I had the wonderful experience just two weeks ago of traveling to Egypt to speak about Finding Peace and Empowerment through Mindfulness at the Women Economic Forum. It was the first time I had spoken at an event like this, and it was a great opportunity from the beginning to the end. I enjoyed the other speakers, I met a lot of amazing women from around the world (with too many accomplishments to mention!), and I was able to spend a few days exploring Egypt and getting just a glimpse of their country and people.
I was fascinated with Cairo, that has a population of more than 20 million people. I have traveled a little throughout my life, but have spent the past 14 years living in a town that has exactly zero high rises. We have a few buildings that have 4 stories, and a lot of open sky and red rock desert. Cairo was tall, with people living stacked up on top of each other in many many high rises throughout the city.
I was able to stay in the Ritz-Carlton (also a new experience for me), which was right next to the Nile, and it was fun to be close to the water. It was also fascinating to be in the city and see the Pyramids of Giza right there – with the city wrapped around them. I enjoyed the brief conversations with my Uber drivers, learning about what they did before driving (one had been a lawyer and left that occupation due to stress, then worked for his dad in construction; another had been an accountant but wanted to have a job where he could move around more, so he began driving Ubers). It was fascinating to listen to our tour guide, who was energetic in his descriptions and driven to distraction by our tardiness by lingering at different sites.
I even had the great experience of climbing down under a pyramid, and managed to emerge again without having a panic attack from being in a tight space with about ten other people and several tons of rock over my head! I got to spend a few minutes on a camel named Columbus (who did not spit on me), haggle with vendors selling to tourists, and take some pictures with the Mediterranean Sea in the background. I also ate on a stationary boat on the Nile (I did not go on a cruise while I was there), and came home with some authentic papyrus.
I did not see a Siamese cat, much to the disappointment of my nine year old Dove and her friend. I did take some pictures of some stray cats, which weren’t the same but Dove appreciated the effort and seemed satisfied that I had looked.
When I emerged from the haze of jet lag I had lots of family and friends who wanted to hear all about my travels, but soon after I got home my conversations went like this:
“How was Egypt?”
“It was great! I loved it!”
“What did you like most?”
“Probably the pyramids (and here I’d talk for two minutes about the pyramids).”
“So did you hear the latest on the coronavirus?”
There was some variation in the pattern (my immediate family wanted to hear more about Egypt), but I realized quickly that my epic adventure had been eclipsed by the now “pandemic” spread of the coronavirus, and our reactions to it.
There has been so much talk, and within those conversations, there is an underlying current of emotion that includes concern, frustration, and fear. I have heard from students, teachers, individuals opening up new businesses, business owners temporarily shutting down, people who are self-quarantining, and others who are demanding that family members isolate themselves.
As a mental health counselor, mindfulness coach, and mom of seven kids, I am concerned about our emotional well-being, and I want to share a few ideas that could be of help to others as they go through challenging times. This might be helpful to you right now as we deal with the coronavirus… but beyond that, these principles are things that can be helpful as we deal with a variety of challenges.
TIP #1 – CHECK YOUR FACTS
This is a strange situation for all of us, and there is a lot of talk about it. We pass on a lot of information, in conversation, in texts, posts, re-posts, emails, announcements, and more. Unfortunately, not all of the information we come across is accurate. Even official websites can be a bit behind on their reporting. In addition to that, the situation varies depending on where we live and the potential risk.
It’s important to be aware of where the information is coming from. I had someone share an article that was supposedly from a trusted source, but the information itself seemed a bit off. Some of it seemed true, and some of it did not – so I did a quick search, and sure enough saw an article about the first article, stating that it contained false information and had not come from its claimed source.
On the other hand, if you want to track the truth down – and all of it – you can easily wear yourself out. We’re talking about a global situation, so the amount of information is almost limitless.
So be aware of where your facts are coming from, and use wisdom about what you are paying attention to. Notice if you begin to get overwhelmed by too much information, and back off a bit if you see that coming on. Which leads to tip #2.
TIP #2 – USE WISE MIND
Wise mind is a term from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). It is the state of mind that includes both logic AND emotion, or reason and feeling. As I mentioned above, if you are trying to track down the truth but find yourself becoming overwhelmed, you may want to take an “information break” and use some of the tips below.
In addition, although it’s a global situation, the situation varies depending on where we live. We may live in more populated areas, areas where there are more cases, or have many elderly living close to us. Depending on our circumstances, we may choose to be more cautious… and as this situation has evolved, it has put almost all of us in the more cautious category (and may continue to become more extreme).
Beyond your own personal circumstances, be aware of how your interactions with others could put them at risk. You may be in good health and have all you need… but may put someone else at greater risk by your choices.
TIP #3 – STAY IN THE HERE AND NOW
As I’ve mentioned before, this situation is rapidly evolving, and can be overwhelming at times. Just a couple of days ago, my husband and my roles flipped, as he closed his orthodontic practice for the next couple of weeks (who knows how long that will last?) and I took on more hours at my job as a therapist at a residential youth center (RTC) in order to provide for our family. Although we have many questions about how long this will last, when will Jeff be able to go back to work, how is my private practice going to do and what kinds of safety measures do I need to put in place (and on and on…) we both feel so much better when we can focus on TODAY.
What can you do today? Is there something you need to do today to prepare for tomorrow?
This principle is closely tied to tip #4.
TIP #4 – FOCUS ON YOUR CIRCLE OF CONTROL
There are many things that are outside of our control, and the more we focus on these things, the more stressed we become. We can also become overwhelmed, and even feel hopeless or powerless. Even though we don’t have power over many things, we do have power over enough.
We may not have everything we need… but we do have the capability to think outside the box, to be creative, to look for solutions in unexpected places. We have control over our choices, which includes how we treat each other.
For my family, our income just decreased by more than half. I can’t completely replace what my husband brought home each month, but I can help make wise choices about what we buy. I did choose to increase my work hours at the RTC (and was grateful I had the opportunity to do so). I am also choosing to have a good attitude about our situation and manage my own stress in healthy ways so that my kids will not be negatively influenced by my feeling out of control.
TIP #5 – MINDFULNESS
There are two types of mindfulness I’m talking about here – the informal practice of mindfulness is woven throughout all of these tips. Be aware of your thoughts and feelings, choose what you focus on, stay in the here and now. These are all aspects of mindfulness.
There’s also the formal sitting practice of mindfulness meditation, which can be really powerful. There are many researched benefits of mindfulness, but I’ll just share two of them listed at http://franticworld.com/what-can-mindfulness-do-for-you/
- “Meditation improves the immune system. Regular meditators are admitted to hospital far less often for cancer, heart disease and numerous infectious diseases.”
- “Anxiety, stress, depression, exhaustion and irritability all decrease with regular sessions of meditation.”
(If you want to check out an inexpensive 5 week meditation program, you can check it out at www.emotionalhealingtoday.com/growing-up-inside/)
TIP #6 – HAVE FAITH
We all have different religious beliefs, I know. This can be a really powerful source of peace during difficult times. If you don’t yet have some specific spiritual practices, it’s not too late to start. Some people find that meditation is a spiritual experience – that it makes them better in their particular religion, or increases spirituality overall. Other people find a lot of strength through prayer. Spending time in nature can be very spiritual for others. Music, animals, and family are other places where people can feel peace.
Gratitude is another practice that can foster spirituality and strength. I call it a practice, because for most of us it does not come naturally – we have to work at it. But it is a skill that can be developed. The more we recognize what is going right in our lives, the more positive we tend to see. Beyond that, we can look for God’s hand in our lives, and express our Thanks for all we’ve been blessed with. We may look for the work of angels in our lives. Gratitude will not make bad things go away, but it will help us deal with them with a changed perspective. We can feel strengthened as we acknowledge the good in our lives.
All of these practices lead us to trust, or have faith, that we are not alone; that we are loved; that we are cared for; that we have good things happening in our lives; that we are known; that we are connected to a Being greater than ourselves – someone we can trust in, that all things will work together for our good.
TIP #7 – BE KIND
We are NOT alone. We are all part of this crazy human experience. There are others that are going through much the same thing that we are right now… and others that are suffering much more. It is okay to acknowledge that what we are going through is hard. We all experience suffering and challenges in different ways, and it’s okay for us to be kind to each other as we go through this together.
Let’s let go of labeling and judgment. Others will make decisions that are different than ours. They are doing the best they can right now. They might act out of ignorance. They probably don’t know they are missing important information. They might act out of fear. It’s okay to speak out and respectfully and clearly set boundaries for ourselves or others we are connected to.
We can all be a little more patient, a little more kind (without becoming doormats).
I hope that this post finds you and your family well. I hope that you have all you need. We are all in this together, and I wish you the very best! Sending virtual hugs your way…