Updated: Mar 17, 2020

Whew chileeeeee!


I think this past week, many of us moved from the self-protective defense mechanism of denial or minimizing the impact and potential impacts of the novel coronavirus to the reaction of oh my god; AHHHHHHHH!!! Let's go out and panic buy all the toilet paper!

For me, my main reaction to the barrage of headlines, social media posts, and others' panic about the state of the world was: who has the time, money, and energy for a pandemic right now, bro? Not I! That's for damn sure. I started to worry about all the folks who may not have homes, health insurance, or funds to buy months' worth of groceries, medications, and supplies. What about the people who live with abusers? What about the people who can't work from home or take time off from work?

It just all seems so scary, uncertain, sad, and heart-wrenching. And, I just wish we lived in a country in which all of our basic needs were met so that when we are faced with pandemics, natural disasters and other traumatic events, it could potentially feel more bearable for all of us and we'd all feel a little bit more supported.

But, alas. Since we don't live in such a country, how can we cope in this time of uncertainty? In a time where many of us are quarantined and we're told to practice social distancing. I can only imagine how much higher our levels of loneliness, hopelessness, deep sadness, and fear and anxiety will be.

BUT! We're going to try our best to get through it!

I love this handout on how, when we feel that we're in danger or feel unsafe, we've evolved from having a freezing reaction, to engaging in some action-oriented behavior, fighting or fleeing. And, most recently, we've evolved into beings who don't have to actively be in survival mode all the time. We can feel at peace, connected, and safe. We can trust ourselves and others. We can feel like we belong to ourselves and each other. We can play, sing, laugh, and dance.

These processes can be represented on a ladder, where freeze is at the bottom, fight and flight are in the middle, and safety/relaxation/calm/joy are all on top of the ladder.

This past week, I noticed myself experiencing the freezing reaction (e.g., not being present, not attuned, not paying attention to my needs) and the fighting reaction (e.g., tense muscles, driving more aggressively, feeling annoyance towards others, not sleeping as much, being hypervigilant).

Part of what's important to me in this life, though, is to be present, to feel connected with myself and others, to be kind, and to be understanding, patient and accepting. And so, I tend to be motivated to engage in self-care practices to stay up the ladder more often than not.

The handout discusses how we can practice to notice ourselves moving up and down the ladder from freezing to finding safety, or from safety to fight and flight mode. There are also ways for these states to work together, so that we can survive and thrive.

And boy, do we need these systems to work together effectively, now, more than ever. Noticing what we're feeling and thinking is important. Once we notice our emotions, how our bodies feel, and what kind of thoughts we're having, we can explore our needs.

If we're in fight or flight mode, we can practice pausing, breathing, and calming ourselves a bit. Then, we can explore possible necessary actions we can take (e.g., give money to folks who might be struggling financially, buy food for our loved ones, ask neighbors if they need help, ask loved ones if they'd like to video chat at a certain time everyday).

We can, then, move further up the ladder to find even more balance and safety (e.g., doing something calming, watching something funny, doing yoga or zumba in the living room, reading, FaceTiming with friends, setting up video chat date nights with friends, family, and romantic partners, engaging in a nourishing nighttime routine). Speaking of nighttime routines! Have y'all smelled eucalyptus oil before bed? So good!

I do want to say that being all the way down the ladder, in freeze mode, can be challenging and difficult to get out of, particularly if we're down there for days. When we're feeling depressed, hopeless, stuck, paralyzed, and alone, we may need to ask for help. We may need someone to pull us up so we can begin to climb up the ladder again. A crisis counselor can be helpful. An online therapist might also be key here.

If possible, getting in touch with a loved one, but I know that this can be tricky as many of us may not have folks in our lives we can ask for help. Sometimes, watching TED talks help me. Brene Brown is particularly powerful. Also, love Kristin Neff! And, podcasts! Oh my goodness. Tara Brach is a gem! Connecting with others on social media might also be helpful. They might be experiencing similar feelings, and it's nice to feel seen and understood by others.

I think prevention is also key. We have to practice finding ways to prevent ourselves from falling all the way down the ladder. Consistent self-care practices help.

The main factor that helped me move up the ladder this week was reading good news. NBA players giving money to employees put a huge smile on my face. Here's another act of generosity. Italians singing and playing instruments from their balconies while quarantined is also AMAZING!

More good news! Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds have donated some funds to food banks to help combat hunger during this pandemic. If you can donate, please do.

And, since I meditated probably 20 hours a day last week (lol!) and I love meditating, I LOVED seeing that Ten Percent Happier is offering FREE resources (e.g., meditations for healthcare providers, podcasts) for us to learn ways to cope and build resilience in these stressful times. YAS! The Calm meditation app is also providing some free resources!

My hope is that we can help each other. If you were one of the ones who bought 1,000 rolls of toilet paper, give some to your neighbors, for example (ha!).

I hope that we also take care of ourselves so that we can be more present with ourselves and with others more effectively. The more we take care of ourselves, the more we'll be able to practice kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and love. We need each other. Let's find ways to help each other.

Take good care of you and others around you.

Researchers have consistently found that we need connections to survive, to be happy, and to feel more at peace. But, this can be tricky for many of us. The last stat I saw was that about half of us report feeling lonely. And, this stat increases the younger one is.

To many of us, loneliness can truly feel like a friend. A friend we'd prefer not to have, but a friend who keeps following us around throughout the years.

Some of the factors that contribute to isolation and loneliness include: traveling and living in various parts of the country, being busy with work or school, feeling burned out, experiencing past traumas and having a difficult time trusting others, experiencing social anxiety, fearing judgments, anticipating that nothing good can come from an interaction, thinking that humans will just hurt us.

Friendships, whether superficial or incredibly deep, can be difficult to navigate. Another reason why some of us stay away from others is that we know relationships are difficult and We. Absolutely. Do. Not. Want. To. Put. In. The. Work.

If you're feeling lonely, though, let's work at it! Let's do the work together! Research has also found that when committing to a goal, it's better/more effective to have a buddy to do the work with you and hold you accountable. So, as you look at your contacts, I hope you're able to find someone who is willing to join you as you both explore ways to feel less lonely.

How do we start?

One -- If you have experienced trauma, in which loved ones and others have betrayed you, hurt you, disappointed you, caused you a lot of suffering, and contributed to experiences of depression, anxiety, and narratives like "everyone will hurt me; I'll be alone forever; I'm broken," I recommend going to therapy. This option is great for more affordable treatment.

Two -- If you'd prefer to do some self-work, there are so many great books out there for that! Another one, if you're wanting to feel energized, motivated, empowered, confident, and FIRED UP! And, another one, if you're wanting to work through your anxiety! Ram Dass is also great, particularly if you enjoy mindfulness, meditation, and learning ways to embody more love and kindness!

Three -- Build connections in simple ways. Simple could look like -- smiling at someone as you walk by them, saying hello to the person sitting next to you at the bar, on the bus, or on the train, texting someone in your phone that you've been meaning to reconnect with and maybe asking them if you both can talk on the phone sometimes, setting up a lunch date with a peer, colleague, or family member, or sending letters to old friends.

Researchers have found that we don't necessarily need deep connections to combat loneliness. Having a laugh with the delivery person can be enough. Slow down, breathe, relax, and attempt to have a pleasant conversation, filled with kindness, with everyone you come across-- a cashier, a houseless person, or a neighbor, for examples.

Four -- As you're engaging in therapy and/or doing self-work, and/or pushing yourself to connect with others more, make sure you're also connecting with yourself. This can be done by journaling, writing kind and supportive letters to yourself, engaging in activities that help you relax, or that help you feel present, nourished, and comforted; this could be walking in nature, meditating, going to church, singing, dancing, doing yoga, and engaging in deep breathing throughout the day.

My favorite practice: at the end of the day, as you're brushing your teeth and getting ready for bed, think of 3 things that went well. This can also be 3 things you're proud of. Or, 3 things that you're happy with and that made you smile.

Practice having gratitude for being able to have all of these amazing experiences. You're able to laugh, to feel the sun on your body, to watch the sun set, to joke with others, to do work that you're passionate about, to feel confident, to feel joy, to feel loved, to feel wanted, and to feel effective; thank yourself for doing your best everyday. Thank yourself for doing what you can.

Here's to you. I wish you so much love, connection, and happiness.

The world always seems like it's in shambles. Particularly, now, when every news article seems to be about the Coronavirus, it's hard for us to not feel panicked or scared. Our minds can jump to the worst conclusions (e.g., "ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE WILL GET SICK AND DIE," "THIS IS THE END").

How do we manage this stress?

I think the number 1 thing we can do is: if we're prone to ruminating on worst case scenarios, having lots of thoughts of "what ifs" or having worried thoughts, we need to practice noticing these thoughts and letting these thoughts go. When we find ourselves worrying, we need to ask ourselves "is this worrying useful or helpful" and we also need to tell ourselves "OK. I'm having worried thoughts. What can I do about this? What are some actions I can take?"

Number 2-- focus on what you can do. There are so many resources out there that talk about how we can stay safer and healthier (this particular resource has some info for caregivers as well as ways that we can prepare and plan ahead). And, guess what! A lot of these precautions -- you know them already! (e.g., wash your hands for 20+ seconds or to the tune of the ABCs; don't shake others' hands; don't touch your nose and mouth).

This is a really cute comic geared for kids. You can print it and hand it out to folks.

So, we try our best to stay calm (e.g., practicing meditation, mindfulness, and yoga). We also try our best to let worried thoughts go and focus on actionable steps we can take to help ourselves, our family, and our fellow neighbors -- consulting with physicians, praying for others if you believe in prayer, practicing lovingkindness meditation, making sure you're taking care of yourself (getting good sleep, eating nutritious foods, challenging unhelpful thoughts, building up your psychological and physical immune system), helping others stay positive, calm, and confident so that they, too, can take steps to prevent the infection from spreading or learn ways to heal if they do start to feel sick.

I will see you in the bathroom while washing my hands :D

Take good care of yourself.

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