Monday, April 27, 2020

Isn't It Ironic?

I find it somewhat ironic that this pandemic is happening in the year 2020. Think about this: 2020 is associated with vision. The Latin verb specere, which means to see, to look at, to observe, is the root of many words. Take spectacles, for example. I wear eyeglasses to correct my myopia, my nearsightedness. Without glasses I cannot clearly see things that are distant. Spectacles give me 2020 vision.

Those who wear glasses only when reading have hyperopia, farsightedness, which causes things near to them to be out of focus. Spectacles give farsighted people 2020 vision.

In many ways this COVID-19 crisis has made us feel both emotionally farsighted: things that are near to us, life as we know it, is now out of focus, and emotionally myopia: we cannot clearly see what our lives down the road will look like for we are living in the uncharted territory of unabated uncertainty. 

The word speculate also finds its root in that Latin verb. And there is a lot of speculation going on right row.
  • How long with our need to be physically distant from one another last?
  • When will the curve flatten?
  • When will we get back to work?
  • Could there be a second coronavirus outbreak if we move too soon?
While the uncertainty we are living with can be overwhelming, we do have a set of tools at our disposal: the skills and attitudes of resilience, which help us get through the difficult times in our lives. 

Our capacity for resilience is hard-wired in our brain, like the fight or flight response. But unlike the fight or flight response, it is not automatic. Our resilience is influenced by our life experiences, by what I call Habitudes, those patterns of thought and behavior affecting our attitudes towards life, and which may or may not serve you. 

We have a strong Mind-Body Connection. Our thoughts influence our bodies directly. COVID-19 is forcing us to change our perspective. Life will not return to normal we knew for quite some time. Our lives will have a new normal and what that new normal will look like is uncertain. However, we can prepare for this by strengthening our resiliency. 

The first weapon in our resilience arsenal is resilient optimism. You're probably familiar with the glass half empty/glass half full way of determining someone's attitude: optimists see it as half full; pessimists see it as half empty. Resilient optimists, however, see it as both, because that is how life’s events are. Resilient optimists take those half empty moments and bring to them other factors of resilience to 'raise the water level' so to speak.

One way this is done is through the resilience skill of flexibility. Being flexible means embracing a willingness to learn and to grow. Being willing to face your fears; to control your attitude, no matter what is going on around you. For our lives are not determined by what happens to us, but by how we react to what happens; not by what life brings to us, but by the attitude we bring to life. 

Another factor is our connectedness to others. This is so critical at this time when we are asked to be physically distant from one another. We need connection. We need to be communicating with one another, which is another aspect of resiliency, whether through social media, FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom. Or how about that old method of communicating: the telephone. True connection is physical. Texting and typing are not enough. 

Another resilience factor is the capacity to manage strong emotions and impulses. Situations happen that are out of our control, like this pandemic. Emotions are a reaction to how we're perceiving our experience. Learning to respond to them, rather than to react, is key. The capacity to manage strong emotions involves being able to take action without being impulsive; to put emotions to the side when clear thinking and action are required.

While it's important to stay informed as to what is going on, it is also crucially important to do so wisely. Avail yourself to those who are presenting the facts without agenda, people such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and Robert Redfield, Director of CDC. These are the people who are telling us the truth of the matter, who are giving us the facts, who are trying to keep everything as stable as possible by making us aware that we must take specific actions in order to flatten that curve and keep the number of cases from spiking up. 

Another factor of resilience is being able to make realistic plans and take action to carry them out. Tackle what I call the "Iwishihads." You know, "I wish I had the time to _______)." Well, folks, now you have the time. Don’t try to rush through the list or you won’t get things done. We all are going to have a lot of time on our hands the next few weeks, and let’s be realistic, most likely even longer.

I want to mention one more factor: Being able to find purpose and meaning in one's life, which leads me to another derivative of that Latin verb, and that is introspection. What are you learning about yourself and your purpose in life? How has this moment in time changed you? Changed your outlook? Hindsight is 2020.

Lastly, there is one more word derived from the Latin verb specere. Respect. COVID-19 has raised our level of respect for doctors, nurses, first responders, and all the unsung heroes who make a hospital function – including custodians, food preparers, laundry services providers. We have gained respect and gratitude for all people who leave their homes each and every day to provide essential services -- from assembly line workers to grocery store clerks to zookeepers. (Yes, zookeepers. Animals need to be cared for too.)

To sum up here are some strategies for managing stress:
  • listen to your body and remember to practice mindful breathing several times a day
  • remember that your greatest weapon against stress is your ability to choose one thought over another
  • acknowledge what you feel and don't deny your feelings
  • accept what you feel and don't judge yourself
Strategies for building resilience:
  • develop an attitude of optimism
  • establish and maintain connections
  • limit media coverage
  • accept change as part of life
  • engage in opportunities of self-discovery
Questions for reflection:
1. What steps will you take to manage your stress?
2. What is on your "Iwishihad" list? What 3 things from that list can you do now that time is more available to you?
3. What are some ways you can engage in opportunities of self-discovery?