With these slender threads
We touch each other
With infinite acts
The threads are spun
The threads embrace
Weaving an exquisite tapestry
Of caring and compassion
With its warmth
The threads are strong
- Connie Latch
Yes there is fear. Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying. Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
But, they say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them….
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic.
The birds are singing again. The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming, And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
–Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM (a friar in Ireland), March 13, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic is the first we’ve had to deal with in the US. Our routines are disrupted, the economy is in trouble, many people’s livelihoods are threatened, parents are scrambling to provide child care for kids, stores have long lines and empty shelves as people panic- buy. We see images of how it has ravaged other countries and fear for our own safety and well-being, and that of our families and communities.
Most of us are not used to this kind of chaos and uncertainty. People have different levels of tolerance for the unknown and for uncertainty as well as different amounts of social and financial resources. Social distancing is a new concept and practice for us, which while helping to keep the virus from spreading, can create its own problems of social isolation, depression and anxiety.
Fear and panic are at least as contagious as the virus itself. While anxiety itself is a natural response to a challenging situation, making us alert and helping us respond in ways that keep us safe and functioning, it becomes problematic when it becomes chronic or morphs into panic.
People especially susceptible to extreme anxiety or panic about the virus often have suffered some trauma in their lives. You have already lived through something extreme and unprecedented and the current situation creates a PTSD type response. If you tend to be an anxious person or are a highly sensitive person, you may also tend to be more prone to catastrophizing and panic.
Without our usual routines and structure, it becomes especially important to create new ones to help us manage these unprecedented, uncertain times with as much equanimity as possible. Below are some suggestions as well as resources.
In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I can't resist posting this song that humorously explains the neuroscience of love!
No amount of self-improvement can make up for
any lack of self-acceptance.
- Robert Holden
It's easy to embark on any number of self-improvement projects; they are advertised and promoted everywhere by self-help gurus, magazines, books, webinars, blogs and Youtube videos. They promise a better body, a healthier mind, the possibility of being happy all the time, of being more productive, more successful, wealthier and more self-confident to name only a few. When you feel deficient or like something is missing, these possibilities are very seductive.
Yet if the foundation of how you feel about yourself is shaky, then attempts at self-improvement will only partially succeed. Just like a building needs a solid foundation, your inner world needs a solid core of self-acceptance and self-love on which to base any and all self-improvement. Then the decisions about what facets of your life to focus on will be grounded in your authentic self rather than an attempt to cover up or run from a less than optimal relationship with yourself.
Begin with an honest inquiry into how you truly feel about yourself. Do you accept yourself as you are, or is your acceptance conditional? Do you tend to criticize yourself or treat yourself tenderly and with forgiveness? This can be cultivated through attention, mindfulness, journaling, dreamwork, energy work, inner child work and therapy.
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley