helps us to recognise the reality of where we are.

Perhaps everything seems chaotic right now, as you juggle working from home, childcare, your health, and possibly – like me – your loss of work. Right now, you may be grieving (yes, grieving) for your old life, lamenting the new state our world is in and reeling from the shock of it all. The world we live in has changed fundamentally, no matter where we are. I believe we are all going through grief stages in a way, and these stages are not linear.

The stages of grief

All of us are on a bit of a rollercoaster at the moment of up-and-down emotions – sometimes feeling dread and anxiety and other times finding some happiness and calm in the middle of it all. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be anxious normally, you will experience moments of it and if you are prone to anxiety, you’ll be feeling it even more strongly.

In terms of the stages of grief, there is a structure to it that can be helpful to consider. Remember, you’ll be experiencing these stages at all different times:

  1. Denial: ‘this virus won’t affect us. It’s happening somewhere else, far away…’
     
  2. Anger: ‘you’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. I’ve had to cancel my holidays. I’ve lost my job. My income has dropped’.
     
  3. Bargaining: ‘ok, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? I can do that – hey, wait a minute – it may be longer than that. I’ll work out a plan and it will then be ok’.
     
  4. Sadness: ‘I don’t know when this will end. I am despairing because I can’t see my loved ones and my freedom is gone’.
     
  5. Acceptance: ‘this is happening. I have to figure out how to proceed. I have to integrate this experience into my new way of living. My life is changing and I am changing too’.

coronavirus hub

An opportunity to refresh

Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance as we think about all the things we can do – and choose to do – now in the midst of uncertainty and fear, e.g. ‘I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually. I can volunteer to help others. I can learn new skills. I can start a different business. I can exercise online’.

With acceptance comes that opportunity to reset and refresh. I do that on my morning walk. We are allowed to have one hour of exercise a day. It made me think of improv games, such as we used to run on our workshops. In an improv game you have quite strict restraints. Having restraints allows you be creative and resourceful and makes it easier for your brain to tap into this. I can choose to spend that one hour any way I want to in terms of exercise outdoors – I can cycle, I can walk, I can run. I choose to make this a regular morning walk with the dogs at the same time every day, so actually I’ve created even more restraints myself.

What’s magical though is that this hour at the start of the day gives me time to reset and refresh. It gives me the space to think critically. In many ways I am reinventing my business, and in other ways I am embarking on doing things I have always wanted to do. I’ve been thinking, ‘how can I refashion my face-to-face sessions into great online content? What other things do I want to do with this extra time that I have? How can I help other people around me? What are great ways for me to become and stay fit and healthy and boost my immune system?’

I’d like you to try and do the same – once you have reached a stage of acceptance (whilst also recognising it will come and go – believe me, I am not totally ‘zen’ all the time!) – use this time as an opportunity to think about some things you have always wanted to do. What are other ways you might be able to earn money? How are you helping others around you? What new business could you start? How are you taking care of yourself? It is by exercising our critical faculties at this time that we can start to regain some control of our own lives.

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