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I want to touch upon some of the psycho-emotional issues we’re facing individually and as a society. I’m a firm believer in naming what’s there so we have a better chance of addressing the issues. There are some really big issues on our plates right now and the only way to get through them is to begin by admitting they’re there.

The classics of Chinese medicine contain multitudes of wisdom hidden in a language that most of us aren’t familiar with. However, if we can begin to grasp the meaning behind the different word choices, we can become empowered to face many of life’s challenges – including the current ones.

The classics say all diseases come from wind and cold. Wind represents the idea of change and unpredictability. They’re basically saying that if we can’t adapt to necessary changes we’ll get sick. Cold represents the idea of contraction and fear.  We are naturally warm-blooded and meant to move outward and live life vs being frozen in contracture. When fear takes over and we stop living, we get sick.

It goes without saying that we are all facing a degree of change and fear that none of us have ever really experienced. The rapidly changing news and lagging infrastructure keep us guessing as to how “bad” the situation really is or will get. We’re all left with this lingering gloom that it’s going to be REALLY bad even though we don’t know what that actually means.

Humans normally face fear and change on three fundamental levels in our lives – our physical health (survival), our emotional health (intimacy and connection), and our sense of power (in our society this is often in the realm of financial independence). This pandemic is impacting all of them.

Take a moment to really take that in – all levels of our lives are being affected by this pandemic. We are afraid for our health and the health of our loved ones, we are in isolation from our typical community, and many of us are out of work and/or have seen our investments or retirement accounts collapse.

On a physical level, our primary fear is that of life and death. There is the real potential that this virus could kill us or one of our loved ones. My parents are in an age group that is at risk. This is on my mind every single day. I have friends and patients who are immunocompromised and I worry for them every day as well. I’m in an age group with moderate risk but because of my desire to continue to serve my patients, I am also at a higher risk. This also crosses my mind. Being in healthcare, I think of all the care providers that put themselves at risk to keep serving and I feel fear for them as well. All of these fears are very real for me right now and yet I keep moving forward and doing my best to continue to serve. To beat fear we really only have to do one thing – not stop moving or doing.

Now you might say that you’re not afraid of death or of getting the virus but if you slow down and come into presence with your body, you’ll quickly notice the charge of that fear buzzing around. I say that with confidence because I’ve spent a great deal of my life learning to work with emotions and I’m feeling that stress right now. I also don’t believe there’s a single person on the planet that doesn’t worry about the people they love.  

On the level of intimacy, we’re all feeling a new type and level of disconnect. We literally cannot touch other people or even be in their presence. To be physically close to another person puts us and our loved ones in harm’s way. Our bodies will feel that fear every time we go outside. Did I wash my hands? Did I touch something? Did that person get too close to me? They coughed, do they have the coronavirus? All of these thoughts are both legitimate AND they create a certain amount of tension, stress, and fear in our bodies.  

On the level of power, I’m sure we’re all feeling the economic impact already and we’re just at the beginning of this journey. I certainly feel it as my income will reduce dramatically in the coming months. I have savings of course, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit my mind wonders how I’ll pay my rent and other bills going forward. I’m self-employed and there is no talk of federal aid for people in my position. Maybe I’ll get unemployment benefits but historically self-employed people haven’t had access to those services. Of course, there’s fear there. I have friends in the restaurant industry and travel industries. None of them can work right now. The economic impact of this pandemic is likely going to affect our economy for years to come and in ways that we can’t predict. 

All in all, there is a lot of fear that society as a whole is feeling on all three levels right now. I imagine that if each of us were to slow down and check-in with ourselves we’d recognize how much is actually there. 

So what do we do with it? All of it. 

The first step in working with any emotion is to admit to ourselves it is actually there. Be honest with yourself about what you’re really feeling. Say it out loud or if there’s a lot there, take some time to write it down. Give your fears the respect they deserve by actually acknowledging them. I also encourage you to acknowledge the rest of your community, and much of the world, are also feeling similar emotions. It can be easy to get lost down the rabbit-hole of me, me, me when we’re scared. Please try not to go there…

The second step is to honor the right to have your fears. You’re human and to be afraid at a time like this is infinitely human. There is nothing wrong with any of us for feeling the fear and uncertainty that we’re feeling. If you say it’s wrong to feel what you feel, you’ll just stuff your emotions inside and suffer the consequences. Honor your right to feel what you’re feeling, and, try to honor the rights of others too. This is one way we can restore our shared connections. We are all human after all, and like it or not, we’re all in this TOGETHER.

Once you’ve done steps one and two, you can begin to work with number three. Stop the stories and the projecting. Stories are the “what if’s” and the “I’m afraid it might’s”. While preparing for the future is important, spending our time on worst-case scenarios is not. Most of the so-called fears running around in our heads are about future projections versus present-day reality. To effectively navigate our emotional world, we need to be able to clearly know the difference between these two.

I’ll repeat that last part again – if you want to learn to effectively navigate your emotions, you need to learn to recognize the difference between your thoughts and projections versus the reality of the present moment. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring your thoughts or telling yourself you’re bad for having them – that would be skipping steps one and two. You’re human, you will have them. It just means you have to call a spade a spade and be honest with yourself about the difference between your thoughts and reality. 

One example might be to observe the desire to stockpile certain foods or daily necessities at home, only to deny others access to them. This is a great example of indulging the story of fear and scarcity and going down the rabbit-hole of your stories and into the me, me, me world. I encourage you to fight that urge or to at least recognize the truth of the emotions driving you before you buy those extra items. 

The last step in this process to actually try to investigate and deconstruct the stories that are playing out in our heads. You won’t be able to do this if you haven’t done the first three steps though, so please don’t try to jump ahead. Below is an example of what this last stage might look like.

I’m afraid someone I love might contract the virus and die. I keep feeling this tension in my chest and restlessness in my mind worrying about them. Maybe I even have some insomnia or the desire to have an extra beer or glass of wine at night to help calm my nerves. Instead of turning away from that fear 1) I admit that I’m actually feeling anxiety and fear about the possibility of a loved one getting sick and dying, 2) I recognize actually how precious it is to care for them and honor my right to be afraid – it is a scary situation, after all, 3) I return to the truth that they are currently alive, 4) I begin to investigate how I could face their mortality (we’re all mortals, after all) and make sure I don’t have anything left unsaid or unresolved with them. By actually connecting to the person I love in the present moment, I’m able to get out of my head and simultaneously be nourished by the depth and beauty of the relationship. 

Another example might be about my finances going forward.

I’m afraid that I won’t be able to see patients, will have to close my practice, won’t be able to pay my bills, and will lose all of my savings. That’s the “story”, the projection. First, I have to recognize the tension, stress, and fear in my body that is created by those thoughts. They’re real and I really do feel that. Second, I have to honor that it’s actually a legitimate fear to have right now. The world is turned upside down and none of us know how or when it’s going to stabilize. I have to honor that it’s perfectly normal to have that fear right now. Third, I have to recognize that most of that story is just that, story. My practice isn’t closed, I can pay my bills, and I still have my savings. It is true that I’m trying to only do telemedicine right now for the sake of society as a whole and am avoiding seeing people in person. That much of the story is true. The rest of the story is just a projection and isn’t real. Once I can see that, I can come back to the safety of reality and recognize I’m actually completely ok right now. This doesn’t mean I might not be tomorrow or in a year from now. It also doesn’t mean I won’t take steps to strategize how to go forward. It just brings me back to the actual present moment to remind me I am OK and the rest of that stuff isn’t real.  

Now, this might seem overly simplified to some, but I encourage you to give it a try. Facing our mortality and the mortality of our loved ones is one of the biggest causes of anxiety for most of us. When we can connect back into the present moment we can calm our nerves in some amazing ways. 

Meditation 

To manage our anxiety in a time like this (and all times) the real key is to come back to the present moment and get out of our heads. Daoism likes to help us do this via the body (so do most meditative traditions). 

More than ever, this is a critical time to root our minds back into our bodies. There is no way our minds can avoid fear and uncertainty right now, so we need to honor that truth and give ourselves the tools to survive and help those around us. Below is a link to a meditation technique that I both teach and use personally. It’s free and I encourage everyone to use this and return to this practice multiple times per day. You can do it for 20 minutes or even just a few breaths. If you’ve had acupuncture from me, then you’ve seen me do this. I use this all the time in practice to help me feel your pulses and be more efficient in treatments. Of course, you can’t see me do it at all because it’s just part of my background operating system these days. 

The technique works. It will help if you do it. 

If you’re really struggling, reach out. I’ve coached people with anxiety for years and I can teach you how to use meditation and classical Daoist teas to help you get through an extremely difficult situation. 

Ultimately this is part of the wisdom of classical Chinese medicine. The opposite of being frozen in fear is movement and keeping our hearts open to ourselves. If we lie to ourselves or try to ignore what we’re feeling, we’ll just suffer.  Keep doing, keep living, don’t stop. Be tenderly honest with yourself and don’t ignore or hide from the truths we’re all facing. We need to be really honest with ourselves about the magnitude of this event and simultaneously keep moving forward. 

 LISTEN to the guided meditation → 
I am here for you. We are in this together, 

Justin

Check out my Coronavirus Strategies & Reflections Part One:

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