These are uncertain times we are living in, and we humans struggle with uncertainty. It’s difficult to escape the news, and the fear, surrounding this pandemic. There’s no denying things …
These are uncertain times we are living in, and we humans struggle with uncertainty. It’s difficult to escape the news, and the fear, surrounding this pandemic. There’s no denying things are bad, and we’re unsure how long COVID-19 will do its worst throughout the world. Will you or those you love encounter this virus? No one can answer that question—hence the panic. There is little more challenging than creating or maintaining balance through this historic period of uncertainty.
I’m not a medical expert, but I want to help you gain control over your mental health during these challenging times.
Worry: Let’s start with this huge mental-health-robbing culprit. There’s lots to feel worried about, I know. I still have a son, brother and stepmother considered essential personnel, not to mention all my friends who are in the medical field on the front lines. How can I not worry? In line with Choice Theory, Buddhist master Shantideva wrote, “If you can do something about it, why worry? If you can’t do something about it, why worry?” There is sage wisdom in this statement, but no one has ever stopped worrying by simply telling themselves to “stop worrying.”
The biggest thing you can do to reduce worry is to take control over the things that are within your control; don’t abdicate that responsibility to anyone else. If there is something you can do to be more in control, do it. Stay informed, but don’t immerse yourself in the deluge of constant, panic-inspiring COVID-19 information. You will be overinformed and more worried than is healthy. Protect yourself by handwashing, avoid touching your face, wear gloves while you’re out on necessary errands, maintain physical distances and sanitize surfaces. There are things you can do to improve the chances you won’t be infected: Do them, relax and think of other things.
Balance: Our brains are hardwired for negativity, so it is normal for us to be focused on this pandemic and its devastating, world-wide effects. You can be a victim of your mind’s programming or you can take control. Use your drifting, worrisome thoughts as a cue for you to think of something else. Make a list of more pleasurable things you could be thinking about instead. What will be the first meal you will enjoy in your favorite restaurant when this is behind us? Where will your next vacation be? Make a list of all the people you want to hug when this is over. Whatever you can do to think about happier times—either past, present or future—will take your mind off worrying about the things you cannot control.
Another way to strike balance during coronavirus is to look for the benefits in the things you are currently perceiving as inconvenient and frustrating. Having to work from home can be turned into, “I get the opportunity to work from home.” Understanding your retirement savings is currently in trouble can be turned into, “I can’t wait to see how the market rebounds from this” or “I’m looking forward to engaging my creativity to find new ways to make money.” Not being able to go to the gym can be turned into, “I can take advantage of all these free offers to check out workout videos at home.” Dwelling on how you miss going out with friends can be changed to, “It’s amazing how much money I’m saving by staying in.” Your children being properly educated can be turned into, “I have the opportunity to create experiences for my children to learn some important things that really matter while we are home together.” Worrying about the economy can be turned into, “This pandemic is having such a wonderful effect on our ecology.” Worrying about secluding your children from their friends can be turned into, “My children and I can make memories around our loving, family connection.”
In everything, an equal amount of both positive and negative exists; the world is in balance. You have a choice to make about whether you will be in balance, or not, based on which side you choose to focus on.
Love versus fsear: During this pandemic, you have another choice to make: will you choose love or fear? I am disheartened to read about the violence being perpetrated against Asian-Americans during this time, as if they were responsible for this virus. In the grocery stores, choosing fear is yelling at store clerks because you can’t find any eggs or toilet paper. Love is telling them thank you for continuing to work despite the personal risk to themselves. Fear is locking yourself away in seclusion; love is reaching out to others—online, via phone, sharing your toilet paper or by running errands for others when you can. Fear is pointing fingers in blame; love is recognizing all that matters is coming together to solve this challenge.
Motivation: I’ve heard from several people that they have all the time in the world now; with it, they’re having difficulty focusing and being productive with the things they want to do. Fear and worry are great time wasters; immersing yourself in repeating news on this topic is a time suck. I am recommending that at night, before going to bed, give thanks for everything you accomplished that day, even if it was just getting dressed, phoning a friend, or cleaning out a drawer. Then make a schedule for what you want to accomplish tomorrow.
Be gentle with yourself, as these are very different times. People will typically overestimate what they can do in a day, while underestimating what they can do in five years. If you have big, hairy, bodacious goals, take the time to break them into smaller bites and schedule them accordingly. Decide how much worry and fear time you want to schedule in a day; choose a time frame and then schedule it. You can proactively stop whatever you are doing and worry for that scheduled block of time, or if you find you allow worry to get the best of you during a time you were hoping to be productive, then move that productive time to your worry time and you haven’t lost a second.
Be kind to self and others: During all of this, I challenge you to be kind to yourself by not placing unrealistic expectations about what you can do in a day and recognize you are going to have periods of worry and forget about self-care from time to time. Give yourself permission to do that from time to time. Be kind to others by having patience, knowing everyone responds to stress differently; reach out to those in need and constantly ask yourself Kurek Ashley’s question: “How would love respond?”
Maintain your focus on the positive by asking yourself and others, “What’s great about your day?” If your answer is nothing, you haven’t looked hard enough. If you insist there isn’t one single thing, then answer this: “What do I need to do tomorrow to have a better answer to this question?”
Enjoy this gift of time we’ve been given. It’s not going to last forever.