As we move into a period of making adjustments to our daily lives, it is important to remember that we still have control over ourselves.
Most of us are facing some sort of disruption in our lives due to the pandemic. While the vast majority of people won’t get sick, we will nevertheless have to make adjustments during this unusual event. And most of us struggle with change and uncertainty, so it’s very important to take a moment now and decide how to proceed. Do you want to feel stressed out and frantic for the next few weeks or do you want to approach this period with calm and peace?
You may be thinking it’s impossible to feel calm in the midst of all of this chaos, but it’s really not. Mindfulness provides us with a path to accept events as they are. It’s an inside job. Any time you begin to feel anxious, frustrated or downright scared, pause, take in a deep breath, release it slowly, and remind yourself that right here, right now, you’re fine. If you’re well, be grateful for your health. If you’re sick, be grateful for your healing.
While there are still some people who think being mindful means we sit in silence wearing robes and doing nothing, that’s certainly not true. During a crisis, we can take mindful action.
One of the biggest disruptions occurring right now is having millions of school children suddenly home. This is unsettling for them and completely disruptive to parents’ work schedules and activities. But we can create a plan of action that will support our families through this period. Consider the importance of security for children. They need to feel safe and the most effective way to reassure them is to model behavior that shows them that they are safe and secure. If parents are frantic, complaining, nervous, fearful or even hoarding items, children will get the message that life is not safe. When you wake up each morning, I suggest you take a few moments to pray or meditate to get centered and calm. Then begin your day.
This is not a vacation for children. Most have to continue their school work during this period and many are going to be home for as long as a month, so it’s important to create a plan as soon as possible. If your children are too young to be left home alone, make a list of possibilities. If you don’t have family or friends who can help watch them, contact your church, community organizations or local child care centers to see if they have any options available. Perhaps you can trade off with other parents on a rotating schedule so that each parent misses minimum work. Check with your employer to see if you can work from home temporarily or at least part of your schedule. The most important thing is to remain calm. You’re not alone in this and parents are all having the same problem right now. It is disruptive, but it’s not insurmountable.
Another very important consideration for all parents right now is structure. Children want and need structure and by providing it, they’ll feel more settled and have a much better chance of staying on track with their school work. Create an hour-by-hour schedule that they follow each weekday. Let them help you plan it by reviewing their school assignments and how much time they need to spend each day on each task. Their days should begin at the same time as they would if they were in school. Have them follow their normal routine up to the point that they would be leaving for school. At that point, they head for whatever area of the home you’ve designated as their study area, like a desk or perhaps the kitchen table. Make sure their schedule is posted near that location. You can even set an alarm to go off at the end of each “period,” making the situation feel similar to what they would experience at school.
In addition to structure, parents need to monitor. Kids will be kids and we can’t expect them to focus and do homework without some accountability. There’s probably a television nearby or their I-pads or a video game system, which are very tempting, especially if you’re not home. You’ll need to set aside time at the end of each day to review their homework and discuss their assignments.
Even if you don’t have children, life is not normal right now. Following your regular schedule as much as possible will help you feel more normal. If you’ve been quarantined or your company has temporarily shifted you to remote work, it’s a big adjustment and you need a plan. If you’ve never worked from home, don’t assume that you’ll just work as usual. Again, there are many distractions available to you every minute, so create a schedule similar to what you would be doing at work and stick to it.
I think we’re all now aware that our shopping habits will need to change for a while. Try to minimize going to the store, for two reasons. First, you’re exposing yourself to people who could be sick but don’t know it yet. And second, observing people’s behavior in stores right now is very unsettling. The fear seems to be that the stores will all close and we won’t have enough food or water. I am not an authority in any way on this, but my common sense says that stores don’t want to lose millions of dollars, so they will figure something out. If for some reason the stores do close, perhaps because of concerns over staff getting sick, that doesn’t mean their products aren’t available. Remember that all major stores, including Ralphs, Vons, Target, Walmart and Albertson’s, all offer home delivery or pick up. And hello, Amazon! If you can’t order online or you don’t have a card to use to take advantage of pick up services, go to the store early in the morning and purchase only what you need.
We might have to temporarily change how we shop, but there is more than enough stuff available to fulfill our needs, as long as people aren’t unnecessarily hoarding items out of panic. If you normally use a package of toilet paper a week, purchase that. Don’t purchase 15 packages, just in case. No one needs 20 gallons of bleach. No one needs cases of Purell. If you feel tempted to fill your cart with disinfectant, stop and notice that you’re in a panic mode and take a breath. For every item you’re hoarding, you’re depriving someone else of the ability to simply go about life as normal as possible or preventing them from keeping themselves well.
There is no reason to hoard bottled water. Our municipal services are not at risk. All that this hoarding is doing is encouraging price gougers who are trying to take advantage of the situation. This is not a hurricane or earthquake, where municipal services can be cut off. It’s a virus and we can get through the next few weeks just fine if we remain mindful and considerate of others.
There are apps you can use to locate items you need that are difficult to find. For example, NowInStock.net is a website where you can enter what you need and it will inform you where you can find it or if it’s not available at that moment, it can alert you once it becomes available. There’s an app for your phone called Markk (m-a-r-k-k) that is a user-based system where people can post a photo and location of items in stores so that you can see where to go in your area for those items at that time. And many stores offer alert systems on their websites to notify you when an item becomes available. If you run out of something, stay calm and take mindful action. Use technology to your benefit.
Being mindful of your feelings is critical during this type of event. We’re hearing scary news on the television, a ton of information and misinformation on the internet, and we’re seeing people behaving in very disturbing ways in public. It’s actually people’s behavior that is the most disturbing because we may feel calm until we see someone clearing out a shelf in the store, filling their cart to overflowing with supplies. This prompts doubt, as in “should I be stockpiling items, too?” I actually had this happen during my last shopping trip. I don’t use bleach because it’s toxic and corrosive and I just don’t have any reason to expose my system to it. I haven’t bought bleach in years. But when I saw all of the empty shelves where bleach used to be, there was honestly a little niggling thought of “do I need bleach?” I took a deep breath to calm down and get my senses back on track.
Right now, people are creating more of a crisis than the actual virus. There are shortages of all types of items and we’re causing Wall Street to plummet which really hurts people, especially the elderly because their retirement funds are so negatively impacted. It’s understandable, however, why people are so nervous because our egos are screaming in our heads that we’re in danger. The fact is, most of us are not in danger. Someone said to me today that the reason people are panicking is because this is “unprecedented.” No, it’s not. We’ve had pandemics and epidemics before. What we didn’t have before is social media which is fueling a firestorm of panic. Turn it off. The news is almost alluring right now. We want to know what’s going on. What’s happening minute by minute. Each time “breaking news” comes on, we feel an urgent need to see. But screen time right now is fueling your ego’s fear and warning system, flooding you with stress hormones each time you watch, so really, turn it off. Choose a reliable source, as I mentioned in our last episode, like your local county public health department, and bookmark it on your device. If you want to know the latest information on the virus, return to that site and check to see what’s happening. Don’t browse for purported news. That is definitely a mindless activity that will increase your fear level.
When anxiety increases, simply stop and think about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and consider whether it is really necessary. Yes, we’re in a pandemic. It’s a nasty virus that’s very contagious and dangerous for the elderly. But for the vast majority of people, you either will never get it, or if you do, it will feel like a regular cold or flu. Would you purchase 200 rolls of toilet paper if you had a cold under other circumstances? No, you wouldn’t. Try not to judge or blame other people who are panicking. Remember that they’re flooded with stress hormones and aren’t thinking clearly. We have an enormous motivation available to keep our heads about us.
Stress reduces our immune system’s ability to combat viruses. So calm equals healthy!
We should all be practicing diligent good hygiene so that we don’t spread the virus because we’re not aware we may have it. It feels disturbing that amusement parks, sporting events and concerts are closed or cancelled, but public gatherings should be halted for a while to slow the spread of the virus. People should stay home if they’re sick, as they always should, not just under the current circumstances. Older people should be extra cautious about exposing themselves to sick people because they are at a higher risk with this particular strain. People with cold or flu symptoms should not rush to the emergency room but simply contact their health provider to see what steps they should take.
Mindfulness includes accepting what is. The truth is that the number of cases is going to increase. As testing ramps up, people who don’t even realize they’re sick are going to be discovered through tests and so it will push the numbers much higher than they are right now. At the same time, however, the mortality rates will decline because of the volume of people tested. The numbers in China and Korea have already peaked and are now declining. The same thing will happen here over the next few weeks. But it will get worse before it gets better and we can’t stop it from doing so. We can change our response to it. We can be mindful of our behavior and attitude, we can accept that it is what it is at this point and we can choose to remain calm, knowing that this will pass.
Now is a good time to look at our habits. Eat healthy, get plenty of sleep, and exercise to support your immune system, mental health and emotional well-being. Be grateful for everything you have. Be loving to yourself and to others.
We need to be accountable for our behavior while being kind to ourselves and others. Deep down, we understand that we are not going through this alone and that there is a greater good involved here. This is a difficult situation and we can all come out of it in much better shape if we work cooperatively together rather than devolving into a survival-of-the-fittest mentality. Darwin actually never said or believed that. He said that it is the most cooperative and adaptive species that survive. So, let’s do that instead.
Loving Kindness Meditations have been shown in studies to increase empathy and compassion for ourselves and others. This seems like a good time to practice this again.
Listen to our podcast for a guided meditation. And remember, you DO have control.