Can Municipalities Reduce Citizen Stress?

This is a collaborative post.

As the coronavirus pandemic remains an everyday threat until a full vaccine roll-out proves successful, we all know that we can’t quite take pandemic anxiety off our minds. For a lot of people, being stuck at home can lead to heightened emotional states and high stress. 

Personally, I have found my anxiety to peak after government announcements and/or reactions and opinions on social media. This lockdown in the UK has been the hardest with the saddest energy surrounding it because we have lost the hope we had in the first one. This is now nothing new to us and we’re understandably fed up. We need to regain our hope collectively and keep the faith that we can, and will, move forward from this.

 

Why is pandemic stress so damaging? Stress is a response to an event that threatens the balance of our life. As such, the pandemic is one of the most significant stress-triggers in the 21st century. It is a sudden, dramatic, and long-lasting change that affects people’s routine, dreams, work, and social circles. You can reach out to meditative practice to recentre yourself and find your inner energy. Meditation can help alleviate some of the pandemic anxiety. But this leaves a big question open: Can our towns and communities create a better stress response? Indeed, the pandemic has forced countless individuals out of jobs or in furlough. Additionally, vulnerable members of society have been self-isolating at home for almost a year, which is bound to take its toll on mental health. What can municipalities do to ease stress? 

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Implement an effective problem-solving programme

Damaged road surface? Suspicious activities in the neighbourhood? Failing local services? How many complaints does the local community receive on a day-to-day basis? Since the start of the pandemic, towns and counties have faced a peak in calls, emails, and other notifications about various issues. The volume can be overwhelming and without an adequate management system in place, such as AccessE11it’s hard to keep an overview of problem areas. However, as citizens are restricted to local commutes, they rely on their community to provide all the services they need and meet their safety requirements. Giving towns and regions the opportunity to manage problems and sort out situations rapidly and smoothly can also relieve anxiety for sheltered citizens. 

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Embrace positive communication

What does positive communication mean? It’s the art of encouraging rather than blaming people. Professor Stephan Reicher, psychology specialist at the University of St Andrews has been vocal about the need for authorities and the government to focus on positive messaging during the pandemic. The British public should be praised for their resilience throughout the lockdowns. However, the government has chosen a blame strategy and encouraged a tougher policing approach. Reicher warns that in a situation that is difficult for everyone, blaming a minority of rule-breakers undermines trust. Instead, public praises during the pandemic could significantly alleviate frustration and stress. I believe there should be a balance that both commends those who are helping us progress towards a more positive future and educates those who are not.

Find ways of providing support to the vulnerable communities

Individuals who live alone have found it hard to balance pandemic restriction and mental health. The situation has left them isolated, which can increase depression and even encourage self-harm. Cruise crews who have been practically abandoned on ship as a result of covid have tragic tales of loss to illustrate how hard isolation is on your mental health. Additionally, seniors, individuals with disabilities or serious illnesses, also feel helplessly isolated and unable to access essential healthcare services. Some communities have looked at ways of organizing a support system for their citizens, providing safe grocery delivery or socially-distant companionship. We can safely say that towns and counties could do a lot more to help inhabitants cope with the stress. 

The pandemic is teaching us an important lesson about community spirit both in our physical spaces and online. Finding ways to help and support each other can be the key to the public resilience we need. Surviving the pandemic anxiety is not a challenge you can tackle alone. It’s teamwork. 

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