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Coping with Corona: A Mental Survival Guide

A look at the long term impacts of the coronavirus and strategies for tackling them while living in Japan.

By 6 min read

It seems like 2020 keeps throwing curve balls at us one after the other. The coronavirus has dominated news headlines alongside all manner of other issues from canceled Olympics to earthquakes and protests. If this article has made it to print, hopefully, 2020 hasn’t launched another potentially apocalyptic grenade of misfortune our way.

Despite it all, Japan seems to be holding up pretty well compared to other countries. The fewer infection rates are in no small part due to the efforts of those of us living in Japan—wearing masks, washing our hands frequently, socially distancing wherever possible, and avoiding unnecessary travel. However, many limitations remain in our daily lives, which is undoubtedly beginning to impact our mental health.

It has been more than four months now since I first wrote about the coronavirus and its potential impact on foreigners working in Japan. By now, we’ve all realized effects are far wider-ranging than just the virus itself. Let’s look at issues foreigners in Japan have been facing and how to cope with them.

Problem: You’re stuck in Japan

Entry into Japan will be denied without special circumstances.

One of the most controversial aspects of Japan’s moves to contain the coronavirus has been its policy towards re-entry into the country by foreigners. Anyone leaving Japan who is not a Japanese citizen is not currently allowed to return without special conditions.

Even those with long term working visas, spousal connections, or permanent residency are not exempt from the strict travel ban. Residents must prove that their reason for temporarily leaving the country was on compassionate grounds, such as attending to a seriously ill or recently deceased relative’s affairs.

While I am quite happy with my life in Japan, being stuck indefinitely does evoke some slightly uncomfortable emotions.

However, the exact nature of what constitutes an acceptable definition of “compassionate grounds” lies at immigration authorities’ discretion. Even if you believe you have a valid reason, you may not want to risk stranding yourself, and possibly have your visa invalidated.

While I am quite happy with my life in Japan, being stuck indefinitely does evoke some slightly uncomfortable emotions. With immigration authorities being the sole arbiter in this situation, we are not in control.

However, we can instead focus on the aspects of this situation that we can control.

What to do: Plan your next trip

Yes, travel restrictions are a pain, but they won’t last forever. It might be six months or two years from now, but eventually, the state of enforced isolation worldwide will end. When it does, what will you do, where will you go? There is no better time than now to plan your next big trip once all this is over. You may as well think big while you’re at it.

I plan on taking a five-day journey on the Trans-Siberian Express from Vladivostok, near the Russian/North Korean border, to Moscow, savoring all the sights and sounds along the way. Once there, I’ll spend a couple of days looking around Moscow before the short, four-hour flight back to Glasgow to see my family.

Get planning, venture somewhere new and exciting, and challenge yourself to make it happen—once the current danger has passed, of course. Don’t like the idea of planning some massive dream trip that seems unattainable? Try planning a trip within Japan instead.

Problem: You’re oh so lonely

Is anyone out there?

My planned trip to Russia is likely at least a year away and possibly even longer. In the meantime, social distancing and the fact that many bars and restaurants aren’t safe to go to means many of us—especially those living alone like me—feel isolated.

Lack of human contact may seem like a trivial matter compared to the dangers of a life-threatening pandemic, but prolonged loneliness on mental health is real.

Thankfully, in today’s technologically advanced age, there are numerous steps you can take to combat this.

What to do: Stay connected online

I’ve gotten into the habit of checking in with my family back in Scotland every day. Both of my parents have long-term health issues and are self-isolating at home to avoid any problems with COVID-19 likely until a vaccine is available. 

Our daily Skype calls have not just been a great outlet for me, but hopefully for them. I live further away from my parents now than I ever have, but I can’t think of any point in my adult life where I’ve felt closer to them—a bizarre paradox. Of course, chats with family aren’t your only online option. 

Research has shown that just hearing others’ voices can help ease your mind in these situations.

There are numerous apps such as Zoom, Google Meet (formerly known as Google Hangouts), and plenty of others that offer the chance to chat, share a few drinks, play some games, and even throw a party. 

If you don’t have an extensive social network to call upon, you can still do plenty of things to alleviate boredom and loneliness. Research has shown that just hearing others’ voices can help ease your mind in these situations.

Whether it’s YouTube videos, podcasts, or even just revisiting your favorite shows during a Netflix binge, all of the above will help you get through this. Rewatching James Bond movies and old Frasier episodes before bed always has me drifting off to sleep in a good mood.

Problem: I’m terrified of catching this virus

Walking to work shouldn’t be this scary.

The virus has killed more than a million people worldwide and shows no signs of slowing down. The danger is real, and so too is the fear it inspires. Unlike those who claim they can’t breathe when they wear a mask, this is not a paranoid work of fiction, but a genuine risk.

What to do: Don’t stress about things you can’t change

It may sound flippant, but it’s something I’ve always believed in, long before COVID-19 came along. The coronavirus is here, and we can’t change that. All we can really do is live each day as best as we can.

Talk to others, make plans for the future. Do whatever you can to keep yourself going mentally and physically until this danger has passed. Wear a mask, avoid unnecessary travel, and use plain common sense.

Ultimately, humanity will endure. We always do.

It’s ok to be afraid, but we can’t let that fear control us. While we shouldn’t underestimate the danger, we can be hopeful for the future. A vaccine may still be a year away. However, there’s every possibility that we may find an effective treatment that significantly reduces the death rate long before then. Trials of numerous drugs are ongoing around the world.

Ultimately, humanity will endure. We always do. In a couple of years, at most, this will all be over, and we can look forward to all the things we used to take for granted. And just maybe we won’t take them for granted ever again.

Stay safe, everyone.

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