This isn't it!
There’s a big difference between taking something seriously and worrying about it. While it might seem like simple semantics, understanding and living the contrast can result in a big, positive uplift in your day-to-day life, your peace of mind and your health.
The fear-mongering headlines are everywhere these days and they’re impossible to ignore. But you have choices in the way you respond to the current coronavirus outbreak. To be clear, the situation is serious and requires serious responses. Worry and anxiety, however, are not serious responses.
Fear is a natural response to a real and present danger. You have perceived something that you interpret as an imminent threat and it demands an immediate decision about your next action. Are you going to turn-tail and run? Or are you going to stand your ground and fight back? Because of the immediacy of the threat we’re forced to quickly choose which action we’re going to take and then get on with it.
Worry and anxiety, though, arise as we respond to perceived threats that are more vague, hard to define or somewhere off in the future. Instead of taking some kind of definitive and results-oriented action, we muddle and catastrophize about what might happen to us and what, if anything, we should do.
There’s a real satisfaction in taking decisive action as it helps us feel more in control of the situation. When the appropriate action isn’t clear, it leaves us feeling helpless and out of control.
COVID-19 lies somewhere in between the two. There’s no doubt that it represents a potential threat to our personal health, to the health of loved ones and to our daily lives. But the threat to you, personally, is uncertain and the actions that we, as individuals can take are limited.
In situations like this, our habitual response is to worry and become anxious. But worry and anxiety not only contribute nothing towards a solution, they can actually make the situation worse. It’s well-proven that chronic anxiety can weaken the immune system. And this is exactly the time when we want those particular defenses to be as robust as possible.
So what is an appropriate response?
In a previous blog I talked about worry versus problem-solving.
While many confirmed worriers claim that their anxiety IS a means of problem solving, there’s a huge difference. When you’re worrying, your thoughts are going in circles. The same worry that occupied you yesterday is filling your mental windshield again today and no progress has been made. You always end up back where you started and the lack of progress can make the situation seem even more desperate.
Genuine problem-solving, on the other hand, always feels like progress. Where you are today is at least a few yards down the road from where you were yesterday. You have ideas, you try them out, measure the results and then adjust your tactics. Worry and problem solving both consume energy. But where anxiety leaves you drained and empty, problem solving leaves you feeling satisfied and accomplished.
Coronavirus, powerful as it might be, is actually pretty easy to defend against. The health experts are doing a great job of informing us how to act and I’m not going to repeat that advice here. Just take the actions they’re recommending. Make a list, check off every item as you do it. Be thorough. And then you’re done.
Once you’ve taken those actions, you can relax, have a snooze, go for a walk… If your movements are restricted, take the opportunity to give yourself a mini-vacation. Are there books you’ve been meaning to read? Is there some binge-watching you’d like to do? There are literally thousands of online courses available today and it’s impossible to catch COVID-19 over the internet.
What about the knitting, gardening, painting, writing, stamp collecting you’ve been telling yourself you’ll get to one day. You’ve likely heard it said that ‘Oneday’ isn’t a day of the week. But this may be as close to the ‘one day’ you’ve been waiting for as it gets.
The point is, you can do anything except worry. Because from that point on, any anxiety that you expend is a complete waste and only makes you feel terrible, raises your blood pressure and weakens your immune system.
I’m sure you’re familiar with that delightful little piece called “The Serenity Prayer.” Written by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in the 1930s, it truly encompasses the perfect approach to our current situation:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
There is no doubt that the coronavirus outbreak is an urgent situation that we all need to take seriously. But treating a state of affairs as serious is very different than worrying about it. Taking it seriously uncovers real actions that can contribute to a solution. Worrying about it feels awful, accomplishes nothing and makes us even more vulnerable to the threat.
We all get to choose.
That’s the essence of free will. In every moment, no matter the circumstances or the situation, we always get to choose. And even when there don’t seem to be many or any good choices, we always have the ability to choose what we think and the attitude we adopt.
This week, as we all come to grips with our new reality, I’ve noticed that people are choosing to be kinder and more considerate. In spite of the imposed separations, I see people who seem to be more willing to engage in conversation and smile. To go to an effort to consider the other one.
Maybe it’s just what I’m choosing to see. But it works for me and I like what I’m seeing.
There are many excuses for choosing anxiety and unkind behavior in our current circumstances. But there are more than enough examples of people choosing to reach for – and embrace – their higher selves.
It’s possible to imagine a world without anxiety. (And I do. Regularly.) And even amidst the onslaught of coronavirus news there are plenty of demonstrations of anxiety-free thinking and behaving, if you choose to look for them.
Let’s all put our minds to imagining a world in which challenge is always met with careful thought, not hysteria. Where obstacles are encountered with determined action, not selfish panic. Where we realize that we are one, global, interconnected body and the kindness you do for me is also done for yourself.
What are you choosing in this moment
Now that we’re all ‘sheltering in place’ we’re looking for things to keep us occupied. One of the great ways to improve your mood, build your self-esteem and feel good about yourself is to indulge in a little ‘me-time’ at the movies.
Movies are stories, and a good story is a wonderful way to distract yourself from the endless stream of scary headlines. We also connect with and learn from stories in ways that can have lasting effects on how we see the world, each other and ourselves.
If your joy is running low and your confidence is hiding in the closet, a ‘feel-good’ movie can be wonderful (and very inexpensive) therapy.
What’s the opposite of a ‘feel-good’ movie? It’s one that makes you feel miserable, scared, depressed, anxious or otherwise yucky. In other words, exactly what we’re all experiencing too much of these days.
While those ‘feel-good’ movies might have a reputation for being light-weight and occasionally a bit cheesy, the endorphins, dopamine and serotonin pulsing through your veins will more than make up for it.
I’ll happily and proudly ball my eyes out at a rom-com or anything that Pixar wants to put out all day long. I encourage you to ignore that ‘I-should-watch-something-more-sophisticated’ voice in your head and indulge your inner child. Ignore the ‘aren’t-I-so-cultured-and-urbane’ movie reviewers too. What do they know about giggling!? Just pick a movie that’s just fun, makes you laugh and leaves you feeling good. The only person judging your cinematic selection is you, so give yourself a two-hour vacation and let a feel-good movie restore your soul!
With Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Apple and all the other streaming services available, you have access to virtually any movie ever made. Here are a few of my favorites (in no order whatsoever) to get you started.
The Princess Bride, Sing, Sing Street, When Harry Met Sally, Zootopia, Little Miss Sunshine, Love Actually, Last Holiday, Ocean’s Eleven, Frozen, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Forrest Gump, Legally Blonde, Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, Bridget Jones’ Diary, Up, Billy Elliot, Big, The Shawshank Redemption, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Jerry Maguire…
And be sure to send me your favorite feel-good movie suggestions so I can share them with the community.