Mental Health: Finding Positivity in the Pandemic

So there finally seems to be a glimmer of light at the end of this long tunnel. For months now, we have been barraged daily with a cacophony of statistics, warnings, threats and cajolements, as Hong Kong society has battled to overcome Covid-19. While we have been remarkably successful in keeping the virus out of our city, the impact of this effort on our mental health has been dramatic, with medical experts describing current levels of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder as “unprecedented”.

But while the pandemic is by no means over, and its impact will be with us for a long time to come, this weekend’s relaxation of some of our stricter social distancing regulations have encouraged the Banyan team to look back at how far we have come on this journey together since CNY. Here are a few of the unexpected ways the pandemic has helped us to turn lemons into lemonade…

Our Community Spirit

City life is fast-paced and exhausting. We rush from home to office, from meeting to deadline, from school to dinner, and it is all too easy to forget the existence of anything outside our immediate bubble. But, suddenly, the pandemic demanded that we work together to protect our wider community, all for one and one for all. Masks, sanitizer and social distancing are our three musketeers. 

As we slow down and become more aware of everyone around us, we have become more conscious of our place within society, with people going out of their way to help those less fortunate so that our whole city can survive together. As our co-founder Amy commented: “The last few months have restored my faith in community spirit, and in the willingness of strangers to reach out and help one another. I’m seeing it more and more in online community groups, such as facebook and WhatsApp. For a long time, I have been very critical of social media, blaming it for all manner of societal divisions. It’s been humbling to see it bringing people together instead.”

Hilvin, our Head of Operations, agrees and has led the charge in dedicating her time and effort to helping others, making reusable fabric face-masks to donate to vulnerable members of Hong Kong’s elderly community. “I’ve met housewives in Sham Shui Po market, all sharing ideas and experiences with strangers about good sewing patterns and materials for making face-masks. I see their dedication to help each other. It makes me proud to see Hong Kongers fighting together for a shared goal!”

Our Family Life

The current stoppage time on the game of life has caused headaches for our co-founder, Rasheed, as he has been forced to halt his usual regional travel between his businesses in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Vietnam. “It’s been hard, obviously, but the flip side is that I’ve been spending more quality time at home with the kids and with immediate family, which has been amazing, while continuing to keep the business running using all manner of technology.” 

Zoe, our Head of Marketing and our sustainability queen, agrees: “With my primary-aged kids off school, our family routines were completely thrown. While it’s been a huge challenge for me, trying to balance being a mum with working full-time, the activity-free weekends have been a treat. We’ve spent more time simply hanging out together, reconnecting. While I struggle with no routine during the week, I am embracing it on weekends!”

 Our Friendship Connections

The dreaded phrase “Social Distancing” has been frequently cited as one of the hardest challenges of the past few months from a mental health standpoint, as we have been kept apart from our social support network. But our deep human need to reach out and connect with friends and loved ones has forced us to discover new ways of communicating, with apps such as Zoom and Houseparty becoming ubiquitous almost overnight.

“The funny thing is, I have actually had more contact with old friends over the past couple of months than I would ever have had under “normal” circumstances,” says Rasheed. “The sudden awareness of how easy it is to reach out and re-connect, to support and uplift one another across continents, is something that I hope will stay with us long after the pandemic is past.”

“Social distancing has pulled friends and family closer together than ever,” agrees Hilvin. “We are paying more attention to the elders in our family, making sure they are coping in their day-to-day lives. And they are being taught how to use the new technologies by the younger generations.”  

Our Self Awareness

We have learned to live with the constant niggle of self-preservation, with people becoming overly-conscious of their health and well-being. This can lead to tension and anxiety, as we fret over whether a common cough or headache might be more sinister than it appears. But this has also led to an increased awareness of our physical selves. Zoe has quickly realized the value of exercise to her mental health. “I’m fortunate to live in a more rural part of Hong Kong, and have been getting up early to hike on the country park trails. I’ve been enjoying it more than ever,” she says. 

Nancy, our Head of Finance, has also become aware of how a reduction in her daily activity makes her feel both unhappy and physically clumsy. “I feel so much better when I get outside. The sky has definitely become clearer because the factories stopped production, so that makes it even more enjoyable. The slower place of life has also given me time to think and plan for myself, an impossible luxury normally. It’s made me realize how much I value time to myself.”

Our Environmental Consciousness

If we ever needed a wake-up call to address the damage that humanity has inflicted on our planet, this is it. Various politicians and lobbyists have argued for decades that the earth is simply going through natural climate cycles and that human activity is insignificant, but the global shutdown of industry and travel has revealed our true impact with astonishing clarity. Our skies are clearer, our water is cleaner and our wildlife has been warming hearts all over social media as they take tentative steps back into the land we took from them.

“While it’s scary to see the reality of what we have done to the planet, it is also encouraging to see that we are hopefully not yet past the point of no return,” says Zoe. “Nature is still capable of fixing herself. I hope everyone will emerge from lockdown with some slower, more conscious lifestyle habits.” 

Rasheed agrees that people’s experiences over the past few months will lead to greater demands for sustainable products and services, and this will in turn lead to businesses racing to introduce green initiatives. “There has been a definite shift in consciousness and that will inevitably accelerate the move towards brands and products that are authentically embracing the need to protect this amazing planet that sustains us.”

Our Love for Hong Kong

A constant theme that everyone agrees on is that we are slowly learning to see our city through fresh eyes. Natasha, our Guest Relations Manager, summarized this perfectly: “I’ve been doing my best to protect elderly relatives at home by being as cautious as possible. Although I know the MTR is one of the cleanest and most hygienic public transport systems in the world, during the early months of the pandemic I decided to increase my social distancing and switched to taking the ferry across the harbour instead. As I breathed in the fresh air and gazed at our skyline, it became one of my favourite parts of the day. It’s a privilege to call this beautiful city home.”

We have all learned to appreciate the simpler things in life during the Year of the Rat, to live in the ‘here and now’ far more than we have ever done.  There are so many things that we now realize we have taken for granted, such as family gatherings, air travel, watching and participating in sports or meeting with friends. But it is Hong Kong itself that we have become most grateful for, and the people who live here, who have come together to protect her in such an exceptional way. We hope that this new feeling of unity can continue to help our city both survive and thrive in the months and years ahead.

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