The entire world is on lockdown except 2 countries - Belarus, and Sweden. As some of you may know, I moved to Sweden in August of 2019 to work as an au pair. Initially I had moved here as a way to break from the life I was living in Ottawa, and hit the reset button in a country I had always wanted to see more of.
Prior to coming to Sweden, I had always thought that Sweden was like a Canada 2.0. Beautiful scenery, nice people, and better social programs and environmental policies. Although a lot of this is still true, my view of Sweden has changed during the coronavirus pandemic.
From the beginning Sweden has taken a very trusting approach. When sh*t started to hit the fan back in early March, most of the country had just come back from ski trips abroad. A popular spot for those most fortunate is the Alps in northern Italy. So as they all returned, the lead epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, advised that if they had travelled to the hot-spot zones, that they had to self-isolate for 2 weeks.
I thought this was a good way to go about it. At that time, that's what most countries were asking their citizens to do - if they had travelled, self-isolate or get tested as soon as possible.
When the rest of the world started to shut its borders, I thought Sweden would follow suit. After all, this is a country that is well known for their policies which aim to protect and support their citizens. At the outset of a global pandemic, the popular way to protect and support citizens was the close everything down to try and "flatten the curve."
... but not Sweden.
So Why Has Sweden Remained Open for Business?
What I have learned from living here in Sweden with a swedish family is that there are a few cultural aspects of swedish culture that not many people talk about, but that are foundational in the strength of the country.
In the case of the coronavirus it is the fact that it is widely accepted that the state trusts the citizens, and the citizens trust the state. So if the head epidemiologist is saying that we don't need to shut everything down, then the swedish population will trust him.
Furthermore, when the state says we are keeping everything open, but limit gathering to 50 people or less, and stay home if you're part of one of the at-risk groups, the country does so.
They have a fabulous public transit system in Stockholm, and on a Sunday morning around 11AM the metro would be filled with people going to-and-from local restaurants, churches, and family gatherings. That is no longer the case.
I was on the metro this past Sunday and it is very easy to sit alone in a 4-seat section (2 seats facing another pair of seats). No one stands too close to one another on the platforms, and many people manage to keep their hands in their pockets from the time they get on the train, to when they get off and beyond.
Do I Trust the Swedish Way?
At first I wasn't sure what was going on. Everything that I had once thought about swedish culture has been turned upside down (or so I thought). But as time passed, I began to understand that this is that swedish way.
The moment I realized that the citizens trusted the state's recommendations, I felt safer in the crisis.
With that said there are days where I wish they would just tell us to stay home, but that is only because I lived with someone is part of a few risk groups, so I am always on high-alert for moments where I could get the virus. Always being extra careful and extra aware gets exhausting, but besides those moments I am feel lucky to be living somewhere like Sweden during all of this.
Obviously the death toll here is devastating. Any loss of life is tragic. I am sure if the country had shut down in a similar fashion to Denmark, there would have been many fewer lives lost. Unfortunately, that would mean that the swedish population would be vulnerable to getting the virus as everything opens up again.
It may not be confirmed that we build an immunity to the virus after the initial contraction, but I think that is what Sweden is banking on. If a large percentage of the population does get it, then it will mean that a large percentage of the population will also be immune to it - potentially - and we can get back to full normality as soon as possible.
Do Fewer Restrictions Mean Less Stress/Anxiety About The Coronavirus?
I wish that were true. Unfortunately I am still human, and worrying about my fellow-human is deeply ingrained into my psyche.
This means that there are good days, and I definitely make the most of my time with friends when I get to see them. But there are difficult days. I see friends and family adjusting to life inside. My favourite summer events are all being cancelled. The thought of a summer without outdoor music events or social gathering of any kind is something I am having a hard time wrapping my head around. Not to mention how unclear it is as to when I will be able to go home.
It has been a couple of weeks of these mental and emotional ups and downs, and I am finally starting to settle into a good routine. I move when my body wants me to, I learn when my mind is open to it, and I take time for myself when I need it. Listening to the body is the greatest skill I could tap into at this time, and I think it would be valuable for many of you as well.
What does the future hold?
For starters, I am trying to get reacquainted with my nutrition knowledge and to work on keeping my mind steady by keeping my diet whole and nutritious. I am tracking my food again to get a sense of my nutrient breakdown, and how I respond to stress, energy, tiredness, and mellow days with food. I'm observing my emotions in line with what I want to eat that day, and then try to make the best choices for those two factors.
I am also implementing more mindfulness. I was listening to a podcast the other day that spoke about setting the intention of working on daily mindfulness for my own health, and for those around me. This has made a major impact on my approach to mindfulness as I have always been hyper aware of how I behave around others, and more specifically, how my stress manifests itself in social interactions.
With that new intention, I am finding mindfulness to be a really helpful tool when I feel like my anxiety gets really bad. It is as simple as taking a second to close your eyes and focus on the feeling of the air as it enters and exits your mouth or nose.
Lastly, my daily exercise routine has changed a lot. I do any combination of single exercises for reps and sets throughout the day, to mini circuits, to full on runs and bodyweight workouts. As I said before, I am using this time to listen to my body and figure out what it needs for the day. I definitely miss the gym, and I am looking forward to when I can go back, but for now, this time is going to be beneficial for my physical health in a completely new way.
I am hoping to make it home in July, but we will see where the world is at that time. I will keep you posted on here until then as to how my health and wellbeing is progressing, and if I find any other helpful strategies to get through this time.
Riri's Discoveries blog documents Riri's discoveries as she develops her skills as a marketer, and finds new and sustainable ways to stay healthy.