Eyes wide shut. At some times, when we are faced with upsetting or painful circumstances, we put blinders on. Especially if we are not accustomed to living our lives authentically and with our eyes wide open, it’s especially easy, even temporarily comforting, to deny reality. But, it’s not a viable solution. In fact, with respect to the coronavirus, such denial is downright dangerous.
Our world has been turned upside down and, understandably, we are confused by conflictual politicians-experts-media discourse/rhetoric. And, we are further confused when our leaders put us in harm’s way by ignoring the experts. “What do we have to lose?” Our lives.
Here’s what the data is telling us.
Here’s a snapshot of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.A., as of April 27, 2020. Cases: 1,010,507; Deaths: 56,803; Recovered: 138,990; Closed Cases: 195,793 [including, Recovered/Discharged: 138,990 (71%); and Deaths: 56,803 (29%)]. So, the death rate is currently 5.6% and about 80% of the people who are ‘COVID-19 coronavirus cases’ are still sick. To make matters even worse, there are concerns about a second wave coming in the fall, when the presence of both the coronavirus and the flu will put further strain on our healthcare system, making early diagnosis even more difficult.
Divergence of opinions. Beyond the coronavirus itself, the divergence of opinions between the White House and the experts has been crazy-making.
In January, 2020, both President Trump and Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984, esteemed immunologist, and advisor to six Presidents on HIV/AIDS and many other domestic and global health issues, got it wrong.
But, in February, Trump’s and Fauci’s opinions diverged. And, according to NPR.org’s report, a day before the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020, “Trump was calling the outbreak ‘unexpected’ and urged people to ‘stay calm. It will go away.'”
In his 2015 TED Talk, The next outbreak? We’re not ready, Bill Gates warned us of a COVID-19-like pandemic. In his March 24th TED Talk, How we must respond to the coronavirus pandemic, Gates offered insights on how we must respond to it. Despite those messages and the daily intelligence reports that reported the potential danger of the coronavirus, Trump continued to downplay it.
By March 26, the U.S.A. replaced China as the country with the highest coronavirus cases. Since that time, the above chart, COVID-19 Deaths In The U.S., shows that our number of deaths increased tenfold during the month of April.
Yesterday, President Trump said that the worst of it is over. Truth be told, we still don’t know enough about the coronavirus to say for sure. And, to make matters worse, almost half of the states are planning to ease reopening restrictions later this week, despite warnings issued by the CDC, Fauci, and the White House that it’s not safe to do so. As a result of those governors’ impatience, we’re likely to see another spike in cases this summer.
Clearly, our politicians are fallible, as are our experts. And, hindsight is always 20/20. But, we’re further stressed by the divergence between our President, the experts, and now, the governors, too.
Self-directed self-care. We can’t control our governors, but we can choose (self-agency) to act differently than our recklessly impatient state leaders. We can choose to act responsibly, in our own best interests, in the best interests of our families, and in the best interests of our communities. Clearly, this is not the first time that what is legally permitted is not what is best for us, healthiest for us, or right for us (and it won’t be the last). As WebMD said on a recent tweet, “we have underestimated and misunderstood COVID-19 since it first appeared.” While we can’t change the past, we can choose to act wisely in this present moment and stay home for a while longer.
Unhealthy impatience. Recent data shows that, weeks after following social distancing guidelines on Easter Sunday, people in 48 of 50 states have grown tired of staying at home and have begun defying stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines. The government knows this because they have tracked our cell phones traveling outside of our homes. We have quarantine fatigue. And, sadly, our impatience could kill us. Examples of our impatience are visible everywhere. On yesterday’s news, a young woman emphatically protested, “we’re ready to go; enough is enough!!!”
In the midst of our failure to accept what is, we’re scared and fearful. The continued divergence of responses causes even more chaos, confusion, and personal angst. For example, while one airline is doing rapid COVID-19 testing of their passengers before boarding, another is requiring everyone to where a mask, and still another is filling their airplanes to 85% capacity.
Meat processing plants were not required to comply with social distancing guidelines. Subsequently, their employees became infected and those plants wanted to close. But, our President has signed an executive order, ordering meat processing facilities to re- open, as worker deaths continue to rise.
In a desperate move to revitalize local economies, and appease its anxiety-ridden citizens, some states are rushing into reopening. Such irresponsible behaviors fly in the face of our experts’ recommendations. Reopening by the end of this week will cause the number of coronavirus cases in Georgia to double by the end of August, according to a report. If all of this boggles your mind, you are not alone. Consider former Mayor Dorothy Hubbard’s reaction to Georgia’s decision to reopen (I’m paraphrasing): “we’re telling Georgians that they can go bowling and that, if they get sick, we’ll have hospital beds waiting for them.”
Antibody testing and contact tracing are still not reliable enough and still not available enough to make reopening a wise decision, right now. But, here’s the good news: epidemiologists believe we are not far away from having properly employed testing and contact tracing. That would enable the U.S. to open some businesses and relax social distancing requirements, without suffering grave consequences. Yet, in an effort to please a portion of their constituents, almost half of our governors are jumping the gun.
Understandably, our nerves are frayed and our patience is wearing thin. The governor of California, Gavin Newsom, is growing more frustrated with the increasing noncompliance of Californians. Even Governor Cuomo, who has demonstrated remarkable level-headedness throughout this entire ordeal, is now saying that we must consider our sanity in the reopening equation. But, aren’t we better off being just a bit crazy rather than being dead?
Coping with uncertainty and disruption. While we can’t change what is, we do have control over how we react to it. So, if we recognize ourselves to have a low tolerance for uncertainty, ambiguity, and disruption, we can create more structure in our current lives; establish more routines; find more order, even in the chaos; and, reach out to family and friends with a higher tolerance, so that they may share suggestions and provide comfort and support.
By taking this pandemic moment by moment, we can avoid feeling constantly anxious about the unpredictable and unknown future or depressed about the past. We can choose to exercise to reduce stress and anxiety. We can choose to build our immune systems by eating well. We can choose to be resilient rather than being overcome by the staggering pressures of these extraordinarily challenging times.Through positive self-talk, we can remind ourselves that this too shall pass and that, somehow, humankind will manage to survive.
Breathing Meditation. If you haven’t tried it, you may think it’s silly. But, you would be wrong. For more than 5,000 years, yogis, mystics, and spiritual seekers have know the power of breath to expand their life force and their lives. Since around 2,000 B.C., the Chinese discovered the power of Qigong — cultivation of life energy. Around 400 B.C., the Buddha taught the importance of mindful breath meditation.
Find a quiet place and quiet your mind of distractions. Make sure that your back is straight as you sit, comfortably, in the traditional cross-legged posture or in any other position, on the floor or in a chair. As you breathe in through your nose, observe your breath, as your stomach expands; then, follow your breath as it flows out through your mouth, as your stomach contracts. Practice for 10-15 minutes each day. Note: If you become distracted by your mind, simply return your attention to your breath. Be patient with yourself.
Being conscious of taking rhythmic, deep, deliberate, and slow breaths helps us turn inward, reduces stress, and promotes calm and peaceful states of mind. By so doing, we are better poised to examine the four aspects of our selves: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. The Hoffman Quadrinity Process encourages this type of self-examination; and, especially now, it would be kind to treat ourselves to this inner experience.
Active Breathing is a powerful technique for clearing trauma from our bodies. So, if you haven’t tried conscious breathing, there’s no better time to start than the present.
Photo Credit: Darius Bashar on Unsplash
Positive thinking. My intention is not to sugar-coat the coronavirus pandemic’s destruction of human lives or its negative impact on our equanimity. But, here’s what’s changed for the better: we have more time; we’re getting more rest and sleep; we’re expressing more gratitude (to our frontline healthcare providers and emergency workers); we’re volunteering more; we’re giving more (of ourselves and our money); we’re helping more people laugh, sing, and dance on social media; the environment is thriving; and, in the face of danger and uncertainty, we’ve discovered our connectedness. We’re all in this together. We’ve also learned more about the power of patience, compassion, and self-love, and the importance of self-care. Also, according to CNN Health, some of our children are responding in surprising ways: they’ve become better behaved, more inventive of ways to occupy their time, kinder to one another, and more independent.
While I’m a great believer in the power of positive psychology and have a great respect for its founder, Dr. Martin Seligman — I was his teacher’s assistant when I was a grad student at New York University — as a trauma victim who has managed to survive tragedy, I’ve learned a different lesson. Cognitive shifting techniques, such as reframing and mindset shifting, are useful at times. However, always looking at the glass as half full rather than half empty has its drawbacks. While it readies us for good things to occur, it also jolts us when bad things occur. Instead, I’ve learned to marvel at the miracle of life’s glass — to celebrate when it’s overflowing; to hang in there when it’s almost empty; and, to learn what there is to learn under all circumstances. By experiencing life in this way, we are better prepared for things going our way and more resilient when they don’t.
Gratitude. If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to discover the many benefits of developing a daily gratitude practice. At the beginning and at end of each day, we should think of three reasons why we are grateful (i.e., gratefulness for our health and the health and safety of our loved ones, if currently safe and healthy; gratefulness for all the beauty that surrounds us; and, gratefulness for our inner beauty, surprising strength, and tireless fortitude; and, gratefulness for the powerful lessons we’ve learned from this dystopian reality.
Faith. During these incredibly stressful times, we must call upon our best selves to be compassionate, patient, and kind. We must call upon our minds to think clearly — choosing to save human lives over pursuing short-term economic gains.
In the midst of this pandemic crisis, we must continue to remain hopeful.
TRY TO PRAISE THE MUTILATED WORLD (Excerpt)
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
— Adam Zagajewski (translated by Clare Cavanagh)
In this poem, we are called upon to trust the rhythm of life. We are called upon to be hopeful that life will be better again, albeit never the same. It requires us to take a leap of faith. So, let’s leap, together.
Featured image photo credit: emo’mca on Upsplash