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Dare to Find the Positive During This Pandemic

As the weeks of pandemic cascade into months of avoidance of our human kind to save lives, new norms are settling in.  How strange to think that not so long ago seeing people with their faces covered by masks in the grocery store would be markedly odd yet now it’s expected and nobody gives pause.  Teachers, kids and parents thrashed their way through figuring out online schooling.  Those who were able to transition their work online have been doing so. Zoom calls and other meeting apps are familiar to us all and are a valuable life line for connection with our family and friends.  We are learning to broaden the scope of how we entertain ourselves, the initial resistance possibly telling us that it’s “boring” or not fun, gently yielding to the possibilities.  Our routines have drastically changed, including sleep patterns, leading many to have intense coronavirus dreams.

The world has stopped in many ways as we peer out our windows.  Some are able to stay tucked away to wait it out and others are struggling with no work or are out, braving the virus doing a necessary job that keeps this country afloat.  There are countless experiences on this continuum.  The yin and yang of COVID-19.

The forced down shift is allowing some to people to reap the benefits of all good things that come when you do just that…slow down.  BP (before pandemic), we multi-tasked and maximized, leading to a collective emotional fraying at the edges in the form of stress and anxiety.  Time was perceived as a scarcity by many and it was so easy to get caught up in the vortex.

Stress and anxiety is still here but has turned its focus to the more primitive aspects of survival; health, security and the unknown.  Our grasping for ways to stay calm are perhaps less frantic but the emotional rollercoaster ride remains open for business.

This is hard.  But there are positive shifts happening during this pandemic too.

What are some of the subtle ways you might be changing for the good as the crisis continues?

People are noticing in ways they haven’t before. Noticing that the Himalayan Mountains are visible for the first time in decades from the state of Punjab in Northern India.  Noticing that the birds seem louder than usual.  Is that because the world’s activity has ceased and they just sound louder?  Or are our senses tuning in more to the world around us?  Noticing the spirited wildlife outside their windows.  Noticing how starkly beautiful their city looks when emptied and quiet.  Perhaps some have even seen a coyote amble through the city center with the humans tucked away.

BP, people were busy being busy and listening to  their chattering “monkey minds,” (Buddhist term meaning ‘unsettled’ or ‘restless’), their ability to notice inherently compromised.  Now there is more time to notice.  What are you noticing?

The skill of noticing allows for a better ability to stay in the moment during this pandemic, a deterrent to anxiety and depression.

Those in quarantine together are clearly getting more time together than is normal or suggested.  And in some cases, this is very difficult, especially for already challenged relationships or those sharing small spaces.  But many are experiencing more quality time together with their kids and families, perhaps a stark contrast to their lives BP.  Families have done puzzles together, chased the dog around the house, baked, played checkers, gone for lengthy walks and spent more time together talking.

Prioritizing quality time together with your most important people during this pandemic sustains healthy and happy relationships.

With the increase of home activities has come creativity and openness in thinking about the ways there are to be entertained.  BP our society was was strongly leaning towards a need for instant gratification and thus, more easily bored (especially the younger).  During this pandemic, there are surely repeated discussion between parents and their kids about things they can do that aren’t considered “boring” other than iPhones, YouTube videos and gaming.  Talking teenagers into playing traditional board games, for example, can be a tall order.  In their defense, their brains would likely experience board games as being painfully slow without the rapid-fire feedback loop of their technology pinging their dopamine centers.  And let’s not deny the potential challenge for some typically frenetic and preoccupied parents to sit down for a meandering game of checkers too.  But perhaps a gentle forcing of the hand on this for everyone is not such a bad thing.

Creativity and openness allows for possibilities and flexibility (the antidote to rigidity).

This coronavirus situation has been painful, stressful, scary and unlike anything most of have experienced.  I wonder if our values and priorities are slowly being reset.  As we gaze out our windows, we dream about what we hope to do when it’s over and how we want to get back to fully living.  All the things we used to do BP, the deeply meaningful to trivial, often without a second thought, now seem like luxuries.  Things we might not have really appreciated like dinner with friends.  The bustling of a city street.  A steaming cup of coffee from our favorite corner cafe.  Work.  This morning as I drove by the local Catholic church, church members were standing in the parking lot across the street facing the church and the priest standing in front.  They held signs that read, “He has risen!”  The priest met them with a warm smile, arms open towards them.  A powerful emotional and symbolic moment.  I teared up at the thought of all the people of faith being kept from their traditional worship together this Easter Sunday.  Is it possible that a deeper sense of gratitude for life as a whole will be part of our new norm out of quarantine?

Gratitude activates feel-good chemicals in the brain such as dopamine, seratonin and oxytocin, which encourage happiness and the warmth of connection.

There is no question we will all be changed forever.  The stories of the global pandemic of 2020 will be passed down through the generations.  If you are in survival mode, it’s probably very difficult to find much that’s positive.  I hear you and hope that things ease up and allow you to breathe with more ease soon.  Maybe when that happens you’ll be open to considering this.

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For those who are managing “well enough” in this crisis, there is an opportunity for deep, lasting, meaningful change.  Perhaps your shifts will reflect something other than my list above, like committing to taking better care of the our planet.

How will you be different?