Anxiety is at an all-time high in our country and in our world. The reports about mental health are just as overwhelming as the reports about the physical devastation that can be caused by the COVID-19 virus. Having an invisible virus that could harm you potentially on every surface and in every breath is a daunting feat for our minds to manage. Our human brains don’t thrive with uncertainty. In fact our brains fill in the unknowns with scenarios (aka stories or lies) that are usually even more terrifying than that which is likely to occur. Our brains have adapted to fill in the blanks for self-protection, which is an awesome survival strategy. If you experience or even hear about something “bad” that happened, your brain logs that in order to be able to recall it in the future for self-protection. I think back to the video that I watched in March 2020 that was created by an Emergency Room Physician who talked about the COVID-19 virus as an “invisible glitter” that is potentially on every surface. Not long after that this invisible glitter was said to be in every breath that you might inhale within 6 feet of another person. What has my brain done with this valuable information? It has stored it in order to recall it in the future for self-protection. So when I’m in the grocery store I see everything covered in glitter. When I return to my car and open my trunk my hood is now covered in glitter. Then I weigh my options…do I put on the hand sanitizer that’s in my purse before I open my car door, thus covering my purse in glitter, or do I put on the hand sanitizer that’s in my car, thus covering my car door in glitter. Everything is a potential threat and one misstep is potentially lethal. Because even though I have heard mixed reviews since March about whether or not we can really get enough glitter in our systems to end up with COVID by touching groceries, my brain still has the potential threat logged and it keeps pulling it up in order to protect me. And that’s only one of the videos and news stories that my brain has logged since March. Every story and every event is being logged in case we need to use it to protect ourselves in the future. This information accumulates and even the smallest task can become daunting when I could die or inadvertently kill someone I love by not making it all the way through the alphabet when I wash my hands. Is anyone else feeling exhausted by this? I am.
I like to describe anxiety as a pressure-cooker trap for the mind. For example, try to choose between these two possibilities:
- I can stay home and stay safe and slowly watch as my mental health fades away and I become like a feral cat who no longer knows how to navigate relationships. Or:
- I can leave home and socialize with potentially-infected humans and possibly kill myself and the people with whom I live.
Talk about a trap! The pressure in the trap can build as I spin from staying to leaving and back to staying with increasing urgency. My heart starts to race…my palms start to sweat…the tension rises…and that anxiety takes over my life.
So what can any of us do to get out of this trap when the virus appears to be here to stay? I’ll share what I’m doing for myself, as I’m very clear that it’s not my role to tell anyone else what they should be doing…especially now. I’m trying to find some space in my brain. S-P-A-C-E is hard to come by in a brain that is drowning in invisible, lethal glitter. Here are a few of the things I think about to try to find that space:
May I forgive myself in advance for that which I do not yet know about this virus and about everything else in the world that I can’t possibly know.
I love this concept and I use it all of the time. When I’m feeling like I need to figure something out just right or else….I realize that I can’t possibly know everything that I’m going to know in the future. Forgiving myself in advance means that I’m making my best guess with the information I have right now. I remember making the decision to give birth at home with my children. Although I felt like I was making an educated decision for myself and my child, I knew that there was a possibility that something could go wrong that would make that decision seem stupid in hindsight. Forgiving myself in advance and allowing myself to make my best guess allowed me to follow my heart and follow what my intuition was telling me to do, rather than following my fear. COVID times feel similar. We can’t predict how everything is going to go but if we always follow fear to the worst-case-scenario then we’ll be paralyzed.
May I remember that my soul also matters.
Although the COVID-19 global pandemic shines the spotlight on our physical health, our mental health matters, too. While I’m certainly following the guidelines I have received from public health and medical professionals that I trust, I have not been locked in my house. One of my favorite ways of stoking the fires of my mental health is being out in nature. And while I love going on long walks with my husband, who is in my germ pool and is a suitable companion, I also love long walks with my girlfriends. While being outdoors with them increases my risk of contracting the virus slightly, I have been willing to take that risk because my soul sings after those walks. And I know that my soul singing means my physical body is stronger! I have chosen the same for my children. Their outings to the beaches or backyards with friends (socially-distant, of course) have allowed them to reconnect to their individual spirits and to a sense of fun that matters. I want to give the space for spirit while also doing my best to be smart.
May I surround myself with people that I trust.
I have found this to be a very thought-provoking topic over the months. I live with 4 other people in my household: my husband and our 3 teenagers. We have been talking for months about how we literally have each other’s lives in our hands. We have a household COVID culture and we have made household COVID agreements with one another. We have agreed to be as careful as we can be while not stopping our lives completely, although plenty of things have stopped. Every interaction suddenly has a weight to it that it didn’t have before. I remember when my husband was diagnosed with cancer in 2013 and I had a similar feeling. I was suddenly intolerant of spending time on anything or spending time with anyone that didn’t feel meaningful. When considering attending an event that didn’t make my heart sing I would realize that I would rather be home with my beloved because I didn’t want to risk wasting time on something that wasn’t precious since my time with him was so precious. This COVID time feels similar. I am deeply feeling the preciousness of life and I don’t want to squander it for something that doesn’t have deep meaning. So our household discussions about what we are and are not doing out in the world have a lot of emphasis on trust and making sure that we don’t put ourselves in unsafe situations since we are, therefore, putting our entire family in that unsafe situation. Spending time with the people we love and trust both inside and outside of our household is incredibly important. And discerning who and what does not meet that criterion takes a lot of thought and consideration.
May I stay in open communication with the people I interact with in person.
I recently had someone use the analogy with me that having COVID safety conversations is like having a safe sex conversation over and over again. I thought of this recently when I was having a COVID safety conversation with the mother of my daughter’s friend. It’s awkward. It’s intimate. It’s detailed. But how else are we supposed to know the degree of risk we are taking on if we are unwilling to have these awkward conversations? How else can I make the decision to let my daughter go socialize with her friend or not unless I know that our family COVID agreements will be honored? I have found that most people are willing to have these conversations and feel relieved after having them. We want to know that the people we are interacting with are being safe to our standards. At the Westside Healing Arts Center we have developed COVID protocols to keep the space, our clients, and our practitioners as safe as possible while doing their healing work. At first I was self-conscious about the level of detail we put in the protocols as I worried that people would feel burdened by them. The reception that we have received has been the opposite of that. The practitioners have all told me that their clients have thanked them for being so deliberate and for communicating so clearly with them both about what is expected of them and also what is being done to protect them. Let’s all keep talking to each other so we can keep each other safe! And when we communicate clearly our minds have fewer unknowns to contend with, which decreases our anxiety. Phew!
May I use some of the time I would be using doing things I can no longer do to MEDITATE!
Meditation has been on my to-do list for YEARS. I have read books, gone on retreats, and sat in community. But rarely had that translated to my sitting my butt down, closing my eyes, and focusing inward in a deliberate way when alone. On Valentine’s Day this year I finally started to meditate daily. By the time COVID hit I already had a month of daily meditation under my belt and I feel like it has helped me navigate these anxiety-provoking times. Don’t get me wrong…my mind can still run around like the monkey that it knows how to be….but I have been able to watch it with a little more distance and objectivity than before. Meditation is a great way of practicing finding S-P-A-C-E in your brain. Although I certainly have never experienced a blank mind, I have found times of deep peace that I’m not sure I would have felt with everything that’s going on in the world. I started meditating with a Deepak Chopra 21-day meditation challenge, which I found free online. I highly recommend it for beginning meditators as a great way to start sitting. Meditation is a proven method of reducing anxiety and even boosting our immune systems!
While none of these ideas can transport us to a pre or post-COVID world, I hope you find something that might help you decrease your anxiety, follow your heart, and feel vibrant, even now.