Keep Calm and Carry On
/ Author: Paul Wilson
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Keep Calm and Carry On

It may not be easy, but it is essential

The morale-boosting poster, Keep Calm and Carry On, was published in 1939 by the British government to encourage its citizens to move beyond their fear of mass air attacks on major cities and focus on the crucial task of preparing for war with Germany.

The past couple of weeks have had an eerie, bizarre, scary, and even surreal feel about them. People are on edge and fearful. It feels like we are in a war against an enemy that is hard to detect and even harder to understand and defend oneself against.    

These days one does not need to look far to find fear and panic. My wife went to a local grocery store a few days ago, and she literally could not get in the door. Lineups snaked throughout the store right to the front door. People with multiple shopping carts stacked with every item they could get their hands on were behaving as though the end of the world were at hand. My wife got into her car and returned home empty-handed.

Fear and panic come with the potential of high costs to our collective well-being. If we hoard, we will eventually do harm to those who are the most vulnerable among us. Seniors, who find grocery shopping taxing at the best of times, will be deprived of key nutrients at a time when they need such nutritional support most. Those with compromised immune systems or allergies may face a life-threatening situation, because they are not able to get the foods they require to avoid a health catastrophe. While prudence may require getting a little extra in times of uncertainty, panic—and the hoarding that comes with it—eventually leads to price inflation and rationing, which heightens the health risk to all of us.

Staying calm and carrying on may not be easy, but it is essential. Wise leaders know that in times of crisis, those who stay calm are more likely to make better decisions than those who are ruled by the anxiety and fear that triggers panic.

Recent research in neuroscience bears this out. In 2016, for example, neuroscientists at the University of Pittsburgh identified neuronal mechanism that helps explain how anxiety can disrupt the decision-making process and often leads to poor choices. 

As a historian, I am always conscious of applying the lessons of the past to present circumstances. The advice offered by the British government in 1939 still applies today. Staying calm and carrying on would benefit all of us right now and in the days ahead.

If you are a CLAC member who is experiencing increased anxiety and stress due to the COVID-19 outbreak, you can access counselling and other aids through CLAC’s Employee and Family Assistance Program. Learn more.


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