Given all that has been going on with the COVID-19 fallout, how do we now effectively cope in this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world with such a high degree of FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt)? As a licensed professional counselor with 20 years of clinical experience in mental health both as a practitioner and as a university professor, I have seen how crises can take a toll on psychological and emotional well-being. However, I have also seen how it can bring out the best in humanity as well. Although our current circumstances have given all of us cause for concern, there are some simple strategies and tactics that can mitigate and alleviate the severity of stress and anxiety1, and perhaps even make us stronger and better than ever before.
In his book “Man’s Search for Meaning 2,” Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl offers this powerful insight. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” In this spirit of choosing one’s attitude despite one’s circumstances, consider the following 3 Sanity Inducing Tips when helping you, your colleagues, and your loved ones cope and more mindfully adapt to this current state of shared unique circumstances.
Tip #1: Stop Your Brain From Being Hijacked
Our brains have physiological responses to certain stimuli, and marketers and media outlets use that dopamine rush to their advantage. Social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook “leverage the very same neural circuitry used by slot machines and cocaine to keep us using their products as much as possible. Taking a closer look at the underlying science may give you pause the next time you feel your pocket buzz.3”
Instead of having an instant reaction to the next breaking news alert or media-related push notification, stop and detach for a moment. Take a breath and decide how you will proceed. Are you going to automatically take the bait, mindlessly go down the virtual viral rabbit hole, and find yourself once again getting sucked in and stressed out for “just a minute?” Or are you going to objectively hold off on checking updates except for predetermined times of day? Remember, phones, apps, and news feeds are supposed to serve you - not the other way around.
Tip #2: Protect Your Mental Health
As we are obsessively washing and sanitizing the fingerprints off of our hands to the tune of the alphabet song, we can also use this as an opportunity to protect and nurture our mental health during these unsettling times. Mindfulness Master Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn4, internationally known for his work as a scientist, writer, and meditation teacher, is the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)5 and has created several mindfulness techniques that promote mental and emotional health and that can be easily adopted at a moment’s notice.
“When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.6 ” If you suddenly find yourself feeling anxious and stressed, a simple mindfulness practice is to stop and examine your thoughts at that moment. Ask yourself, “Am I imagining a future potential stressful scenario? Or am I entertaining troubling thoughts from the past?”
The goal of mindfulness7 techniques is to help you maintain your focus on what's happening in the present moment rather than experiencing anxiety about a moment other than the right here and now. In order to unplug from intrusive mental thoughts and scenarios, simply detach for a moment. Just observe your thoughts. Don’t dwell on them. Instead, allow them to pass without holding onto them. Switch your focus to what is actually happening in the present moment and on the feelings and sensations that you are feeling right here, right now. It’s a simple, yet powerful technique that can be practiced anywhere, any time.
Tip #3: You Can Hack It
We really are all in this together. Seemingly overnight, we have been collectively and simultaneously required to reimagine every single aspect of modern life from working at home and distance learning, to socializing and shopping. It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention, and there has been no more obvious time in our collective history to have a serious-let’s-figure-this-out-hack-a-thon.
Look for the opportunities in all of our new inconveniences. How can we hack a process, protocol, or purpose in order to make it more accessible and user-friendly? Like the late night talk show hosts taping short episodes from home8 without the benefit of a live studio audience or laugh tracks, it might be clumsy at first. However, out of the creativity and work-arounds, we all just might come up with some real game-changing magic.
The Bottom Line
We are all in this together at the same time, and despite these exceptionally challenging circumstances, Frankl reminds us that we are free to choose. We possess the absolute freedom to choose the way we think about our circumstances and situations, and if we choose to think about and look for the opportunities here, we will most certainly find them.
For more great resources on wellness strategies and caring for emotional and mental health, check out: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute of Health, and the Positive Psychology Center.
Check out more COVID-19 resources here.
1CDC. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 Feb. 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/
2 “Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl: 9780807000007 | PenguinRandomHouse.Com: Books.” PenguinRandomhouse.Com, https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/206272/mans-search-for-meaning-by-viktor-e-frankl/.
3 “Dopamine, Smartphones & You: A Battle for Your Time.” Science in the News, 1 May 2018, http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/
4 Jon Kabat-Zinn Professional Background - Mindfulness Meditation. https://www.mindfulnesscds.
5 “MBSR: 25 Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Exercises and Courses.” PositivePsychology.Com, 19 Feb. 2017, https://positivepsychology.
6 “Mindfulness Definition | What Is Mindfulness.” Greater Good, https://greatergood.berkeley.
7 “Getting Started with Mindfulness.” Mindful, https://www.mindful.org/
8 The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. “The Tonight Show: At Home Edition (Jennifer Garner)” Youtube, 19 Mar. 2020, https://youtu.be/peZzbo26fzc.