Commentary: When A Pandemic Becomes Endemic


Commentary: When A Pandemic Becomes Endemic

What lies ahead for families?

By Chan Swee Fen | 5 August 2021

Are you ready and prepared for endemic living?

In a recent press conference by the national COVID-19 multi-ministry task force, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said “It has been 18 months since the pandemic started, and our people are battle weary. All are asking: When and how will the pandemic end?

"The bad news is that Covid-19 may never go away. The good news is that it is possible to live normally with it in our midst. This means COVID-19 will very likely become endemic. But what does that mean? It means that the virus will continue to mutate, and thereby survive in our community.”

What does endemic living mean for everyday folks like you and me?

It means we must accept the COVID-19 virus and learn to live with it.

How do we navigate the transition from pandemic living to living with a silent enemy in our midst?

Here are strategies and practical handles to A.N.C.H.O.R us as we transit to a new endemic phase:

  1. Acknowledge and grieve your losses
    The pandemic has impacted everyone in different and unequal ways.

    Some of us have lost loved ones to COVID-19 or unrelated medical conditions, experienced job loss or business closures or loss of income.

    Others may have experienced drastic changes to daily routines and family norms, the loss of relationships and social support, or missing significant events or milestones such as graduations, face-to-face faith gatherings, vacations, and weddings.

    It seems as if everyone has lost something during the pandemic. To transit meaningfully to the next phase of endemic living, it is needful for us to grieve our losses.

    When it comes to grief, there is no right or wrong way. Everyone goes through the grieving process in their own unique way and timeline.

    Here are some practical handles to cope with loss:
    • Identify your loss and acknowledge your feelings
      We live in a culture where we are expected to “get it all together all the time”. Unless we learn to get in touch with our true self and experience emotional and psychological healing, we actually limit our own growth.

      Give a name to your loss and give yourself permission to experience your emotions attached to the loss. Do not suppress those feelings that make you feel uncomfortable. (If this process is too overwhelming or difficult, consider seeking professional counselling.)
    • Use rituals to say “goodbye” and to signal a new beginning
      Rituals give meaning and life, and symbolic gestures or actions signal a letting go of the past and getting ready for what is ahead.

      Examples of rituals include writing a letter to the loved one you lost, making a memento to remember family resilience, starting a gratitude journal, exercising as a family, and decluttering and organising the home.
    • Find meaning and purpose
      Man’s search for meaning, a very insightful and popular book written by Viktor Frankl, reveals how he survived the Holocaust by finding meaning and purpose in his horrendous experience to give him the will to rise above the circumstances and live. Unfortunately, he found his loved ones had passed when he returned home from the Nazi concentration camps. Despite the tragic events, Frankl recognised that he could not go back to the life he once had. He had to embrace a new way of living and build new relationships.

      When we understand our loss and find a new sense of meaning and purpose after the loss, it gives us hope to move forward.
  2. Not allowing fear of the unknown to dominate our lives
    Learning to live with the Covid-19 virus is like entering an unchartered territory.

    The unexpected, dramatic intrusion of the virus in our lives will leave some people questioning whether the world is still a safe place.

    We can let the fear of the virus and uncertainties paralyse us, or we choose to live life to the fullest.

    Interestingly, F.E.A.R can also be an acronym for Fake Evidence Appearing Real.

    Here are suggestions on how to keep FEAR at bay:
    • Recognise that uncertainty is an integral aspect as we transit from pandemic to endemic living.
    • Be accurately informed through credible sources about the ever-changing Covid-19 situation.
    • Focus on what we can control and not on what we cannot control.
    • Keep vigilant by continuing with safe management measures, practising good personal hygiene, wearing masks, and seeing a doctor when unwell, even as we go about daily activities or pursue our aspirations.
    • Be intentional in limiting the time spent talking about the virus. Choose to have meaningful conversations that will enrich familial relationships.
  3. Connect the past and the present
    It is often said that “Hindsight is 20/20”. As we anticipate a “new normal”, it is important to:

    Look back and reflect:
    • What moral compass guided us to surmount the challenges and overcome adversity?
    • What helpful perspectives or useful skills can we apply in the present and in the future?
    • What are some old ways of doing things that we need to let go off?

    Look within for insights and self-awareness
    • What are the strengths of each family member that has contributed to our collective resilience?
    • What family values or shared beliefs have assisted us to rise above our circumstances?

    Look forward for inspiration
    • What values will continue to guide us for the future?
    • What might give us meaning and purpose in the new phase of endemic living?

    Take time to discuss and answer these questions as a family, and glean gems of practical wisdom that will help you forge ahead with renewed confidence.
  4. Have a family vision
    "Emerge Stronger" is a vision that our Singapore leaders cast when we were in the thick of the pandemic. After 18 months of battling an enemy that is unrelentless in its aim to destroy lives and livelihoods, I believe that as a nation state, we have emerged from the battle stronger.

    Truth be told, the fight is not over just yet. As we anticipate a new reality of living with an invisible enemy, we need a vision to guide us, provide direction and move us forward with hope and gumption.

    What is your family’s vision as we move forward in endemic living?

    What short-term and long-term goals can you set as a family to bring the vision to fruition?

    Consider this quote from Neil Snyder, James Dowo, and Diane Morse Houghton — "A vision is not a dream but a reality that has yet to come into existence."
  5. Observe thinking patterns
    Our thoughts can affect us in more ways than we realise.

    Overly negative or positive thoughts will influence how we feel and behave as we transit into a new phase.

    Identify beliefs and thinking patterns that may hinder you and your loved ones from moving forward. Replace the unproductive and unrealistic thoughts with more rational and helpful ones.

  6. Reach out to others for a sense of community
    Going through a transition is a different emotional experience for different people. Getting support from family and friends can ease the stress somewhat. Additionally, when people come together and share their own stories of coping with change and ambiguity, it fosters a sense of community and resilience.

Whether you are eager to move into the next phase of endemic living or treading with caution, transition is a meaning-making process. We need to start preparing by having a firm ANCHOR so that as a family, and as a nation, we shall remain relentless, fight the good fight and emerge stronger.

© 2021 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

Swee Fen is an ordinary woman who desires to inspire others to make an extra-ordinary impact through her family life and life skills workshops, counselling training sessions and writing.

If you or someone you know is going through a mental health struggle, know that you do not need to go through it alone. There are avenues available for professional help, such as counselling, and it is also helpful to find a trusted friend or family member to talk to.

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