We have all been increasingly witnessing and experiencing anxiety, worry and uncertainty as the spread and impact of COVID-19 is dominating the print and our minds.
Sometimes our mental state and the continuous meaning we are giving to events around starts becoming the biggest obstacle. We start overthinking and experience fear and hopelessness. And then our confirmation bias, the tendency to look out for more information that aligns with our thinking. And we endlessly read horrible stories and news of people not getting enough medical support, lack of doctors in hospitals…
As the turmoil and the cases in India are increasing I was reminded of the old Buddhist parable of the second arrow. The Buddha once asked a student: “If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful? If the person is struck by a second arrow, is it even more painful?” He then went on to explain,
“In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. And with this second arrow comes the possibility of choice.”
We all experienced the the first arrow of the coronavirus few months back. We are impacted by our inability to go out, meet friends, travel restrictions, supply shortages etc. But the second arrow — anxiety about getting the virus ourselves, worry that our loved ones will get it, worries about financial implications and all the other dark scenarios flooding the news and social media — is to a large extent of our own making. In short, the first arrow causes unavoidable pain, and our resistance to it creates fertile ground for all the second arrows.
It’s important to remember that these second arrows are our emotional and psychological response to crises and are natural and very much our own creation. This further reduces our choices in thinking and see the actions we can take that are best suited for us.
The way to overcome this natural tendency is to build our resilience. It means managing our minds in a way that increases our ability to face the first arrow and to break the second before it strikes us. Resilience is the skill of noticing our own thoughts, unhooking from the non-constructive ones, and rebalancing. This skill can be nurtured and trained just like we work on building our muscles. Here are three effective strategies to build
- First, Observe your thoughts and Practice Cognitive Re-framing
You can observe and manage your thoughts and catch them when they start to run away towards doomsday scenarios. You can hold your focus on what you choose (e.g. “Isn’t it a gift to be able to work from home!”) versus what pulls at you with each ping of a breaking news notification (e.g. “Oh no…lockdown extended and I won’t be able to step out for work.”). This practice of unhooking and focusing our minds builds a muscle of resilience that will serve us time and time again. When we practice bringing ourselves back to the present moment, we deepen our capacity to cope and weather all sorts of crises, whether global or personal
- Second, Practice Mindfulness Meditation
It will help you produce emotional balance, helps you recover from setbacks and adversity. In this from of mental training you practice observing your thoughts, feelings and sensations moment by moment and no judgementally. By observing nonjudgmentally you can break the chain of associations that keep us obsessing about these adversities ..I have to stop worrying about losing my job to …Oh, how interesting that a thought about uncertainty of job has entered my consciousness…
- Third, always ask yourself this powerful question also used a lot in therapy.. What I am doing or thinking – is it helping me or harming me?
When you catch yourself endlessly reading the stats and news of COVID right before you sleep ask yourself this – “Really? Is this helping me or is it harming me? Put away your phone or switch off the TV. Go to bed for the night. Be kind to yourself.”
When it comes to resilience, flexibility is the name of the game. Discovering ways to adapt to the changes that life throws at you makes you more able to cope. If you need more information and ways to build your resilience muscle… I am always there… Your coach in possibilities….