Updated: Dec 21, 2020
We are in the thick of it. It is impossible to turn on the news or peruse the internet and not be inundated with news about Covid-19, the novel coronavirus. It has taken over our time, thoughts, energy, planning and purchasing. The virus and the rate of contagion has become the focus of our collective attention. For most of us, it has dramatically altered the way we do life.
For many the thought of contracting it, or someone you love contracting it, is enough to ignite the primitive fight, flight or freeze response in our brain, and the uncomfortable physiological signs and symptoms that go with it.
It is hard not to feel some sense of helplessness and panic especially since the experts are telling us we are in uncharted territory. The easy thing to do is panic. What occurs most naturally at a time like this is to feel anxiety, stress and worry. That is our brains response to any threat- real or perceived.
Even now however, we can choose in the midst of these uncertain and chaotic times to shift our thoughts from panic into a more beneficial perspective.
The reality is that human life is fragile and full of uncertainty. We potentially encounter threats daily. Many occur somewhere to someone daily. Threats abound in the form of violent weather; hurricanes, tornadoes, storms, or forest fires. These and other events such as earthquakes, tsunami’s or volcanos can abruptly change the landscape and drastically alter life in the blink of an eye.
We also have threats of terrorism at home and abroad, crime, mental and physical health threats, abuse, addiction and threats of all kind of diseases.
We have threats of global warming, and threats to our safety and wellbeing from political leaders who act with extreme self interest and carelessness.
We humans face enormous risks every day. Those of you that are already anxious may not appreciate this perspective… read on… it gets better.
Keep in mind two things. Human kind has faced enormous threats since the beginning of time. Think early wars. Think cave man and tigers in the jungle.
Secondly, no matter how much we worry, or how much we feel stressed, it is true that many things will remain beyond our control.
Frankly, allowing ourselves to stay anxious and worried is a recipe for additional health challenges. We need a strategy - a way to intervene and stay resilient.
One tool I offer to both my business clients and my life coaching/ counseling clients is called the T chart. The T chart is premised on one idea. No matter what is going on in our world, we will nearly always have some elements that are within our control, and some that are not. The T chart assists in the process of identifying which specific elements are within our control, and which ones clearly are not. Utilizing a T chart especially in times of distress helps us to feel more in control as we are able to choose to pour our time and energy into that which we can and ought to control. This will move us toward feeling more resilient and in control even when external circumstances seem overwhelming.
You can do this easily wherever you are. Start with a sheet of letter size paper and draw a “T”. Be sure your horizontal line, the top of the “T” is about 2-3” down from the top of the paper. At the top right, write the words, “Things I can control” and in the left column “Things beyond my control.” Next on the back of the page, identify your specific issue. Take a deeper dive beyond “I fear getting the virus”. Be specific. Then begin to identify elements that are within your control. An example might be, “ I fear getting the virus and not being able to work for 60 days.” Things that are within your control might look like: I can wash my hands with soap that lathers every 30 minutes, for 20 seconds. I can teach my children how to properly wash their hands. I can order all groceries on line and pick them up. I can choose to work from home. I can choose to ask for extra work if I am employed. I can engage in doing a SWOT analysis if I am self employed.
Examples of what you cannot control or influence might look like: I cannot control whether it will take 60 or 90 days or more for the economy to get back on track. I cannot influence whether a cure or vaccine will be available in the next 60-90 days.
What I and hundreds of clients have found from doing this exercise is it gives our brain several specifics to focus. Additionally, almost universally, if you keep asking yourself the question “ What else?” you will find many more actions under the header, What I can control. Lastly, when we put our energies into acting on what we can control, it leaves less time and brain space for worry, stress and feeling helpless.
Obviously, this is only one tool. Used in conjunction with getting exercise daily, eating healthy good for you foods, social distancing and staying connected with those you love are paramount for getting through this crisis with more resilience than you had going in.