By Lionel Shockness
I thought I was coping pretty well with the coronavirus outbreak. Even before the virus struck in the U.S., I had read and re-read a small book that I keep on my bedside table called “Comfortable with Uncertainty” by the Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron. Since the virus hit, I have followed the instructions on social distancing to try to remain virus free.
Then my wife and I found out our dear friend was exhibiting the symptoms of the virus. I felt bewildered, angry, sad, trapped and completely powerless to help. We couldn’t even go see her.
As a clinician, I knew the reptilian brain was being hijacked, my fight, flight or freeze response had been triggered. The pandemic and its accompanying veil of uncertainty and fear was at our door. What was going to happen to our friend, to us? Was social distancing going to work? How much worse was it all going to get?
Fear and anxiety thrive in states of uncertainty. Our friend’s illness brought out and intensified my fear and anxiety.
In times of great stress, one way I know to safeguard against traveling down a rabbit hole of negativity and hopelessness is to ask myself: What’s there to learn from this? It’s a question that brings me into the now. It forces me to focus on solutions rather than problems.
I also do what’s necessary to create buffers against anxiety and fear, such as:
Get up and get ready. I make it a point to not lounge around in the morning. Self-care for me is getting ready for the day by getting dressed and setting an intention.
Create a routine. Often, we have little control over the outside world, but we do have some measure of control over our internal environment. How are we managing our time? One of my morning routines is journaling, a way of emptying out my thoughts. Reading spiritual material is also a way of focusing your attention.
Give yourself worry time. There’s a lot to worry about, so give yourself 20 minutes a day to fret, then move on.
Stay social. With new technologies, there is no excuse for isolation. AARP has instructions in English and Spanish on how seniors can stay connected. Zoom is a wonderful app for social connections. Remember: Isolation is the darkroom where we develop our negatives.
Develop quarantine goals. These can be to-do lists with unfinished items or, in my case, a small stack of books I’ve been wanting to read. The point is, if you’re not working on something, something’s going to be working on you.
Write a daily gratitude list. When you write down what you have to be thankful for, you open yourself up to what spiritual teacher Ekart Tolle identified in “The Power of Now” as the most amazing yet subtly grounding gift: the present moment.
By: Lionel Shockness