April 2, 2020
What an interesting time we are living in right now. A month ago, I didn’t know how I was going to handle the level of busyness that was on my spring and summer calendar. And it wasn’t just me….patients were constantly telling me how busy they were and how we just “go, go, go!”. Now I’m looking at my calendar and trying hard not to have a panic attack over the 9 weekends in a row that are completely clear of anything. Nada. No birthday parties, no soccer tournaments, no track meets, no date nights. No shopping trips, no concerts, no CrossFit, no plans in sight.
The social distancing, work from home, and all attempts to slow the virus are necessary and hopefully helpful. This is not a blog about all that. In fact if you’re like me, you can’t really read a whole lot more about the latest numbers, death rates, bell curves and projected timelines. No, this blog is instead about the opportunity that now lies before us. With the quarantine in effect, we are left to ponder what to do with our days, our evenings and our weekends considering there is nothing on the events calendar It is an odd feeling and one that definitely takes some getting used to.
I am an achiever. I get little dopamine hits from having a productive day and now my dopamine is starting to feel dependent upon Facebook and the baked goods that unfortunately seem to be appearing more and more often on my counter. (I deal with boredom and stress thru baking. I really need a new hobby.) So this weekend I realized two things:
1) I need a mindset shift around this whole quarantine gig.
2) I have been given the precious gift of time. So what am I going to do with it?
Because right now, the deeper I sink into my couch, the harder it is to get out. The more I look at my phone, the less I listen to my kids. The more sugar I shove down my throat, the more I want to eat. The more I think about my empty calendar, the more bitter I get. The more I read terrifying statistics and articles, the less joy I find in my day. It therefore must be a mindful choice to think differently about this time…..this pandemic. So I challenge myself and I challenge you with this next idea.
Instead of looking at this time from a perspective of loss, grief, anger, resentment, judgement and FEAR…….I completely flip it and ask this instead:
“What if the corona virus pandemic created our greatest impetus for change? What would that look like for you? Your marriage? Your family? Your work? Your friendships? Your community? Your world?
Now I realize that is big leap to think about. There is A LOT of unknown out there right now. But what if? As a chiropractor who seems to also be part counselor, I often hear people say that they would love to change this or that….but they just don’t have time. “I’m just too busy,” “I’m just too exhausted”, “I’m just too overwhelmed,”……I hear these phrases multiple times a day. And underneath it all, I hear the fear, the insecurity and the self judgement.
Change takes courage and commitment. But we are in a unique and scary time. It’s a time where distrust is brewing, discontent is rumbling and fear is everywhere. Is this how we want to continue? Or do we acknowledge our fear, make peace with our empty calendar and take a few steps in a more positive direction for ourselves.
If we are able to shift our mental energies away from the constant barrage of fear and anxiety, think about the potential we would have to do more with our day. And by “do more” I am not necessarily referring to the number of closets you can get cleaned out. (Believe me, I get lots of dopamine hits from crossing items off my to do list too.) But what I’m talking about is the opportunity to stretch our brain and hearts in a new and creative way. I’m going to suggest opening up an empty page in a notebook and just start writing down ideas of what you could do with this time. You are not allowed to introduce the word “but” into this list. Be quiet and allow yourself the chance to listen to what your body, heart and mind has to say.
It’s a great time to take an online class about photography, plant a new garden, learn how to speak French, try 10 min of daily yoga, write a weekly handwritten letter to a friend, have a picnic on the floor with your kids, connect with your spouse by having a conversation that involves eye contact, restore an old piece of furniture, go for daily walks outside and listen to the birds, try a new vegetable with each meal, bake a pie, paint a picture, practice being okay with uncertainty, read a classic novel, take a nap when you feel tired, give your kid a hug when they are driving you crazy, learn how to meditate, write down 3 daily gratitudes, let go of perfectionistic tendencies, do 25 squats each morning, plan a ridiculous and frivolous dream vacation, study the stars at night, go on a virtual safari, hit a tennis ball against your garage door, give your body 8 hours of sleep each night……..whatever comes up, allow it a moment of possibility.
That being said, I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they want to be taking advantage of their time, but they can’t seem to pull themselves out of this sluggishness, this low mood and lack of motivation. The information and fear around COVID-19 is taking up a lot of our mental bandwidth. It feels hard to even deal with the logistics of getting through our day, let alone try something new. There is definitely a paralyzing energy around all of this.
As a result, this is a perfect time to talk a little bit about what I consider “The Big 3″…..Fear, Judgement and Uncertainty. It is really easy to spend much of our waking state in one or all of these mental states.
For many of us, fear is constantly hovering. It’s actually a deep rooted survival mechanism from our ancestral brain and a fascinating topic that I could write a single blog about just on its own. For now, I’ll keep it simple. There is an almond shaped area deep in the brain called your amygdala. The amygdala is trained to be on the constant look out for threats. During times of stress, this area of the brain is on high alert and constantly sending out fear based thoughts and emotions to try to keep you and yours alive. The pre frontal cortex is in the front of our brain and is responsible for logical, rational thought. So there is often a bit of a battle between your fear center and your logical center. My brain is really good at having this same battle quite often throughout the day, resulting in me being “all over the place” with my moods. 🙂
But understand this….the more we fixate on fear, the larger our amygdala grows. It starts to become so powerful that it slows down the prefrontal cortex and doesn’t allow it to be the voice of reason. And we lose that ability to be able to stay calm during times of stress. Our brain focuses more and more on everything that could go wrong, rather than focusing on all that is still right. That is why not giving into the fear is so important, and choosing to exercise your brain in a different way starts to break the habit of fear. Calming exercises like meditation have been scientifically shown on brain scans to literally shrink the size of your amygdala….and therefore, allow you to live more from a place of peace and calm. We could all use a little more of that these days.
Secondly, right now is the perfect time to acknowledge how often we get all judgy towards everyone and everything. We are all really good at judgement. For example, just check out the latest rant on FB, the finger pointing and the arguments that take place in the comments section…..it won’t take long to spot what I am referring to.
Here’s the deal my friends….every individual has had a unique set of life experiences that have shaped their belief system, emotional responses, and ways of dealing with stress. Our job during this time is to take the necessary steps to care for ourselves and our families to the best of our abilities….and let everyone else do the same. It is no one’s place to judge how someone else may be reacting to this situation. COVD-19 and all the emotions and stress that has come with it, is creating the opportunity for us to learn how to do this as a community. It’s a time to come together as human beings, rather than as political parties or religious affiliations or whatever side of the tracks you live on.
If we can let go of the amount of judgement we spread throughout the day and instead focus on kindness, compassion and acceptance of what is, then how much fear, angst and frustration will start to melt away? This could have a huge, beneficial ripple effect for our entire community and world. And in all honesty, you just feel better because your brain can start to focus on what you want to do to create a better version of yourself, rather than constantly analyzing and judging everyone else (who you cannot control anyway!) It creates a lot more healthy brain space and allows us focus on what’s truly important in this one precious life we have been given.
So I’ve noted how fear and judgement tend to get in our way and monopolize our brain, but I must also acknowledge the role that living with uncertainty must play. I’ve worked through a lot of my issues with fear, and I can call myself out when I’m being judgemental…..but dealing with uncertainty is the hardest one for my control freak tendencies to accept. I want to know WHEN this virus craziness is going to be over. I want a guarantee that everyone I know and love is going to be okay, and that I will still have a successful business to come back to, and money in my bank account.
How many times in the last month have we heard the phrase….”let’s just take it one day at a time?” But the problem is we have never really had to live out what that adage actually means. In a world of instant access to news and social media, it is easy to start to panic and question our very future from both a health perspective and a financial perspective. However, it is so important to remember that we only ever have this one day….this one present moment. The future is ALWAYS unknown. The beauty of having to live with uncertainty is that it brings what’s truly important to light. Instead of rushing off to the next activity, we are staying home and being present with each other. Our minds are relearning how to focus on just one thing at a time, and our bodies have been given the opportunity to rest, sleep and nourish itself so that we are a healthier version of ourselves if and when our immune systems are faced with a new challenge.
It is up to each of us how we choose to view this time. We can let fear, judgement and uncertainty dictate the course of our days. Or we can use this “pause button” the universe has given us to reconnect with ourselves, our families and our communities. What are YOU going to do with today?