Monday, September 14, 2020
Tuesday, August 11, 2020
If you are like most others, you were probably trying to just wait out the COVID-19 pandemic in hope of things eventually just getting back to "normal". But it looks like whatever it is we are experiencing now "is" the new normal, and accepting that is really most of the battle regarding the stress that this real change brings.
It's symbolic and synchronistic, I suppose, that all of this comes near the edge of seasonal change, as Fall is right around the corner and the unknown continues to lie ahead of us all.
Many folks are still sitting on another kind of edge as well, and that is the one between human survival and just trying to flourish in this life. How do we sort out how to scramble for employment, income, safety, and basic needs while also trying to find peace, joy, harmony and a stress free life for ourselves? For some the reality of having tied one's ego up in a job title has hurried in hard existential questions about identity, purpose, and meaning. The problem is that to cling to anything at all--be it a job, job title, marriage, house, business, project, money, or even health--is a big mistake. None of these will stay the same even if you manage to keep them. Never-the-less, it's only human nature for us to do what we need to do to survive and once survival needs are met, only then do we bother to notice the stress that surviving has put on us.
So, the way we respond to stress is very important. It was Hans Selye who created the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) model to help us understand the stress response. It has three stages: The Alarm stage in which a stressor is introduced to our environment. The Resistance stage in which we do our best to cope with that stressor (sometimes not in the healthiest of ways). And finally the Exhaustion stage.
Many of us are still in the Resistance stage regarding the stress brought on by COVID-19 and something that is important for us to realize is that this stage cannot be maintained forever. If we are not coping well, then all of our resources will eventually become depleted and we will reach the stage of Exhaustion, which puts us at risk for a weakened immune system and vulnerability for illnesses we were initially trying to avoid. Therefore, it's crucial that we work to have the healthiest coping styles we can muster up during the Resistance stage of stress.
Fall brings with it cold and flu season, the one thing none of us want to take risks with, especially this year. So you can start now to strengthen your coping styles for dealing with whatever stressors COVID-19 has brought your way. Here are some ideas to notice about your own coping right now:
- Are you eating well, taking in healthy foods? Or are you going for the sugar and junk food?
- Are you drinking or using other substances more? Or using natural relaxation techniques?
- Are you coping by shopping and spending? Or are you journaling about your frustrations?
- Are you closing the world off? Or reaching out to talk with others who are also coping?
- Are you getting enough exercise? Or planting in front of the awful daily news stories?
- Are you asking for help? Or trying to do the impossible all by yourself?
- Are you searching for available resources? Or playing the victim and deciding it's hopeless?
- Are you seeing and appreciating the possibilities around you? Or giving up?
Monday, July 20, 2020
Over the years our society has become adapted to high levels of entertainment. From the constant availability of our phones and computers, to the endless ongoing events such as concerts, nightclubs, plays, and movies. Local community guides have typically always had things to go do and give a try, and there has rarely been even the rainiest day that we cannot find something to keep us busy. But COVID is challenging us to come up with many of these things on our own now. Concerts and restaurants are closed, and even if one does find an event going on, it's not quite the same with the need to wear a mask and keep a distance of at least six feet, which changes the experience of most things entirely.
So now is the time to use the creativity that comes with this unique larger brain we are so proud of. Let's not let its propensity of survival (i.e., to think of the worst-case-scenario in order to survive) bring us to our knees with discouragement. In fact, in this age of modern technology--which is guaranteed to keep us distracted until the extinction of our species--this is the greatest opportunity we could ever imagine of getting a shot at learning to do something other than what we've been repetitively and ceaselessly doing every day for years.
Our stress comes from wanting things to be other than what they really are. And right now, many things are changed. And for many of those changed things, it does not look promising that things are going to go back to the way they were. So continuing to want them to return to the way they were only causes suffering.
Instead, it's important to move on. Let go of what was prior to COVID arriving, and begin to get creative now about the present and how it will shape the future. Stress levels will only rise by hanging on to a dead corpse, but stress levels can fall with acceptance of reality, which removes the oppressive feelings brought on by a refusal to let go of the way things once were. COVID has changed the world and it's important to lift our heads from the steady focus we've had them on just to get through it, and now look up and look around us to see this changed world.
For instance, the world of work has just changed for good. When COVID is long gone, this change will still remain. It's possible we've just now entered an entirely different world of work-from-home that will alter everything from the commercial office industry to traffic statistics. A large percentage of jobs may be changed now forever, and if we aren't going back, then we must adapt. Change is hard and frustrating at first, but once the adaptation is made, forward momentum can pick up again.
So go ahead and mourn the loss of the way your life was before COVID. It's important to mourn and get the feelings processed. But then it's time to also process what the losses mean. Yes, it's disappointing to not be able to get back to where we were before this all started, and most would admit they've held that desire in the back of their mind since it all began. But the truth is, things are on a forward moving path and there is no going back. It's time to decide now how you will create a new life for yourself in this continually changing situation.
Stress levels remain high, but they can be lessened by tapping into the creativity of the human brain and coming up with new ways of functioning now regardless of if that is at home or work. Don't wait for your favorite entertainment venue to reopen so you can once again be entertained. Better is to be creative and think outside the box for safe and enjoyable things to do on your own. Don't let giving up be the only option. Adapt and thrive!
Thanks to Don Miller for the great photo
Tuesday, June 16, 2020
Most people around the world right now felt (and are still feeling) the change that COVID-19 caused in our ordinary lives. The virus was an abrupt interruption to our illusion that whatever it is we are doing, or whatever it is that is happening in our world at any given time, will just keep on going as it is.
The reality of death and sickness interrupt (or wake) us in this way, and so does aging. But biologically, and psychologically it seems, we humans can only handle so much change at once before we get overwhelmed and stressed out. When change comes extremely fast we can suffer shock, such as when we are in a sudden accident or traumatized otherwise. But other changes, such as the COVID virus, that altered the way we work, function, and live are also things that comparably have a rapid onset and force change faster than can be adjusted or adapted to.
So if you feel like you are just now coming out of a little bit of shock in regards to the sudden demand for change that has been brought on by the COVID virus, and the way it has affected the world and human behavior, you are not alone. Many of us are beginning to shake our heads and ask..."What in the world just happened?"
But something else that stands out about the COVID situation is the change that has been demanded of us all. If you were (are) not trying to figure out how to set up a doable ability to work from home, you were (are) at least pushed to do your grocery shopping differently. From the way we interact, such as greeting one another with foot or elbow bumps instead of handshakes, to the way we line up now to wait our turn to just shop in a store. Or if your hours were reduced at work, or you were laid off completely, the change is something many cannot escape, and something that has come in abundance.
So the idea behind impermanence as a "mark of existence" is that change is always going to be a part of life. And we only suffer when we want that fact to be other than what it is. When we find something we like, we try to grasp onto it and keep it "forever", but no matter how hard we try, it will change. And when we find something that we dislike, we try to escape it or avoid ever coming nose-to-nose with it again. But the truth is, we will most likely run into it again someday in a different form--be it pain, illness, financial stress, heartbreak, or any other of the harder events in life. Our existence has both and they constantly change from one into the other.
So, COVID helps to remind us that nothing lasts forever. Not good things, and not bad things. It reminds us that we only suffer when we think it should be otherwise. When we want (desire) COVID to not exist, to go away faster than it can or will, when our favorite store closes because of the virus, and when we can't do things as we are used to doing them, we only suffer by wanting the whole existence of that reality to be different than what it really is. COVID is an incredible lesson and reminder that impermanence is indeed a "mark of our existence", and we can have less anxiety and suffer much less when we keep this in mind.
Monday, May 11, 2020
Friday, April 10, 2020
Thanks to Sawtooth for the great photo
Friday, April 3, 2020
We frequently hear about the importance of resilience as a trait that helps people bounce back from trauma or hardship. But what about the skill of endurance? Endurance is when we demonstrate the ability to sustain a difficult situation for a prolonged period of time. And that is what COVID-19 is asking of us all. That is--enduring quarantines, and showing the staying power we find within ourselves to withstand Stay-at-Home orders whenever they are put in place.
Endurance also has a lot of determination and consistency in it. With COVID-19 we are repeatedly asked to show consistent behavior of change when it comes to not touching our face, and washing our hands, or not shaking hands, and keeping a six foot distance from those around us. But the virus situation has also lead to economic scare and financial fears, anxieties and insecurities that will also require staying power. You might be about to discover how much you can live without and it's very important that you face these challenges to the best of your ability.
One thing that keeps us from finding our inner sense of endurance and staying power is Catastrophic Thinking. In this kind of faulty thinking we not only imagine the worst case scenario (something life-threateningly dangerous), but we also add to that imagined scenario the belief that we would never be able to handle the worst case scenario. "I'd lose my job and income, and then I'd not be able to support my family, and then I'd lose the house, and then we'd have to move to a smaller place", and so the line of continuous downward spiraling thoughts go.
What's not considered in this kind of thinking is the idea that even if things got that bad, you might discover (with staying power and determination) that you actually could survive these difficult situations. They would not be pleasant or enjoyable, and of course, no one wants them to happen. But if they did happen, consider the idea that you could survive them. You still have all your fingers and toes after job loss, and you can still live and breathe in a smaller living area, and you could live on less, and so on.
Marathon runners know all about endurance, but so do those who are oppressed. The runners literally know how to keep putting one foot in front of the other and the oppressed have no choice but to put one tired and frustrated, psychological and emotional foot in front of the other. Both teach us that giving up is not only unwise, but also not necessary. You can survive this difficult time, through all of its anxieties and hardships. And in doing so you will discover a side of yourself that you never knew was there all along. If your anxiety is taking hold and fear is setting into your bones--be it about illness or poverty--, challenge your Catastrophic Thinking right now and put a stop to allowing hopelessness to take root. You are so much more than you think you are, and capable of twice as much.
Thanks to Gabriel S. Delgado C. for the dynamic photo.
Monday, March 9, 2020
In light of the recent COVID-19 (Corona Virus) pandemic that has taken the world's humans by the psychological throat and rendered them terrified beyond belief, it is important that we try to better understand what we are doing as humans and how our brains function , yes. But more importantly, how they can frequently function with flaw and error.
Terror Management Theory originally derived from Ernest Becker and his book The Denial of Death, but it is championed today by three main researchers: Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Solomon, and Tom Pyszczynski. Together they have come up with some fascinating research about our awareness of death and how it influences our behavior, and more specifically, our beliefs.
Take, for instance, the current human behavior regarding information about the COVID-19 virus. It is safe to say that people are scared. Just the information and updates about global deaths occurring from the virus has everyone on edge. Behavior has been altered as evidenced in the buying out of toilet paper, food products, and the stocking up on disinfectant cleaners and hand sanitizers.
But at the heart of all of this is a human behavior that has been studied and identified by the three researchers named above, who together wrote the book, The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life. Basically what they have to say is that our current behavior tends to be affected by our current awareness of our inevitable death. And at any given time, we may therefore use a bundle of tactics to wipe that awareness from our current awareness simply to maintain a sense of human functioning and self-esteem. Of course, this makes sense, as it is very hard to maintain a sense of meaning and goal-oriented functioning when we are constantly aware that our own life and the lives of others we may know and love, will eventually end.
What's interesting in their studies, however, is that when we are made more aware of our inevitable death, such as we are now with the daily bombardment in the media regarding COVID-19, our behavior alters because this information clashes with our basic survival instincts. What they found in their work is that humans prefer to push awareness of death as far away from awareness as possible, and when people are struggling to do this--such as now, due to the introduction of death awareness via the nightly news--they tend to begin using faulty thinking and behavior.
For instance, we begin to make up ideas and beliefs about how we don't really ever die. Such as reincarnation, life-after-death, and an ongoing future existence in an after-realm. In addition, we begin to seek out only those that think just like we do, which the research has found, leads to bigotry and prejudice. So basically, we begin to "manage our terror" of death in these faulty ways, as a form of self-created survival instinct. Our human confusion and conflict between "terror of death" and "instinct to survive", looks for ways to solve it. Interestingly, the human brain begins to make mistakes about reality just so-as to convince itself there is plenty of reason to keep focusing on the "instinct to survive". We give ourselves false hope by making up scenarios in which death never comes.
Why is this important now? In the face of the COVID-19 virus? It's important because we need to realize as human beings that we can be aware of our inevitable death AND also function with our survival instincts on a daily basis, WITHOUT falling into the trap of faulty thinking. More toilet paper and food in the freezer will not eventually put an end to death. But embracing reality (i.e., that death eventually comes), can instead help us to live more in the present moment. Though we may understandably have an awareness that death comes, we may also know that in the present moment "I am alive and breathing". In moderation, we can prepare for illness, quarantine if necessary, and yes... even prepare for death if it comes. But we cannot stop death and we cannot wish it away with a mythological fantasy.
In some forms of Buddhism, monks might be asked to meditate while seated in a field next to a decomposing body. Each day, they return to meditate in the vicinity of this decaying human body in order to help them see that death comes to all of us. Even to the meditating monk. Eventually the monk becomes aware of much more than death. They become aware that the only place life truly exists, is in the present moment, and in each breath. Existentially, awareness of death can make us more aware of the urgency of life. Terror Management Theory study can help us see the ways in which we try to deny awareness of death, and try to convince ourselves it will never happen to us.
In the face of COVID-19, work to remind yourself that death is real and does come in time to us all. It doesn't mean you don't take precautions to protect yourself and others by washing your hands and not touching your face. It doesn't mean that you don't quarantine when necessary or avoid some social gatherings for awhile. It doesn't mean you don't stock up (in moderation) on enough food and supplies to be in that quarantine if necessary. And it doesn't mean you act as if this precious one life is not worth protecting and prolonging.
What it does mean is that we can breathe into the awareness that some things in life we cannot control. But we can breathe into this very moment and know we are here and alive RIGHT NOW! We don't have to trick our mind into believing things that aren't true just so we can sleep at night. It is possible to be aware of the reality of life (and death) limitations, as well as live each moment to its fullest. Approaching the COVID-19 virus situation with moderation is a sound decision. Stock up if you need to. Wash your hands and disinfect, as you should. But know that death comes, and... you can live with that awareness.
Here are some helpful videos about Terror Management Theory (TMT) and Corpse Meditation:
Stephen Caves: The 4 Stories we tell ourselves about death
Sheldon Solomon: How Death Affects Everything You Do
Corpse Meditation (The Washington Times)
Thanks to Mathias Ripp for the great photo from Bamberg Germany
Monday, February 3, 2020
Monday, January 6, 2020
If your New Year's resolution includes a focus on stress reduction, you can reduce the risk of the "gradual fade" by building your new stress reduction activities right into your schedule until they become a new part of your daily life.
In the same way you make sure to add your dentist appointment or oil change into your day timer, the focus and activities for daily relaxation need to be included in the same way. Sometimes it's just a matter of writing the self-imposed new activity into your time plans, just as you would carve out the time to go get a haircut or pick up groceries.
When it comes to relaxation and stress reduction, it's easy to get in the habit of brushing aside the things that are on the schedule for self-care, such as getting a massage, going to the day-spa, or planning time to read that good book you've been meaning to get to. Putting these items on the schedule also means keeping those appointments with yourself and not cancelling out because other stressful things have begun to crowd your life.
For your success at the new 2020 resolutions, try to include making a vow to put the new relaxation items on the daily schedule and reinforcing that vow with a promise to oneself to not override those relaxation events when stress starts crowding out the limited time schedule. Consider these events as essential as laundry and putting gas in the car. Without them you are not clothed with calm energy or supplied with centered transportation.
In the New Year, make a promise to keep your stress reduction appointments with yourself and be a reliable and steady customer. The only one that can show up for these events is you.
Thanks to mrhayata for the great photo