Coronavirus and Your MENTAL Health

Can you get in a solitary walk today? Right now, the world feels quite chaotic. It seems like it is at best a swirl of uncontrollable chaos and at worst, a seeming death spiral of plague, financial loss, and social isolation. Heavy heavy stuff.

As you may know, our minds are designed to fixate on potential threats. It’s constantly scanning for “what’s going on?”, “what’s going on?”, and “what’s going on?” That its job and it is designed to keep us safe from potential threats. And that’s a good thing.

The problem is that our brain then keeps pushing us for more data on this threat and stories get made up in our minds about future catastrophes. And you know you’re in a false emergency when your mind is giving you a story about future bad (or good) things.

A true emergency reveals itself through the LACK of story. When you’re in a real emergency, stories drop away. Hand wringing stops. You’re actually more in the midst of calm as your mind drops away and you’re left with pure presence as you deal with the immediate threat to your safety. Everything else is just a story that is likely not true.

For me, I saw that I started to fixate on the lack of testing. I wanted to know why the US wasn’t testing, how we got here, and who made the decision to not accept the WHO testing kits. Also, I wanted to know how South Korea could be testing something like 10,000 people per day and we had something like 4600 total tested. I went deep down the rabbit hole and spent hours chasing down various news sources. So now I have a better sense of how we got here. But how does knowing about our testing problems and delays help?

I see now that I was using the testing kits as a proxy to try to control the covid-19 chaos. If I understood how many people had, I could understand its trajectory in the US, and even how long this would last. Of course that’s all false. I don’t know what’s going to happen with additional testing data.

And I do know that all the time I spent on my phone on Facebook and searching news sites meant I wasn’t here in the present. I wasn’t spending time with my kids. And I was distracted enough by these swirling thoughts in my mind that I forgot a lot of things on my list when I was at the store.

Knowing how my mind is designed to focus on threats is so helpful. Now that I know what it does, I can accept that and also detach from the stories my mind is building to support my focusing on the threat.

I also noticed that I’m experiencing high anxiety because my mind is focusing on the coronavirus and I haven’t been present to my own body and its needs. Sensing this, I began to deliberately detach from my thoughts and can see them swirling in my mind, bumping into each other, speeding up and getting frenzied. My breath is also affected and I find myself breathing far more shallowly than I have been. My attention span is incredibly short right now.

And none of this is helpful in any way. It’s unnecessary anxiety. So I accepted my mind for what it does, loved it for protecting me, and put the grown up in charge.

The plan for today is immensely reduce my time on social media and on news sites. There’s almost nothing more that I can do to plan or prepare for this. We’ve been practicing social distancing for nearly a week now. We have enough shelf stable food to last for a few months. I have the ability to exercise and do yoga at home. I can instead deepen my practice of being present and detach from any future or past thoughts.

My thoughts are already slowing. My anxiety is already much lessened. I feel so much more capable and relaxed.

If this sounds good to you, I recommend that you do the following:

#1 – recognize your thoughts and start to detach from them. You are not your thoughts and you don’t have to believe your thoughts (likely of doom and gloom future events). But the first step is to actually identify them as they cross your mental screen.

#2- drop your stories. Get the data you need about the virus. Make a plan for your family in terms of food, supplies, medical needs and then follow the plan. And then drop any story in your mind about future catastrophe. Just drop it. Don’t feed it. Don’t follow it. Just drop it as soon as you become aware of it.

#3- limit your time on social media and your phone. Others are likely still caught up in their future stories and are fearful. Limit your exposure to it. And put your phone down and be here now.

#4- practice calming techniques. Sit in stillness and silence. Take long deep breaths in and even longer breaths out. Like count to 6 on your in breath and 8 on your out breath. This activates your parasympathetic nervous system and allows your body to drop out of flight or fight and into rest and relaxation. Take a solitary walk in nature, while still practicing social distance.

These feel like scary times. But only because you’re thinking about them that way. Understand that your thoughts about the entire circumstances drive your feelings and your actions. Practice creating better thoughts about these circumstance and your feelings and actions will be better and serve you better.

Hugs and much love to you.

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