Handling Stress in the Midst of a Pandemic

Nothing is good or bad for thinking that makes it so” – William Shakespeare

I marvel at how great minds have expressed truisms that have lasted for so long and yet go unnoticed by so many of us these days. I chose this one from Shakespeare’s ” Hamlet ” because it is one we need to keep in mind as we face the challenges facing us now and in the future.

As some of the lockdown restrictions imposed upon us by COVID-19 are lifted, we should be thankful for that, but still remain vigilant because this virus will in all probability hang around to haunt us again. For the present, we  can now go outside and use our parks and trails to get a breath of fresh air and some much needed exercise.  As our days slowly morphed into spring,  we joyfully welcomed this small step forward to some kind of normality which will hopefully relieve some of the stress that many Canadians are feeling during this time.

Lately there has been much discussion on CBC Radio 1 about how COVID-19 has escalated our stress levels. Experts figure that approximately 50% of our population is suffering from anxiety and depression. The same is true in the US. Lise Van Susteren, a Washington DC psychiatrist, has recently published a book entitled “Emotional Inflammation” addressing this problem which could be labelled her country’s second pandemic. Based on her experience with clients she has counselled over the past 30 years, she speaks to this startling news as a ‘condition of our time’. This was noted well before the COVID pandemic hit. No doubt these numbers for both countries will go higher unless we can learn to look at things differently. This virus is forcing us to make the choice of either becoming another statistic for the anxiety and depression group or be a part of the movement towards the ‘new normal’ where we must prepare ourselves for changing how we look at ourselves and our world. The new reality is that we cannot afford to go back to the old one. We must go forward and create a new one. However, there is a problem: humans are not good at handling change and many will fall through the cracks unless they can get help or learn to help themselves.

Van Susteren blames the society we have been living in as the main reason for our high levels of stress. Over the past ten years, most of her clients came to her with sleep problems and panic attacks, both of which can lead to extreme anxiety and depression. Her clients felt they couldn’t take time out to deal with their mental state because of the pressures they were facing to keep up in a rapidly changing world. On top of all this, they were hearing about the dire predictions from scientists of our rapidly changing climate evidenced by ever increasing natural disasters. She found that the majority of her clients wanted a quick fix for their anxiety so opted for a drug because they didn’t have time to delve into the world of alternative treatments. She found that many of them reported a deep sense of shame at having to seek help thinking there was something wrong with them. To reassure them, she tries to lessen their fears by getting them to see that it’s also the the fault of the society we are living in… that ‘condition of our time’. 

 Susteren speaks from her own experience when she noticed her own anxiety was heightened in the ’70’s by the dreams and pictures she was receiving depicting what we would be facing as our climate changed. Greta Thunberg would be another good example of this phenomenon as well. She suffered from a depression that lasted for ten years. You can check out more of her story by going to my post Waking Up to the Effects of Climate Change.

With a death threatening pandemic, millions of people losing their jobs, additional pressure upon families who are having to live together 24/7 with inadequate resources, and an uncertain future, it’s not surprising that our stress levels will hit an unprecedented high. However, being restricted to our homes and having to practice ‘social distancing’ is giving many of us more time to think which can be a good thing if what we are thinking is positive and not negative. 

 A new way of thinking is absolutely crucial right now. The first question is “How can we do it?”and the other is “Are we ready for the task?”  Get ready for this because although changing your thinking to the positive is guaranteed to lower your stress and make your life more manageable, it isn’t exactly a walk in the park. It requires work. Remember it’s about making a change in something and as you know we generally hate change. I wrote a post on the subject several years ago which you can find here: How Good Are We at Dealing With Change?

Change often means having to face our fears which can be uncomfortable. Just keep the benefits in mind as you deal with it because you will need them in the future when this virus is over. Learning how to be a more positive person, to make wiser choices, and to deal with changes is about transformation.  For more information on this topic, go to another post I published last November: Taking the Road Less Travelled. If you do take the time to read up on these past posts and choose some of the suggestions I will be mentioning in this post, the rewards will make it well worth your while. It will help you regain your power to take control of your thoughts and actions which in turn will affect your body, mind, and soul. It will make you a better person.

How we think is definitely the crux of the problem to handling stress. So many people are feeling stressed right now because they are only hearing about the terrible things that are happening in our world. Yes, they can seem insurmountable, but a change to positive thinking can free up your mind to create solutions to your problems rather than falling into despair over them. We must strive to rise above that ‘human condition.’ Too much negative thinking  weakens us in both mind and body causing  illnesses such as, depression, cancer, heart attacks and possibly viruses. When we get into a state of negativity, we get stuck, leading us to a never- ending circle of negative thoughts which take us nowhere. If we can change that to positive thinking, we can begin moving forward and regain our power. For example, positive thinkers are looking at our present lockdown state as a gift from COVID-19 rather than a prison sentence. Consider, too, the positive things happening around the world since the virus hit: less pollution in our most polluted cities, cleaner canals in Venice, more people working from home, more bonding within the home between parents and children, and more time to do all those things we have wanted to do when we never had the time. We are also learning to live with less which is the best thing for the environment right now. Now is a great time for us to reflect upon who we are and our place in the world. If we can change our thinking to the positive and look to the future with that attitude, the opportunities are endless. This virus is giving us time to do our own healing which will also help to heal the world. We shouldn’t dismiss the fact it’s costing us big time in lives and money right now, but if we can take our eyes off that and focus on cleaning up our own act, we’ll  be in better shape to prepare ourselves for the future. We have no doubt that it will be a long haul and our ‘new normal’ won’t be anything like the old. This is all the more reason why  each one of us as individuals must accept the reality of the future and get ourselves prepared for it by using the time COVID is giving us to put it to good use.  

So to help you get started, here are my suggestions based on my own experience and learning from great teachers such as, Plato, Carl Jung, Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, and Carolyn Myss, to name a few:

  • First be conscious of your thoughts and then process them by eliminating the negatives, for example, by eliminating the word ‘can’t’ for ‘can’. The trick is to keep only the good thoughts by substituting them with the positive. Just a little change in your wording is all that is needed. Change “I am a failure” to “I am a success”. You may not believe this at first but by repeating it every day for as long as it takes, you will think of yourself as a success. Making a mistake in the past doesn’t brand you forever if you change your thought and word. This is why affirmations work so make them meaningful by creating your own.  Here is an interesting fact about thinking: the average person can have over 40,000 thoughts in a day! That is an enormous amount of thinking so it’s important to be conscious of your thoughts because what you think will end up influencing what you say and do. As that well-known French philosopher, Rene Descartes, said “I think therefore I am.” Too many negative thoughts can ruin your chances for success in what you really want to be or do. Negative thinking can potentially ruin your life if you can’t control your thoughts. Keep in mind it invariably leads to illness of some type. I was introduced to an alternative way of staying healthy from Louise Hay in her  book “You Can Heal Yourself” written in the 70’s. She cured herself of cancer and became a pioneer in the movement towards using alternative care for curing a disease rather than resorting to surgery or chemotherapy. Her book has influenced many and is still available today. It could easily become a best seller once again if our present medical system continues to be overburdened with future viruses and climate related disasters which we know will happen. We need to have a blending of the two types: the alternative way which includes the traditional medicine of our ancient ancestors and our modern day medicine. Did you also know that the word ‘disease’ comes from the Latin meaning a ‘dis ease’ of the mind. 
  • Start small with activities you know you can do and make them applicable to your present circumstances. Make it meaningful by asking how it can not only help you but the world, such as our environment because right now that should be one of our greatest concerns.   You can make yourself cognisant of how to cut down on waste by taking the time to recycle and reuse. With the price of essentials going up, we need to spend our money wisely so before buying check to see where it’s made and whether you really need it?To be sustainable we need to buy locally and give China a by-pass even though it may be cheaper.  
  • Trade places with your couch, remote, and computer for outdoor walks or whatever activity you prefer which won’t  break the social distancing rule. Gardening is always good if you have a yard or community garden to work from. Not only is it good for exercise but also your diet and overall health. You will be rewarded with all the minerals and vitamins in your home grown veggies and gain an extra bonus for the personal satisfaction you will receive from knowing you grew them. What a great way to develop a positive attitude! 
  • Develop a hobby or take up an old one if it’s something you enjoy but couldn’t when you were working. Doing this has given us a whole new group of  chefs and many of them are the men.
  • Like to help others, then do that if you know of someone in need. Look out for anyone who might need help around their house, yard or with shopping. Give those who are living alone a phone call or get in touch with old friends you haven’t seen in awhile. 
  • Start to do some necessary healing work on yourself. Learning how to still your mind is a good way to gain control of your thinking and to develop clarity and focus. Deep breathing, meditation, Qi Gong, yoga, listening to soft music are a few more to consider trying. Meditation is one of the best ways to still the mind. It takes lots of practice but it’s worth it. Studies have shown that students who have just 15 minutes of meditation before they start their day will do better in their studies. If you’ve never meditated before, it can be difficult at first, but don’t give up. Try it every day for whatever time you can afford and do not beat yourself up if too many thoughts come in. Just remember to dismiss each one as it comes in and go back to your breath.  Focusing on something like your breath or some soothing music really helps. Some people like to use a guided meditation where you have someone talking you through it. Whatever way you prefer to do it remember that your goal is to stay in the moment. If the past or the future knock at your door, close it. Don’t get discouraged because only experienced yogis can sit and meditate for hours on end. Start small and proceed from there. There are many meditation experts on U Tube who can help… Deepak Chopra and Mooji are two I have used. Carolyn Myss has prayer and wisdom to offer as well. If you enjoy yoga or just a walk in nature, this is another form of meditation. I find the first thing in the morning to do any of these things is the best time of day, except for walking and gardening which you can do any time. All of them will help you control those thoughts and bring in some clarity and calm to your daily routine. 
  • Learn something new every day. A good place to start would be pick up a book or read articles being posted on the Internet about nature and climate change. TEd Talks are interesting and cover almost any topic you might be interested in. They can be very empowering as well. 
  • Get involved in community groups with a focus on sustainability and climate change. One of the groups I have been involved in is the Extinction Rebellion movement.  My post on Dealing With Climate Change on a Personal Level will tell you what they are all about. At this time since we can’t congregate in any protesting activity, we are concentrating on learning and writing about our forestry industry here in Nova Scotia.
  • Get involved in politics by exercising your vote but be mindful of who and what you are voting for. For several years I have supported the Green Party who have the best program in place for dealing with climate change.
  • Finally, create balance in your life. Don’t let technology or money be your main driver. Always take time out to nourish your ‘self’ because in there dwells such feelings as acceptance, compassion for yourself and others…the by-product of positive thinking. However, be prepared for such feelings as jealousy, anger and fear to surface from any negative thinking. Just acknowledge those but then hastily dismiss.  Franklin Roosevelt had this to say about fear: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  When you overcome your self made fears and worry for what will happen in the future, then you will be making room for light and love to come in which will give you the peace and joy that we all need and yearn for. By reaching this state of mind, we will be better prepared to create a new world by transmitting this positive energy to our loved ones, co-workers, community, country and beyond. 

Any one of these suggestions will help you to get control of your life. They can help you become an ‘upstander’ rather than a ‘bystander’ (Van Susteren). We need to prepare ourselves right now for not only what mother nature has in store for us, but for any future virus related illnesses.  We should all be learning more about nature and our place in it. We are simply a part of her and need to start respecting her in that role rather than trying to control her. For too long we have been using and abusing her to satisfy our desire for more and in doing so have created the mess we are in. We need to change our focus from looking to our religious and government leaders to make our lives better. Instead we need to first look within and start the changing there with ourselves. Perhaps now is the time for us to also look to  Mother Nature for guidance for it is she who holds our future in her hands and not our political and religious leaders. She has given us a warning by giving us this pandemic, so now we must show her that we have passed the test and will be ready to deal with whatever other challenges she will throw at us.  This is my hope that we will wake up and do this.

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Handling Stress in the Midst of a Pandemic

    • Thanks for taking the time to read such a long one. We will miss having you and all our American friends here this year.However, Zoom etc. are helping us with keeping connected which in itself is a huge shift for us to handle. Good luck with working on your ‘self’ to become that better person and keep well.
      Betty

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