Four small steps to help each other through this

By Rob McLaren

After days of uncertainty, the University of Strathclyde finally announced it was suspending all face-to-face teaching with immediate effect on Sunday. Clearly, as we emerge from the staggered 14-day strike which prevented many classes from going ahead, and career towards the period of fast-approaching essay deadlines, dissertation hand-in dates and exams, this is a challenging time for all of us. If, like me, you are graduating soon, your mind is probably working overtime, desperately trying to figure out what the hell happens next.

Rest assured, we are very much all in this together. Your lecturers and teaching staff are no exception: the decision to suspend in-person teaching, after all, gave them just one day to find alternative arrangements, and for many this sudden shift to online teaching is easier said than done. If you’re in a 15 person Politics class, a seminar held over Skype or Zoom might not be a problem, barring a few inevitable technical glitches (I, for one, cannot wait to hear ten of us speak over each other because of an audio delay); however, if you’re supposed to be attending a Chemistry lab tutorial, or one of 200 people in an Engineering lecture, things might seem a little murkier right now. The guidance issued by the University so far – much like the advice being drip-fed by the Government – appears to be changing constantly and will have done little to alleviate those fears.

I’m an eternal, hopeless optimist. Things may be tough right now, but I am constantly driven by the belief that this new, uncertain reality will only be a temporary one. It will take some time to get back on our feet, but together we will get there.

Now, I’m sure you’re all exhausted by the constant barrage of conflicting advice and shock-tactic headlines being churned out by the press, so I’m not even going to attempt to tell you how to protect yourself from the coronavirus – I’ll leave that one to our wonderful, talented NHS frontline workers. But today, like any other day in our lives, there are some wee measures – random acts of kindness, if you will – that we can all implement into our routines, to make life that little bit easier for ourselves and those around us. Here’s a few I’ve learned so far.

Check up on those around you. You might not know who needs your help.

If you’re anything like me, asking for help at any time of year, let alone during a pandemic, can be incredibly daunting. While it may seem like everyone you know is getting along just fine, it is impossible to know exactly what is going on behind closed doors – perhaps a friend is self-isolating but is too embarrassed to tell anyone about it, or perhaps an elderly neighbour is afraid to travel to the shops for fear of contracting the virus, but doesn’t know who they can turn to.

Of course, you should always prioritise your own self-care, but if you find yourself with the time and emotional capacity to check up on others, think of ways you can lend a hand. Drop a message in your group chat asking if everyone is getting by. If you stay in halls, chap a few doors to see if anyone needs a lend of a loo roll or two. Call your elderly relatives regularly to make sure they’re not feeling lonely.

In times of crisis, community organising rises to the challenge by providing an infallible public service. Sites like the local community social network Nextdoor or Gumtree might be great places to find ways to help, and even Twitter is currently a hotbed for volunteering ideas. As people rightly worry about their financial futures, charities are suffering too. Foodbanks will be particularly hard-hit by the lack of available volunteers and donations; I work in a supermarket and have seen first-hand the nightly charity food collection reduced to bare bones, with supplies of UHT milk and bread evaporating from the shelves. If you can, now is the time to chip in a few quid or spare some extra tins – I know we’re all guilty of panic buying to an extent, but did you really need that tenth tin of beans?

One of the Strathclyde Telegraph’s alumni, former editor-in-chief Jenny Constable, had an idea which I found particularly inspiring:

Now, I don’t drive so I wasn’t sure how easily I’d be able to deliver supplies, but I have put up a notice on the door of my close that if anyone is struggling to get hold of essential items, or needs a quick errand ran, they can come and knock on my door anytime. Whether my services will be needed remains a mystery, but I’ll sleep easier knowing that the wee woman on the ground floor isn’t going without ‘leckie. Nobody should feel pressured to take on more than they can manage, but if you can, please consider doing something similar for your community.

Think of other ways to support local businesses.

The government’s official line to avoid mass gatherings and stay away from places of congregation, without asking such places to close their doors or providing financial support for them to survive the pandemic, is going to have a particularly damning effect on local businesses. Now, we should all absolutely try our hardest to practice social distancing – just because you are thankfully not vulnerable, does not mean those around you are not – but your decision to skip the usual post-lecture pint shouldn’t lead to a bar worker losing their job. Nobody can be sure exactly what financial impact the coronavirus outbreak is going to have on Scotland’s economy, but right now most signals are pointing to a global recession. And while the chit-chat on late night political talk programmes will undoubtedly turn to whether major corporations deserve taxpayer-funded bailouts, those who own small businesses, and their employees, are going through an unthinkably anxious time.

So, what can you do to help? Well, there’s no tried and tested method just yet, but a good place to start is by sending a quick Facebook message to your favourite coffee shop, indie record store or local watering hole, asking if there’s any way to support them. Perhaps they are accepting small donations in return for future discounts or have a premium membership scheme which will get you a special deal once life returns to normality. And if they don’t, why not suggest one as a show of your support – loyalty goes a long way in times like these.

Glasgow institution, the Hug and Pint, is already ahead of the game:

The self-employed, including paid content creators, are not immune, either. If, like me, you regularly turn to Etsy for gifting, you’ll understand that creators could be left struggling to make ends meet in the absence of regular orders, or if the postal service is severely disrupted. Again, there may be ways to help – one service that springs to mind is Buy Me a Coffee, which allows you to send a small donation covering the cost of a cuppa to your favourite content creators.

Not everyone is able to work from home. For their sake, take precautions.

Even as the Strathclyde Sport facility closes its doors and teaching is switched to an online format, many of the university’s administrative staff are unable to work from home, with the library remaining open for the time being, albeit with reduced 9-5 hours. Unless absolutely necessary, you should try to avoid the library and university buildings, to minimise the risk these staff face of catching the illness.

The same should apply for other workers too. Now, as a Tesco employee, I’m obviously biased by the fact I still have to come into contact with hundreds of people each working day, but the least we can ask is that you act responsibly in your shopping habits. Whenever possible, try to stay away from the supermarket, allowing those who are really in need to get their supplies.

Iceland have already implemented a fantastic strategy for allowing the vulnerable to shop in peace, and I can only hope other stores follow suit:

You’ll no doubt have seen the photos of desolate supermarket shelves on social media, but this should not drive you to go full circle and panic buy even more. One thing I have noticed at my work is that as the aisles have been cleared of pasta and cereals, so the ‘free from’ section lies barren too. Remember, many people have strict dietary requirements that makes shopping that little bit tougher – in no circumstances should anybody without such requirements encroach on this further.

Oh, and for those shops that have decided to shut their doors, let’s all lobby them to be more like Greggs, aye?

Keep yourself informed of the news, but set appropriate boundaries.

Finally, I’d like to share a rather personal story with you all, if you don’t mind. See, I’m a bit of a news junkie at the best of times, but the outbreak of COVID-19 only exacerbated this. For the past few weeks, I’ve been religiously following the story across a million different news apps and I couldn’t help but stick on the news channel in the background as I worked. With so many incoming developments, it can be hard to escape the news cycle. Yet, the more I read, the more I started to panic.

This past weekend, I was at home cooking dinner with my girlfriend when my phone pinged away with the latest notification – this time from the Guardian, with a story about the potential spread of the infection.

Now, I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but reading this absolutely terrified me. For weeks I’d tried to remain calm and hopeful around my loved ones, knowing full well that I am less at risk than many of them, but suddenly I felt that hope crumbling away. I began to zone out of my existence entirely, trapped in this endless spiral of worrying about everyone and everything, until eventually I experienced some suicidal thoughts. The ordeal lasted only around ten minutes or so, but it felt like an eternity, during which time I frantically wandered around my kitchen, fidgeting with objects and skimming through my news feed without taking anything in. It ended quickly and my girlfriend was there to calm me down, but it was frightening.

Immediately after, I told myself it was time to take a step back. Of course, it’s important to keep yourself informed of developments to keep yourself safe, but there’s absolutely no way you can take in every single story and, let’s be honest, many of them are simply there to draw clicks.

I chose to disable all push notifications for the news apps on my phone and have banned myself from watching the 24-hour news channels for the time being. I’m sure everyone is different, but it’s important to give yourself an allotted time each day to catch up with the news, and not try in vain to know absolutely everything. Set yourself boundaries. Your mental wellbeing must always come first.

It’s a trying time for all of us, but together we will make it through. Take care of your loved ones, but never forget to spare time for yourself.