When you’re going through hell, KEEP GOING – Winston Churchill
This too will pass – Persian adage
Our brains are hardwired for survival. That’s a good thing….it helps us… well, survive. But it also has a couple sometimes detrimental side effects that can damage our peace of mind especially in incredibly difficult times like those we are currently facing. There are things we can do, however, to help manage our overly survival oriented tendencies and help us not only survive, but maintain a level of peace, contentment and maybe even a little joy – even during a decidedly joyless time.
SURVIVAL MODE – Our brains are still hardwired the same as those in primitive man. They are programmed to be hyper vigilant to protect ourselves from all of the dangers that primitive man faced on a moment by moment basis. And programmed to really focus on negative things. Negative things are what, after all, could hurt us. If we miss one positive thing, no great harm, just a little lost opportunity. But if we miss one negative thing, whoa, that could actually be the last thing we ever miss….. So that’s how our brains work normally, in the best of times when we feel we have some understanding, control and certainty in our lives.
Now throw in COVID19 and our poor primitive brains are suddenly thrown into overdrive. We’re in lockdown and have nothing to do but overthink even more than usual and feed that survival instinct. I mean we can’t even go outside without literally taking our lives into our hands, there is a killer out there, its constantly on the news, we can’t go to work, how will we pay our bills, we are separated from friends and family, we can’t do the activities we love, what if we run out of TOILET PAPER…..oh no…oh no…OH NO!!!
STOP! Now, maybe more than ever before, emotional survival may require learning to manage our brain’s hard-wired physical survival tendencies. This COVID19 threat is real – no sugar coating that. And we absolutely have to understand what’s happening, know what we should be doing to protect ourselves and others, and plan accordingly. What we do NOT have to do is obsess and focus on it exclusively 24/7.
Even though our brains want to hyper vigilantly think about all of the negative, horrible circumstances; letting that go on unchecked can DO YOUR HEAD IN. Focussing so hard on taking care of our physical health may in fact be taking a huge toll on our emotional health – which is just as important. Luckily, there are tried and true ways to control that survival monster in our brains and bring a level of peace, serenity and joy – even when things seem very dark. We may even find silver linings along the way.
STOP THINKING AND BREATH – Amazingly the simple act of purposefully deep breathing can be very relieving. Deep breathing deactivates the fight or flight response and reduces the associated stress hormones which, if left hanging around too long can impair the immune system. It also immediately improves calming and blood pressure. Take that deep breathing one step further into practicing mindfulness. Take some time out and be completely focussed on what is right in front of us in that present moment, without judgement and without any other thinking for a while. There are lots of sources for self guided mindfulness or meditation available. Check one out and fit it into something we enjoy doing – running, drawing, gardening, woodworking. Turning off our other thoughts for a while is not easy at first, our brains don’t want to relax and give up their survival tactics. We have to keep reminding ourselves to push our thoughts away….just for that little while. But just like working out any other muscle, the more we do it, the easier it becomes. And research has shown we can actually build new more peaceful, serene and positive neuro-pathways in our brains allowing us the ability to choose a more peaceful path the next time we are faced with a high stress situation.
ACCEPT – Acceptance is such a misunderstood concept. It does NOT mean giving up trying to change the things we can – like win the fight against this virus. It DOES mean to stop emotionally fighting against the things we cannot change. Focussing on thoughts like: how could this have happened, this cannot be real, its not fair, I HATE THIS SITUATION; do nothing but further damage our emotional health. It IS here, it IS what it is. Continually fighting that is just a recipe for continually reliving the pain. It doesn’t fix it, but DOES make us upset, anxious and stressed. Acceptance doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt at all – but accepting the hurt and then letting it go, stopping dwelling on it and immersing in it, does wonders for reducing stress.
BUILD – Three of the biggest contributors to one’s happiness are gratitude, doing good for others, and having strong personal relationships. Look at what is happening in the world as a result of COVID19 on each of those factors. Gratitude is not only flourishing but doing so very publicly in terms of thanks for ALL of the fighters in this war. Embracing the beauty of solitude can also be reason for personal gratitude. It gives us the chance to remember so many things we’ve forgotten how to appreciate due to our busy lifestyles, like the remarkable miracle of spring blooming or a bird flying – things we started taking for granted since we first saw that thing flying in the sky and named it a bird…and then never thought about it again. Now we have nothing but time now to remember how to smell the theoretical roses without the pressures of FOMO, distractions, obligations.
We’ve also become remarkably creative at new ways to do good for others. In this scary time most of us are LIVING self-sacrifice for the benefit of the greater good. Not to mention all of us who are determined to find ways to bring needed supplies to our neighbors, make the tools we need to fight this war like masks, bring joy through all access concerts or entertainment, or just writing beautiful messages of hope in our windows or with chalk on the sidewalk. And even though we cannot be with our friends and loved ones, rather than letting that hurt our relationships we’ve instead been even more conscious of strengthening them in proactive and sometimes creative ways with phone calls, zoom, or just waving across the courtyard.
THIS TOO WILL PASS. The last thing anyone wants is to survive COVID19 just to find the anxiety from obsessing on fear and disappointment has manifested as other physical issues. Be safe and take care of both physical AND emotional health. And embrace the silver linings (new peaceful neuro-pathways, new appreciation for the beauty in life, having done some GOOD) we are learning from this crazy, scary, but enlightening period in our shared history. There is PLENTY of toilet paper.
Filed under: Uncategorized