Stress Solutions

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A Map for Dealing with the Uncertainly, Chaos, and Change

More trying times than this one is hard to imagine. Most of us remember Katrina. The last pandemic was the Spanish Flu in 1918 and none of us remember that. It is cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history killing between 20 and 40 million people in about 2 years, more people than were killed in WWI or in 4 years of the Bubonic Plague. We were not helpless then and we did survive it. It did come to an end. And, we know so much more now than we did then. We have more tools with which to fight now

A key ingredient in this bitter stew we are all in is Uncertainty. Uncertainty is the Mother of Fear. And, fear gives birth to anxiety. The rules for how we are supposed to live and conduct business change daily. We are frankly being bludgeoned 24 hours a day with fear producing information over the TV and internet. Friends, family, colleagues, patients and clients are calling, texting, emailing to express their fears about the Unknown. No rules govern this global crisis, least of all how long it will last. Or, who will survive?

Everything about our way of life is threatened. People are afraid of dying should they test positive for Covid-19 – or maybe people they love will die. People are afraid they might not be able to pay their bills, might lose their home, or lose their job. They fear a shortage of provisions that they need to survive. The isolation, loneliness, is even harder to manage for many.

Over fifty percent of the American population are estimated to have significant worry and anxiety and most everyone would agree that they are stressed. We face a distinct danger of not staying emotionally healthy if we are unable to manage our fears and Cont next pg stress. There is danger to our immune system if the stress and anxiety are allowed to blossom and grow unchecked. In a nutshell, stress weakens your immune system. This new virus is particularly dangerous to those with a weakened immune system because of a reduced ability of the system to fight off antigens. And, cortisol suppresses the production of both Tlymphocytes and antibodies, which leaves body more vulnerable.

Of course, it is important during this period to use all the stress reduction techniques you have in your toolbox. On a daily basis, get good sleep, eat more natural foods, monitor your thoughts, take time for things like meditation and exercise. However, the epic scale of this coronavirus calls for more. Major chaos calls for significant and conscious change. Reducing the impact of the Covid-19 requires a new map, one that plumbs the depth of what matters to us. All over the world, people are being asked to shelter at home or to quarantine yourself if you have been exposed. Use this time as an opportunity to pause, push in the clutch, and reevaluate how you are living your life. Think about more deep questions, like what matters most to you. During your shelter at home days, consider taking one or two days to completely disrupt your schedule and routine, like doing a retreat in your own living space.

What would that look like? Take off your professional psychologist’s hat and clear your schedule or list of your usual routine. Maybe you do this with a significant other who is socially isolating with you. This is a time to dream about what changes you would like to see in the world. Possibly the coronavirus pandemic is presenting us with an opportunity to make major change. Maybe you do your dreaming and pondering alone and later connect by phone or internet with a small support group to discuss your thoughts and share your dreams and visions with others.

Consider what this virus might mean, might symbolize about our world. Many of our philosophers have commented on how compassion is growing more and more absent in the world. Oh, not everyone lacks compassion, but it is in short supply. Turf wars still light up the skies with new and better ways to kill each other. We notice the turbulence, but in this busy world, we rarely stop to feel compassion for those who are involved. So many people who are in pain need our compassion. We all have patients or clients that are more anxious and fearful than ever.

How might Covid-19 change our world? Don’t just focus on the negatives and the fears when considering this question. Of course, the negatives will come up first. Write them down and then look beyond. What good things might come from Covid-19? A friend sent a copy of a letter from Dr. Jean Houston to me, which is currently trending on the internet. Jean Houston earned Ph.D.’s in both psychology and religion. She is a writer, lecturer, a leader in the Human Potential movement, and was a close friend of Margaret Mead. Her letter beautifully describes one future that possibly is growing out from the Covid-19 chaos. That change could be increased compassion among the peoples in the world. Dr. Houston wrote: “All of my life I have been dedicated to encouraging the potential that every person carries within them. I’ve taught about our innate depths, our possibilities, and our purpose. Now, however, it’s time to live out the promise that we all carry, to become noble, kind and compassionate people. This week on television, I witnessed the best and most fearful sides of our natures. On the one hand, I saw violent videos of shoppers fighting over toilet paper, and also experienced indiscriminate generosity while shopping at my local Costco.”

Dr. Houston is not alone in what she reported. We have all witnessed firsthand or heard on the news of the juxtaposition of the best and the most feared sides of human nature coming out in this crisis. The fights over toilet paper are in direct contrast to the kindness and caring shared by people waiting in line. Restaurants turning into soup kitchens and being willing to feed hungry people in the area is happening in urban areas. Generous donations by famous people, like Drew Breese for food for those who have lost their livelihood during this crisis.

In the past, I have personally witnessed an entire bus load of 5 o’clock commuters in NYC yelling at the driver to wait and to reopen the bus door to let in one person so that they could escape the foul weather. Is it possible that Covid-19 will bring more of that kindness and compassion to the world? I believe that if we spend some of our retreat time contemplating how we can each show more compassion in our own communities, that our own burdens will become lighter.

So, what else could you think about when you take time to retreat? Spend time contemplating what really matters to you. We are all different and there is no “correct” list. But, maybe try to write down things that really matter to you and then try to pick out those that are most important to your growth and well-being.

Another important thing you can do is to spend some time thinking about your beliefs. Too many people are falling into the trap of believing all the negative things that are on the news. Make it a point to monitor and limit the amount of time you spend watching network news or searching the internet. Search out your destructive and negative beliefs. Change them to include the positive information that is less publicized. For example, here is some positive information. Most cases are not that serious and now there are over 100,000 full recoveries worldwide. China and South Korea are reporting a huge drop in new cases as a result of their tough restrictions. The Covid-19 death rate is actually lower than WHO estimated. Research and experimentation to find drugs and treatment for this new virus is making good progress and that should reduce the number of deaths. This would help bring back sanity. Apple stores are reopening in China; other stores are expected to follow. Cleveland’s MetroHealth Medical Center has developed a test that can give results in 2 hours, not days. A pharmaceutical giant announced a test that will take 7 minutes and the FDA gave permission for it to be mass produced and distributed.

Along the same lines, take control of your thoughts. Practice some of what we all preach: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – we know how to argue and challenge the logic of our fears. Monitor your thinking so that you can stop worrying about things over which you have no control and no voice. Stop worrying and change what you are thinking about. If you cannot do that without help, then pick up a funny or exciting book, or watch a Disney movie, or experiment with the magic of your imagination. Decide upon a project that is long been on your list and start working on it. This is an opportunity to make new choices and find new directions. Activate your imagination, dream and explore those dreams and visions in your mind. Consider these next weeks like an unexpected vacation and use it to work on things you have on your “to do list.” Or, take this time to play and make sure you keep humor in your thoughts. Watch cat videos on YouTube; they are guaranteed to make you laugh.

Have you ever pondered this mystery? “Somehow things always seem to work out.” Look back in your own life and find a time when you were sure things would end badly but they magically seemed to work out. Or, recall similar stories from your clients. I remember one client who was sure they were going to lose their home after Katrina. But, in the end, they wound up with an even better one.

I know we are all feeling the pain of disrupted work and career, the drama of possible critical supply shortages, the boredom of staying home and socially distant from others. Keep in your mind that it is what you think about and what you do that determines your mental and emotional health. Recently a friend met me for coffee wearing a tshirt that read: “If you can be anything, be kind.”

Jean Houston closed her letter with these words:

“Take all the precautions that are recommended and at the same time, be bold in your love, and constant in your faith that together we will pass through this challenging time. On the other side of it, we will look back and realize that we were part of an epic time in history when caring triumphed over fear, and goodness prevailed!”

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