April 12, 2020

Emotional Survival 101: Pandemic Edition.

Check out Elephant’s Continually-updating Coronavirus Diary. ~ Waylon


We’re living in a new world, and the speed at which everything is changing has left many of us feeling anxious, shaken, or fearful.

On the nightly news, we constantly hear about the physical dangers and the financial pain from the coronavirus, but what about its effect on our feelings? Its effect on our mental and emotional health is often overlooked.

Yet, it’s perfectly natural to have feelings of fear, sadness, frustration, and anxiety come up during times of global and personal upheaval. When you feel such emotions, it’s important to find effective ways to release them—rather than take them out on your household or stuff them down.

At times, you may need to scream loudly to some favorite rock music or hit your bed repeatedly to get your anger out. Many people (and animals) find that vigorous full-body shaking helps them to let go of fear.

You may need to let tears flow or handle feelings of overwhelm with slow, deep breathing.

During times of uncomfortable emotions, remind yourself that this pandemic will pass. In fact, painful moments will pass more quickly if you accept your feelings rather than make them wrong.

While this pandemic plays out, having a bigger perspective and a sense of humor can also help you avoid getting stuck in uncomfortable feelings. Think of the bright side: if you’re reading this, you’re probably not dead!

Besides having a sense of humor, having the “Four C’s” can make a world of difference.

What are the Four C’s? They are the ability to feel Calm, Caring, Connected, and in Control.

Think about it for a moment. The people who do well at handling a crisis are those who can tap into calm, have people they care about, have a connection to something beyond their own ego, and feel they have some control.

Let me give you an illustration. My father had both cancer and heart disease during the last 10 years of his life. The doctors would periodically give him increasingly bad news about the progress of his diseases. Yet, because my Dad was skilled at finding inner calm and a sense of control, and felt care for others and connected to a higher power, he felt little stress about dying. On the other hand, when visiting my father in the hospital, I saw some people were clearly in better health than my dad, but they were desperately unhappy and stressed. They lacked the ability to feel calm, cared for, connected, or in control.

The Four C’s are like an emotional bank account. If you frequently “invest” in such practices, your account “balance” will be high. When a tragedy such as COVID-19 comes along, you have “savings” in the bank so you can make a withdrawal. If you have little practice at tapping into calm, connection, care, or control, you could become emotionally bankrupt. Some people have so little invested in these skills that almost anything can get them to fly off the handle. Do you know someone like that? Hopefully, it’s not you…

The Power of Gratitude

In my workshops, I provide people with a visual way of understanding how we lose a sense of perspective, and how gratitude can quickly help us tap back into the Four C’s.

First, I draw a black dot, about the size of a dime, on a large whiteboard. I then tell my audience to imagine that this black dot represents their biggest current challenge or problem, and that we all have a “relationship” with our biggest problem. Then I say, “For most people, their relationship with their biggest problem looks like this…” (I proceed to put one of my eyeballs directly on the black dot). As my eye continues to be directly on the black dot, I wail, “All I can see is darkness! It’s all black, and it seems to go on forever. There’s no light at all. It’s hopeless!”

People generally laugh at my histrionics—because we’ve all been there. We all lose our sense of perspective at times by focusing exclusively on our problems. In such times, it’s important to remember that the “black dot” is actually surrounded by a large number of things we could feel grateful for.

Gratitude is a great emotional tonic, and it can help you overcome great stress and financial worries—even when a pandemic strikes. In fact, a truly grateful person doesn’t even get upset when a bird poops on their head. Instead, they’re grateful that dogs can’t fly (…it might take you a second to really get that).

Several years ago, a friend of mine came from seeing a guru in India who, according to him, gave him a magical mantra for feeling overwhelming gratitude. I asked him what this mantra was, and he told me I’d have to go to India to get it directly from the guru. Well, I knew the importance of gratitude, so I flew all the way to India so I could ask this guru about his amazing mantra. After a couple of days of flying and traveling, I finally got a chance to talk to the guru.

In his Indian accent, the guru said to me, “Ah yes, my mantra is the most powerful mantra on Earth.” He leaned in to whisper in my ear. He said, “Whenever possible, repeat the following words. The mantra I give you are the words…thank you.”

I looked at him in bewilderment and said, “Thank you? That’s it?!”

He said, “No! That’s it is the mantra you have been using and that makes you feel like you never have enough. My mantra is thank you, not that’s it. That’s it will take you nowhere!”

Well, I was pissed off, so I gave him a sneer and sarcastically said, “Well then, thanks for nothing!” He sneered back at me and said, “Thanks for nothing is not the mantra. You must say thank you from your heart many times a day, so when you eat good food, say thank you from your heart. When you see your child or a sunset or your pet, say thank you from your heart—and soon you will be filled with overwhelming gratitude.”

You know what, as long as you say, “Thank you” from your heart many times a day for the little things in life, this technique actually works. You can feel grateful for everyday things like access to clean water, the Internet, or a friend or pet that you love. Try it for yourself, and you’ll see its power. Just take five seconds to feel your gratitude for something or someone, then say “Thank you” from your heart. It really works.

What makes gratitude so powerful is that it quickly helps you tap into calm, care, connection, and a sense of control in one simple method. Yet, in taking care of your emotional and mental health, the important thing is to try a bunch of methods and see what works best for you.

We each have things we’ve done in the past to tap into calm, care, connection, and control. It might be as simple as calling a dear friend, meditating, doing an act of kindness, or even cleaning your house.

Once you find what works well for you, you have a friend for life.

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