Living Thoughtfully in a Time of Uncertainty
march 16, 2020
Before I begin to share my thoughts, I have one word for you . . breathe. If you are like me, you may find yourself forgetting this basic and incredibly useful tool in these days of ratcheting stress. Amid the barrage of information and changes to our daily lives at this time of dealing with the COVID-19 threat, my intention is to offer you some thoughts and helpful tips that may bring some peace in this time.
Let me begin by letting you know that whatever you are feeling right now, it is real and valid. While everyone’s experience is unique, it is safe to say that we are all experiencing a new level of uncertainty which brings a very real and palpable anxiety. Many of us may feel that we are caught in the grip of relentless fear as new information about the spread of the virus emerges daily, if not hourly. Your fear is valid, your frustration and anger are valid, your sense of overwhelm or helplessness is valid. We are all, as global citizens, collectively having a very human experience that is incredibly valid.
We are in uncharted waters – the epitome of vulnerability and uncertainty. One could say that we are in a collective existential crisis. In our world, where we are able to control so much of our existence, it is humbling to realize that there is so much of potentially life-altering importance that we can’t control. Whatever feelings are coming up for you during this completely new (at least in our lifetimes) global event – know that you are not alone.
Human beings are wired to respond to threats as we have been since the beginning of time and it has served us well. We have an anticipatory brain process to look ahead for threats which leaves us in quite the predicament in these scary and uncertain times. In addition, the same wiring that gives us the truly lovely feature of human connection is also primed to pick up and respond to fear from our other fellow humans. Again, good for survival, but may be working overtime in these days! Everything that happens in our brain (and thus our nervous system) happens in our entire body. Although you may not like what’s going on in your edgy nervous system and your hyped-up bodies these days, it may be of some small comfort to know that your brain and body are doing exactly what they are primed to do.
So, how do we help our overworked and overwhelmed bodies and brains in this time? There are things we can do to help ourselves and fortunately, the resources we need most are inside of us. Taking this time to intentionally slow down (which seems to be happening like it or not) can cause you to realize inner resources that may not be apparent in the busyness of usual daily life.
- Accept what you are feeling. This often seems so counterintuitive, but we do know that accepting our emotional experience (even if we don’t like it!) decreases stress. Remind yourself that there is no certain way you are supposed to be feeling or handling this time.
- Find your breath. This is the first and best tool we have to regulate our nervous system. Believe it or not, our bodies follow our breath. The depth and pace of our breath directly impacts our nervous system which sends the signal directly to our bodies. There are many methods and many on-line resources to help you get started. Begin by setting aside a few minutes each waking hour to breathe mindfully.
- Mindfulness/Meditation. If there ever was a time to start, now is the time! There is much scientific evidence of the effectiveness of mindfulness in managing anxiety. Again, there are many printed and on-line resources to help you get started. I highly recommend any resource by Jon Kabat Zinn who pioneered the method with the most scientific evidence. Bringing your mind to the moment is a strong counterbalance to hyper-vigilance.
- Remember what is in your control. So much is out of our control at this time. Our fear brains want to constantly remind us of all that is out of our control (plenty these days!). Remind yourself of what you can do to bring a moment of peace or comfort. These small interruptions to the fear cycle do make a difference.
- Connect with others. In this strange time of social distancing for the safety of us all, seek out new and creative ways to connect safely with others. We are not only wired for human connection, we need it. This may be the most calming and healing thing we can do for ourselves in these stressful times.
- Connect with nature. Evidence shows that connecting with nature naturally regulates our emotions. Being in nature is healing to be sure, but finding any way to connect with nature can bring a sense of calm.
These are just a few suggestions that, I hope, bring some peace to you in this time. Most of all, remember that whatever your experience, you are having a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. Take heart in knowing that you are not alone and that perhaps with all that divides us, we are for once, united in our human experience and our desire for healing.
May this beautiful loving kindness blessing be a reminder for us all:
May all beings everywhere, whether near or far, whether known to me or unknown, be happy. May they be well. May they be peaceful. May they be free.