March virtual meet up: Coping with a pandemic

IWS offers safe and friendly space for our members to share their experiences and support each other. As you may know, we normally conduct monthly in-person meetings to talk about gender equity, diversity, professional and cultural challenges and opportunities. However, in consideration of the physical distancing measures put in place due to COVID-19 pandemic, we decided to host a more informal virtual gathering to support each during these challenging moments, and to have some relaxing time. The virtual gathering took place on Zoom and for the first-time, members from different cities could meet.

We highlight some of the challenges brought up in the discussion and strategies to deal with these disruptions.

Let’s talk about the lockdown challenges

We found many of our members worried about the future uncertainties. Some of them were looking for jobs before the COVID-19, others about to graduate, and some, currently employed but unsecure about their positions or temporary layoffs. One member shared her struggle in the middle of her job search, as the job market is frozen, and the recruiters are no more responding.

These are unprecedented times, that no one foresaw or was prepared for. However, we can keep a humble and positive approach, and utilize this slow down time to gain perspective- to realize what we want to achieve and improve upon, going forward in our career or life. It is crucial to have a plan and a goal to look forward to.

Setting up a daily routine can be a daunting task.

Working at home is not something that we are psychologically attuned into, for home is a place meant to relax. As a result, productivity and work routine can suffer, and the cycle of procrastination guilt and stress could ensue. Moreover, home means family and kids, and adapting to a ‘working-moming’ balance in this new situation can be a challenge. How many of us can boast of being a homeschooling mom anyway? Well, now you can!

Take this time to focus on yourself and achieve the balance. 

· Actively ascertain a routine. use sticky notes, reminders and timers to achieve a routine without distraction. Working on these issues can be an active and daunting process. Some people find white/pink noise to aid in concentrating, others may take help of relaxing music, organizational apps, or blocking the distracting sites during the work hours. 

· Be punctual and professional.  Working from home still implies working on the same schedule, albeit from home. Maintaining that trust with your employer, and most importantly with yourself is necessary. Sticking to the same routine will not only help you define your day but it will also help you steer through the process smoothly.

· Explain to your kids what this quarantine means and affects. Take this time out to engage with them at a more personal level. An interesting observation was discussed during our meetings; kids in general seemed to cope with this situation better than the adults. Maybe it is time we learned from them!

Are you taking care of your physical and mental health?

We are social beings and practicing the social distancing could significantly impact our mental health. Staying at home with little to no physical exercise could further impact our physical and mental fitness as well. When you are working from home under a complete lockdown, the nearest comfort you would look for could be your refrigerator. Stress induced overeating reflects both, the mental as well as physical implications. 

Do not let this happen to you! It is important to stay physically active and mentally relaxed amidst the lockdown. Here is how you can do this.

· Exercise. Make sure your small trips are not limited to the fridge and back. There are various resources available to help you stay fit and active. Our members suggested resources like the app called ‘Les mils’, yoga and workout videos on you tube (Yoga with Adrienne; María Martínez /Sientente Joven, and so on). 

· Keep yourself occupied. Binge watching is fun, but you can find joys in other activities as well. Spending that time with family that you always wanted to, reading the book you fancied, engaging with the kids, networking online, reorganizing your home; all of it counts. Have you thought of getting a certificate course online? Universities like MIT and Harvard offer wonderful and fun courses directly, or through websites like Coursera and EdX. Moreover, most of these are free to learn! (Yale university is currently offering a free online course on “The Science of well being”. You don’t want to miss it.). It is essential to keep learning and communicating with people you care about. It is important to retain normalcy in life, to stay sane during these testing times.

· Make your own routine. As you are working from home you have ~3 more hrs per day on an average. There are benefits of working from home if you can leverage them well. These extra hours, for example can be channeled into pursuing hobbies, or other activities that you had put on indefinite hold for the lack of time. 

· Find your own pace. You shouldn’t be forcing yourself to be productive; these are extraordinary times. If you feel weighed down, don’t distress. Sometimes it is OK to shut down. We are often are own worst critics and this is not the time to be one. Relax and stop overthinking. Find an objective, set small goals and reward yourself for achieving them.

Too much information about no information? 

Discussions on COVID-19 have taken the centre stage in news and the social media. This overload of content, however, might not be information rich all the time. More often than not, panic and misinformation are circulated, as not much information is available around the nature of infection and the treatment course. Moreover, each country has different guidelines and it can be challenging to find a common ground of understanding in this global emergency. There are countries where information might be deliberately hidden from the population, and this lack of information could be as harmful as too much information.

So, if you feel overwhelmed, try practicing ‘mental distancing’, by limiting your exposure to the social media. No need to update yourself with the latest developments every hour. You could follow the daily directives by Govt. of Canada and keep on following the quarantine. However, if you do follow the social media actively, please make sure to read the reliable sources of information such as Health Canada website or other reliable resources.  

Worried sick about the ‘home’ back home 

One of the major worries of almost all of the immigrants is the status of their elderly back in their home countries. We had attendees who migrated from the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, including Italy.  In addition, our Brazilian, Colombian and Indian members worried about the additional political tensions and healthcare inefficiency, and how these issues can affect the outcome of the pandemic situation in their home countries. Testing for COVID-19 can be hard when infrastructure and materials are scarce. The lockdown is necessary but in low-income countries this becomes more challenging to maintain a job and have enough income to survive a lockdown of this scale. We worry about this menace that stares our people in their faces back home; desperate to act but bound geographically. 

However, we need to keep the communication channel open. Most of us have been increasing (virtual) family time to keep our people informed and to help them cope better with the situation.

At the same time, we also need to actively communicate with them, to make sure that they do not panic over our health instead. 

There are lessons to be learnt

Although we are living through difficult times, there are lessons to be learnt. The first to mention is a feeling of gratitude, for the people constantly fighting in this battle against the pandemic, ensuring our safety by staking theirs. 

Moreover, the pandemic taught us the importance of time and disaster management. It is obvious to expect massive changes in the policy formulation around the management of such unexpected events at the global level, but even at the individual level, this pandemic could teach us several important lessons. Apart from resilience, it could teach us the relevance of spending more time with our family and a chance to achieve a better work-life balance. Among the lessons learned, are also the value of time, the need to introspect our priorities, and to reconnect beyond our social bubbles. On a more technical level, the present situation can have a long-lasting revolutionary effect at the professional front, with the focus shifting towards galvanizing the prospects of virtual communications.

Moreover, it is now more than ever, that we should realize our responsibility as science ambassadors for Canada as well as our home countries. It is our collective responsibility to see the correct information conveyed and to prevent misinformation from propagating, now and in future. 

“You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.”

-Michelle Obama

Our Calgary and Vancouver group concluded their virtual meeting with a dance performance on a Latin song played by our member, Yanet. 

If you did not manage to join us during the call, please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

Equal contribution by Luana, Nicole, Giulia and Pooja Shree