Over the last few days, I’ve been feeling like someone of importance has announced that a meteor is on a course for earth and will inevitably collide into our planet, causing insurmountable damage and destruction. Not the case, but the tone in messages from almost every media source is either peppered or overseasoned with fear.
Truth is: It’s March of 2020. NASA has photos of Pluto, taken billions of miles away. Trump is president. DNA can be edited with CRISPR. Toilets are still amazing inventions. It’s springtime in Wisconsin. Kenny Rogers died of natural causes. And there’s a virus. It spreads easily. Most people who catch it are fine, some don’t even know they have it. It can make a small portion of the people who catch it really sick and sometimes causes death. I’ve seen estimates that after running its course, if it continues on a current trajectory, that anywhere from 200,000 to more a million people could die from Covid 19 out of 7.8 billion on planet earth. Social distancing and staying home impacts the trajectory.
Being human means we are naturally scared of getting sick, of seeing our loved ones get sick, of seeing the health care system push its resources to the max, causing impossible ethical decisions to be made like who gets to use equipment and who doesn’t.
Viruses have been around for millions of years. We’ve evolved in partnership with them. But death is scary. And right now the whole globe is in the midst of an existential crisis.
The things that support and drive our society’s functioning like: public schools, access to income, access to child care, social connections, human touch, church gatherings, group celebrations, and any number of other countless ways we feel value in our lives, has been stripped fairly bare.
Big systems and ideas are under the microscope. Death! Ethics! Science! Government! Education! Transportation! Trade! Finance! Poverty!
I’ll name all the ways we have earned the right to feel stressed the fuck out with what’s been happening, but first I wanted to note that given what you’re seeing each day in the media, just as easily headlines could read:
Humanity Bands Together!
Governments Finally Listen to Scientists!
Humankind Make Drastic and Rapid Changes to Assist Loved Ones and At-Risk Strangers!
Pollution Slows and Humans Spend Time in Nature!
Hard-working Truck Drivers and Grocery Store Clerks Celebrated as Heroes!
People Cook at Home for their Families and Eat Meals Together!
Teachers Find a Way to Get Shit Done, As Usual!
Technological Communication Proves Its Value to the Human Race!
United Global Effort Slows the Spread of Virus!
There are reasons to celebrate being human here, for sure. But there’s also uncertainty and worry. Alot of it. I’d like to pause for a moment to acknowledge the shitstorm of anxiety we’re either seeing in our own selves or witnessing in others.
Why is the media spraying fear everywhere about this? In part because scientists want people to take action now in order to avoid the calamity of overriding our health care systems. As my Dad once said, “Death is a great motivator.” The thinking is that if action is taken quickly and extensively, like yesterday, it will slow the virus down and buy time.
We are essentially buying time because any number of positive things can happen to the trajectory of the virus’ effect if there is simply more time. More time=more resources. More time=more research. More time= more knowledge.
So….fear-based messaging. Would anyone have changed any bit of their lives if the message was, “There’s this bug going around. Most everyone will likely be fine but not everyone. Maybe wash your hands more?”
Fear causes action.
And in the best sense, this action, even if motivated by fear, shines a major spotlight on what we hope is true for all of us. That we care deeply about the well-being of our fellow humans. We are willing to give up our jobs, our comforts, our routine, our church, our education, our timeline, our plans, and our income if it means we can save lives. That’s pretty remarkable don’t you think?
But I don’t want to ignore the fact that for some families and individuals, social isolation for weeks or months will cause such a strain on their mental and emotional health that avoiding one health crisis may create entirely new health crises. Not to mention financial crises along the way.
Everything in my perspective on mental health is partially influenced by what life was like in the midst of debilitating panic disorder in my 20’s. If I were experiencing that at this time, with such a whirlwind around me, I wouldn’t be able to sleep, or calm down, or leave the house even if I wanted to. I needed people back then to help me name what I was feeling so I could work my way out of it. So here in this post, I wanted to spend a few moments to name what’s happening for a lot of people in the emotional world and to give some hope and resources.
Being stormed by the recent challenges has brought a lot of our human frailties and tendencies to light:
1. Rapid change is not something we as humans usually prefer. In a matter of weeks, most of us have changed our daily routine, work schedule, family schedule, financial schedule, and relationship patterns all at once and very rapidly.
2. Genetically, our minds evolved over millions of years to activate our fight or flight response when we perceive ourselves to be in the face of threat or danger. Financial uncertainty and a pandemic, particularly how they are presented in the media, are grabbing the attention of our subconscious panic buttons.
3. In modern society, most of us have become somewhat disconnected from our own emotions, particularly when we grieve or lose something or someone we love. Fear of loss looms large in in part because we are not comfortable feeling our feelings, and loss hurts.
4. Being directed how to live our lives, even temporarily, and having restrictions placed on our freedoms is a tough nut to swallow for most of us who live in a country where we are generally free to do as we please.
5. Many of us are carrying around the energy from unresolved traumas from our past: and any or all of the above can be triggers for past painful events we haven’t processed yet.
6. Feeling like our daily connections to our loved ones and the simplicity of human touch are being taken away, at least temporarily, can cause us to feel deep loneliness.
7. Feeling the risk of being yourself and owning your opinions is really active. There is a stigma of disagreeing with the practice of social distancing. The fear of losing friendships and family relationships and the love of your community because you, despite hearing the best scientific arguments for social distancing and sheltering in, just plainly disagree- fear of being outcast is an evolutionary fear, whether your reasons are religious, mental health based or otherwise.
These are BIG fucking deals. Mental and emotional health are equal in importance to physical health, as anyone who has ever suffered from PTSD, clinical depression, or debilitating panic can tell you.
And I feel the need to say that it’s natural to feel all the things right now: overwhelmed, pissed off, restricted, helpless, afraid, cautious, uncertain, powerless, anxious….we are entitled to feel every single bit of what we’re feeling.
Not that anyone asked me, but I’m cool with following guidelines of social distancing if it will save lives, of course, as long as we can also keep an eye on what happens to mental and emotional health when people can’t be with each other, go to work, get respite from caring for kids (with special needs in particular), earn money, exercise when they need it, be touched, and are inundated with messages to panic throughout their days.
As long as someone has their eye on that ball, great.
Pep talk time. There is an “other side” to this- you know, it’s the one we’ll get to and come out on. Some of my best spiritual teachers have advised that in difficult times, you use your prayers as a montage of what things will be like on the other side. This is why Einstein said imagination is more important than intelligence. It can take you places your mind needs to go in order to lift you through difficult circumstances and literally generate a new reality into existence.
You can get through this. You will emerge on the other side having used the tools you have and having learned new tools for self-care and stability. You will not be the same. You’ll be an elevated version of your current self, with a deeper appreciation for every aspect of your life including your relationships. You’ll notice things about yourself you hadn’t known, you’ll discover more about who you truly are.
People will smile more often at each other, feel grateful just to be together, and see clearly who matters most to them. Old, ineffective systems will show their wear and transition into more effective ones. People will discover they want leaders who respond efficiently and with wisdom and compassion. Communities will discover new ways of coming together and supporting those in need.
So what about the day to day? How to get through?
Visualize what your positive outcome looks like when this has calmed down. Are you closer to your family? Finally writing that short story you wanted to work on? Have a laser-like focus on what your finances look like? Managed to clean out the clutter in your home? Or just feel deeply grateful for what really matters to you. What does the world look like after going through something like this collectively? What do our systems look like when they’ve had to reshape due to the strain? Visualize best case scenarios…and then make them even better in your imagination.
Calm your nervous system. There are many tools to calm our systems down as we navigate the massive changes we’re in. You already know my favorites: meditation and breathwork. But there’s more: trauma release, qi gong, and pranayama to name a few. I’m going to share some links at the end of this post that are awesome resources for acute and low-level anxieties.
Feel your feelings and forgive yourself. We’ve been asking alot of our minds, bodies and emotions over the past few weeks. Given all that, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, OF COURSE YOU ARE. It’s ok to feel anything during this kind of uncertainty: helpless, enraged, terrified, lonely, powerless, disengaged. Your system is responding how it needs to and it’s ok to feel what you feel.
Discover what heals you. There are parts of us we neglect entirely in our daily lives and parts of us we don’t even realize are within us that are looking now to come online. Massive change fuels growth. Art, movement, nature, yoga, meditation, music…use the tools that work for you to hear that inner voice and be willing to listen.
Cultivate flexibility. That saying “people never change” is bullshit. People change all the time. We are constantly evolving. By letting go of things you thought you needed, you are paving the way for all kinds of creative new energies to emerge.
Hope. Hope is underrated. It’s a doorway that guides us forward and highlights the best parts of our humanity. Let your hope become so strong that it actually serves as a stabilizing force. Let it create freedom within you.
I’ll be posting a meditation podcast soon called Meditate Elevate here
at my website podjectivity.com. If you need a laugh or want to hear inspiring stories in the meantime, check out Solving Everything
You can find some meditations I posted on youtube here:
If you want more, just click on my name and you’ll see links to more.
You can find a cool qi-gong immune boosting quick routine here:
and there are people in Madison who offer TRE at Red Beard Bodywork.
And in the coming days I’ll be posting a Nidra meditation soon on that new podcast, so check back for that.
Here for you. And as always, sending love.