Humans have a deep aversion to threat and uncertainty. COVID-19 is a potent mix of both. The fact that over 90% of us will be fine does little to appease the primitive part of our brain. One way of appeasing this part of our brain is to stock pile resources (toilet roll?!) and retreat. In times of threat, our chance of survival is increased by bonding together which might be why stock piling and volunteering which appear contradictory behaviour, occur in tandem. They both increase our chance of survival.
Now that the first week of semi-lock down is over and the threat hasn’t wiped us out in the way that our brain was anticipating (during the toilet roll raids), the main challenge is coping with a constant low level of threat but more so the anxiety that comes with uncertainty.
The uncertainty is rooted in the fact that things are not as they were and our plans are no longer as they were. The main source of our anxiety therefore, is our resistance to the situation, not the situation itself. In reality, humans control very little and situations like this, remind us of that fact. Trying to impose control on a world which is constantly changing is very stressful and the source of much distress in the modern world. COVID-19 provides us the opportunity to reflect on that fact and to learn. Below are 10-tips / things to reflect on during COVID-19.
Disclaimer: reflection and learning are luxuries afforded to those who are not worried about keeping a roof over their head, food on the table and minding children. Therefore, this blog is probably only useful if those needs are met.
- Caged tiger syndrome or cabin fever only occurs in those who see themselves as caged or living in a cabin. If you see the situation like that you will of course tend to feel like that. There is no limit on outdoor time.
- COVID-19 can be seen as something to cope with (i.e. negative) or an opportunity to live in a different way. A reduction in options in an ‘over-optioned’ world is no bad thing for people who normally feel as though they are constantly running trying to keep up. Imagine we always lived like this; you would not know any different. In the words of Hamlet, nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so. Think of a select few things that you can now do well.
- Let go of how you want things to be. This is particularly difficult if the things you had planned are overly attached to your self-worth i.e. without these projects, who am I? (now is a good time to have think). This is also difficult if you struggle to put up with yourself (now is a chance to learn). Try to avoid saying, ‘I can’t wait till this is over’ and instead ask how can I live now?
- Exercise. If I know one thing, it is that there is no better medicine for our physical and mental health than exercise (& probably sleep). We spent millions of years covering between 9 and 15-kilometers per day as hunter gatherers. Nowadays, we need to do some form of exercise every day. When you don’t feel like it, remember mood follows action (we tend to be led the other way around i.e. letting our mood determine all our actions).
- Do something productive everyday but don’t try and match or exceed your previous efforts. Things have changed and it’s ok for you to as well. Some days you might tick off lots and other days less but aim for 1 thing everyday and everything else is a bonus. If it helps you to transfer your normal routine into your home one – great, but if it doesn’t – don’t force it. Come up with something completely original. How would you live normally if you had full control? This might be the only chance you get to decide.
- Walk. You might wonder why I’ve written exercise and walk separately. I discovered through a combination of a ruptured achilles and this virus that in the words of the ancient Greeks ‘walking (really) is man’s best medicine’. I find walking to be distinctly different to running, cycling or back yard circuit training. Walking allows you the time to think and to process, probably because it occurs at a low enough intensity. It has been shown scientifically to be very beneficial to certain regions of the brain compared to other forms of exercise. If like me, you do it in minimalist shoes you can also feel the ground. Walking for long distances while in touch with the ground is something we evolved to do over ~6-million years, so it is probably no surprise that it feels good. An hour walk burns more calories than you think and there is even an entire book (In Praise of Walking) that explains the science behind it. Walk.
- Shower and Get Dressed. This doesn’t have to happen at 8-am if like me you work in your joggers at a laptop for the morning but it does have to happen at some point. I try to shower and get dressed properly at some point everyday even if it is 2-pm.
- Sleep. Along with exercise, sleep is probably the most under recognized medicine in the world for the prevention and treatment of disease. Now that there is not as many immediate demands you may be able to sleep more often in line with your circadian rhythms (body clock). This is your natural sleep pattern (early bird, night owl) which is also influenced by daylight. Once upon a time, we would have slept when it was dark and woke when it was bright (roughly), you can sort of do this now and see how it feels.
- Volunteer but not necessarily on the front-line. Ever heard the phrase charity begins at home. Something I’ve been trying to work on over the last 9-months is upon meeting my own needs, meeting the needs of my friends and family before trying to save the world. Yes, I’m passionate about increasing the number of people with to access to education, mentoring youth and contributing to lowering inequality but the best way to change the world is to become a better human and impact those in your immediate circle of influence. I try do 3-things religiously at home: get the firewood in (sorry planet), empty the bins and do the compost. It keeps the boss (mam) happy and I get something as a side effect. What will you do?
- Slow down. You get to do things you normally don’t have time for. A cup of tea, a phone call, family time, a meal from scratch. There are so many things we reference when saying ‘if I had more time’. Well you do, so use it wisely (and slowly).
Here is a little video I did for my students at the IT in Carlow 😊