You DO have control over something. YOU.
First, let’s just pause for a couple of seconds. Take in a deep breath through the nose, hold it for a count of four and slowly release it through the mouth. Ready? In, hold 2, 3, 4 and exhale slowly.
I hope you’re well. If you’re ill, I hope you’re in the process of healing quickly. Even if you’re physically well, I’m sure emotionally, you’re anywhere from anxious to terrified. If you’re on the far end of that range, I again encourage you to use breathing exercises to calm yourself, which will prompt your brain to release feel-good hormones instead of stress hormones. I also remind you that being in a state of stress weakens your immune system, which is definitely not what any of us want right now. So breathe.
Unless you live in earthquake or hurricane regions, most of you have never experienced the eeriness of being home-bound, experiencing food insecurity and being cut off from friends and family. The last time I can recall might have been during 9/11 and many of you weren’t even born yet, so keep in mind that it’s really normal to feel very uncomfortable right now. My last major experience with this was the Northridge earthquake and I’m so grateful that in this event, we have electricity, water and phone service! Those were the scariest things to me in that event – sitting in the dark with no idea what was happening anywhere because we were truly cut off, at least for the first few hours. And those hours honestly felt like the end of the world! I am saying thank you every day that I have light and heat, that I can find out what’s happening, and that I can stay connected with my loved ones and my clients.
A key aspect of mindfulness is understanding that we’re all connected. And this event is definitely reflecting that on multiple levels. The virus doesn’t care what country we live in or what our age is or what our financial status may be. It’s just doing what it’s meant to do – spreading. As scary as being isolated feels, it is absolutely the only way for us to slow it down and save lives. Try to keep in mind that the newest restrictions in the U.S. are preventative. It’s still true that most people who contract the virus will recover and most will have mild symptoms.
I know we have listeners in Canada, Mexico and Brazil. I’m not sure if we have listeners in the hardest hit countries to date, like Italy, but if you’re listening, we send our sincere wishes for safety and recovery. And I want to thank all of the people in Italy who have sent messages warning us to pay attention and follow the physical distancing our officials are mandating.
One of the most disturbing aspects for me of sheltering in place is the external breaking of our connection. First, I ask that all of us stop using the term “social distancing.” We don’t need to socially distance ourselves from each other. We just need to physically distance ourselves from each other. Our regular listeners know that I have an issue with calling our devices smart. They aren’t smart, but we can use them in a smart way.
We are so blessed to have the technology to stay in touch remotely and now is the time to be smart and use them to our advantage. We can see each other, talk to each other, check on each other, even sing to each other.
Our connectedness related to resources was in stark evidence over the past couple of weeks and if you watch the news, it looks like there are massive shortages with people lined up hours before stores open and then leaving empty-handed. Believing that we may run out of food or water is definitely scary, but it’s not true. Remember to use fear as an acronym, false evidence appearing real. Everyone I know and have talked to has been able to get food. Perhaps not as conveniently as we normally do, but we can get it.
The temporary shortages in the stores are simply due to the panic shopping that occurred, not because there’s no food. Stores could not keep up, restock, etc., but they’re getting regular deliveries. It’s the same with toilet paper. Manufacturers and freight companies got caught by surprise, but more is coming. It’s out there and on its way. They’re also producing more disinfectants and hand sanitizers that will be out in another couple of weeks.
Toilet paper has been my big quest over the last week, trying to find some so my staff isn’t uncomfortable with whatever in the world we would have had to come up with as a replacement until the stores restock. Ironically, I just found toilet paper yesterday afternoon and was on the phone with the vendor when California’s governor announced we’re all home bound now. So now I don’t need all of the rolls arriving on Monday! But the point is the same. There’s plenty of stuff out there, it’s just a matter of distribution and that will sort itself out over the next few weeks. We should also see a reduction in panic shopping, so stores will normalize and we’ll be able to get what we need more smoothly. Since we now have seen proof that our behaviors can dramatically affect other people, as you shop, please only buy a week’s worth of groceries at a time. This will allow everyone to have what they need.
We all have a responsibility to be aware of our actions and behaviors. But we all have response ability available to us to make good choices. Response ability is simply the ability to respond instead of react. Are you response-abled? If not, mindfulness can help you achieve that. This is so important right now because our lives have dramatically changed beyond the virus. Many things will not return to the way they were before this event. We all know how well we react to change – not! But we can learn to respond to change in a way that best serves us and others.
I think the first step, starting right now, is for all of us to work on our mindset. As you realize you’re focusing on the past or how things used to be, remind yourself to focus on now. As you worry about what may happen in the future, bring your attention back to the present. Rehashing the past, wishing for things to be like they were, and viewing history through rose-colored glasses is just a way to avoid the present. It’s past. It’s done and we can’t go back. Catastrophizing what is coming is just story-telling. We make up stories because we don’t know what’s coming...and we tend to make up scary stories. If you’re going to focus on the future, why not make up a good story?
Mindfulness is being present. Focusing on right now. Paying attention to all of the details of what’s going on inside of you and around you. And perhaps most importantly right now, accepting what is. Wishing the pandemic wasn’t happening doesn’t make you feel better. So our new mindset needs to be: this is what’s happening.
With this mindset, we are response-abled. We can choose how to respond...So this is happening and I don’t like it at all, but I don’t have to react with fear or panic. I first need to respond to my feelings. How am I? Anxious, upset, angry? How can I respond to my feelings? Breathe, soothe myself, calm down, reach out to my loved ones, reach out to a friend.
Next, how can I respond to others? Does someone need my support? Have I checked on my friends, neighbors and loved ones? Then, how can I respond to my community? I can stay at home unless leaving is absolutely necessary. I can realize that I’m in my home, my safe zone. If you are stranded somewhere else, are you safe? Do you have food and water? Again, if so, you’re okay. The fear with that is not knowing when you can get home and I’m so sorry you’re in that situation, but you can respond calmly, too, which will better serve you until you are able to return.
There are still people in complete denial about what is occurring. This is a reaction, not a response. I’ve seen lots of reports about young people congregating and we’ve all seen shots of the beaches in Florida. First, a key behavior of young people is to feel invincible – we all felt the same way at that age. Instead of reacting in anger to the danger they’re posing for the rest of us, we can respond with factual information to help them realize that even if they’re invincible, many of us are not. And of course, now the numbers are coming in showing that young adults are not exempt from catching the virus, so they will start to see that their behaviors need to change.
I also know several older people in denial. As of yesterday, they believed that this whole situation is overblown and are trying to go about their business as usual. We can respond to these folks with concern along with facts. It’s unfortunate, but I don’t think the media is educating us well. They’re reporting these very low numbers and saying things like, “but we’re not testing enough.” I don’t think a lot of people realize that the real numbers are going to skyrocket. The governor of California was the first one I heard state a more realistic number yesterday, stating that of the 40 million people in the state, 56% will probably contract the virus. That’s 22 million people, just in California. Now if you factor in the roughly 12% that will be severely ill, that’s 2.6 million people. Again, just in California. And that’s why our health care system is going to be overwhelmed. When you see numbers that state that Los Angeles has 240 cases, that’s just the number that have tested positive, but hardly anyone’s been tested. I think this is what’s causing people to think this is not a big deal and therefore, they aren’t responding in a way that will keep them safe, as well as those they come in contact with.
I don’t share these numbers to scare anyone. I share them because we’re all going to have to cooperate and be very considerate of others and I think more people will if they understand the seriousness of the situation. Our officials do not know what this virus will do. They are now questioning their own assumptions about what the symptoms even are, so basically, no one can predict exactly what will happen. We don’t like uncertainty, so of course, this is a worst-case scenario for our brains. But we can respond to what we do know. Stay home. Follow physical distancing mandates. And at this stage, stay very aware of the importance of our health care workers. Don’t go to a hospital unless your doctor tells you to. Remember, most people who get the virus will have mild symptoms. Stay home and take care of yourself and loved ones. Don’t react with panic. Respond with common sense and compassion.
We all need to come together for all of the children impacted by this event. We need to demonstrate calm and ensure that kids feel safe and secure. We need to get very creative in keeping them busy and happy for the next few weeks or months. We need to share support with parents who are not only home bound with kids, but many who are going to be trying to work under those conditions. Yes, it’s going to be stressful, but we don’t have to react to it in anger or frustration. Instead, we can respond mindfully.
For all of those impacted financially, there’s no sugar-coating it, it’s extremely stressful. We’re going to have a big recession and we can react in panic or we can respond with ideas and strategies that will help us get through. Most companies are waiving late fees, delaying payments and temporarily halting disconnections from services. Governors across the country are implementing laws to prevent landlords from evicting tenants and lenders from foreclosing on homes. It appears that the federal stimulus package will provide more relief. Again, we can’t know what will happen, but we can focus on what we can do today. Take inventory – do you have what you need for the near future? Are you safe? Is there something you can do differently?
A key component of mindfulness is non-judgment because none of us has enough information to know if something is good or bad. We could judge the small restaurant waitress who is supporting two young children losing her job as obviously bad. But if she now gets one of the 100,000 jobs that are open at Amazon, with better pay and full benefits, was it bad? I’m not in any way implying that everyone will come through this better off or that people aren’t going to suffer. But we can adopt a mindset that says "since we just don’t know, we’ll be adaptable." Through an adaptable mindset, we can remain open to observing what the latest events are and adapting to them to best serve our needs. Let go of any picture of how things “should” be. They aren’t going to be that. Instead of wasting energy judging the whole situation as “bad,” we can accept that it is whatever it is in this moment and even consciously look for what good may come from it.
People in Venice, Italy are reporting seeing fish in the canals for the first time in their lifetimes. The brown skies in China are now blue again for the first time in years. The nights are quiet without the continuous noise pollution of airplanes. We now have more time to spend with our children. This forced “time out” provides us with an opportunity to slow down and reflect, reprioritize our values, recognize how much we have to be grateful for even in the face of this challenging situation and consider how we can contribute to the greater good.
We know in the United States that we haven’t seen the worst of this yet, but we’re now all aware of what we need to do to be safe and to protect others. Let’s do that. And we know that we have a choice to either adapt to our circumstances or resist them. With response ability, we can choose the better of those two choices and adapt. We’ve shown over and over again that we’re resilient. We’re creative. Small businesses all over the country are already adapting their business models and practices to the situation. Restaurants are becoming food stores. Drive throughs are becoming virus testing centers. Take out orders for tacos in LA now come with toilet paper. Our neighborhood just announced a walking party, asking people to take their cocktails to the front porch tomorrow evening and wave to neighbors as they walk by or walk themselves – at least six feet apart of course. Entertainers are already acting and singing on social media to help lighten our moods. What can you contribute?
I had just finished writing this when I received a call from my toilet paper vendor (who thought I would ever be saying those words?!). He’s concerned their inventory count is off and I may not receive all of those glorious rolls now. Am I happy about it? Of course not. But is there any point in resisting what is? Nope. I’ll just have to adapt.
We’re going to be conducting daily short meditations on Facebook Live starting Monday, March 23rd at 7am. Join us live or you can replay the recording. It’s simply a way for us to connect, get centered and remember that we all breathe the same air. We are all connected.
Let’s take a moment now to relax.
Simply breathe in and out.
Notice your breath.
Be grateful for your breath.
Notice how pleasant it is to simply stop for a moment.
To take a break from the chaos outside and feel safe and secure in this moment.
Just breathing in and breathing out.
As you return to the outer world, be safe, be well and be kind.