“Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.” Jazz Great Miles Davis
Endless time seems to move so slowly as to drip like a leaky faucet, making every moment pregnant with ideas, some alerting our fears to endless possibilities.
Time has taken on new meaning, while simultaneously dropping away into nothingness as we struggle to answer a multitude of WHEN questions.
It has been barely two months since my family flew off to work in London and a month since their dog, my part-time companion, joined them. Sometimes it seems like it’s been six months. Naturally due to the pandemic’s quarantine, I wonder when I might see them again. Even now, a visit this summer is rapidly slipping off the plate, but I am coping by writing, exercising, and appreciating every sunny day.
WHEN? The Universal Question
We’ve all joined in questioning WHEN? When did life as we knew it screech to a halt? When won’t I depend on Zoom to see colleagues or Facetime for friends and relatives? When can I walk in the woods, go to the library, or gym, or get my hair cut, or leave home to hear any concert in person? When will I enjoy the aroma of cooking not my own? Far more important to more than 36 million Americans: When, if ever, will my job come back, so I can resume living without losing a place to live and be able to feed my family?
No matter where we sit politically, or whether we stand in the unemployment line, the food bank line, or the grocery line, stress rides along daily with each of us.
There are few universal answers to WHEN. Many are being made state by state or county by county. As of mid-May, 90,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 and 1.5 million tested positive, while 260,000 have recovered. This nationwide pandemic has only engendered more stress and fear and seems in some parts of the country to have widened the divide. But in some communities, people from a wide spectrum of political and religious beliefs are working together to feed the hungry unemployed and their children—taking action, which often lessens the feeling of helplessness and anxiety.
Recently I saw an article that sheds some light on this question:
“In Stressful Times, Make Stress Work for You,” by Karl Leibowitz and Alia Crum, which brings down to lay terms a study of the mindset of Navy SEALS, college students, and business leaders experiencing stress. They consider how to harness stress. Here are their three steps:
- Acknowledge Your Stress
Seems by taking on stress we move the place it resides in our mind. Normally before we address our fear, it sits in the amygdala, the brain center for emotion. When we begin the acknowledge our stress, our thoughts move to the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This is where executive control and planning take place–where we can be more thoughtful and deliberate in our actions– where we can do something about it.
Have you ever tried to stop thinking less about something and instead your mind returns to it even more often? That is the “ironic mental processing” at work in the brain as we stress over something. According to the scientists, the brain tries to help us out by constantly checking in to see if we continue to think of it. Suppression does not work.
Now is where you need to determine what is at the heart of your personal stress or anxiety.
Are you most concerned about getting sick yourself? Or your mate or partner? Is it your children, their education or health? Are you worried about a loved one who is at high risk? Is your anxiety caused by balancing working from home and family responsibilities?
Once you determine this, then you can examine your reactions to these stressors. What emotions come with this? Frustration, sadness, anger? What do you notice in your body? Tight neck and shoulders or do you have difficulty sleeping?
- Own Your Stress
Why welcome stress into your life during a pandemic? We only stress, really stress, about the things (and people) we really care about. By connecting to the stress, we identify what is at the core of our anxiety. By denying or trying to avoid our stress, we can do the opposite and avoid what is really important to us.
Difficult task? Try completing this sentence, “I am stressed about (list answer you gave in step one) because I deeply care about. . .”
- Use Your Stress—Make it Work for You!
If you connect to the core values behind your stress, then you set yourself up for the most essential ingredient: using or leveraging stress to achieve your goals and connect more deeply with the things that matter most to you.
Are your typical responses aligned with the values behind your stress? Think how you could adapt your response to this stress to facilitate your goals and your responses. There is a lot happening that we cannot control, but there are also unprecedented opportunities amid the fear. It is a matter of connecting with people and materials at hand. Action will help you overcome your anxiety and begin to tackle fear of the unknown. Addressing the here and now. The trick is to channel your coronavirus stress as energy to make the most of this time. Difficult though it seems, if we fail to embrace our stress and utilize it, it will only grow. Take baby steps forward to tackle your anxiety.
On a personal note, much earlier in my life, I needed to learn coping skills after a difficult period. I developed a calm approach to crisis that helped me professionally and has stood by me for three decades. Sticking to our universal values, working to overcome fear and anxiety, we can develop stable solutions to serve us and the next generation.
Daniel Pink, When, the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, (New York: Riverhead Books, 2018)
Karl Leibowitz and Alia Crum, Stanford University, “In Stressful Times, Make Stress Work for You,” New York Times, April 1, 2020
Alia J. Crum and Peter Salovey, “Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mindsets in Determining the Stress Response,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2013, Vol. 104, No. 4, 716-733
American Psychological Association www.apa.org/help center/ 800-374-2721
American Counseling Association www.aca.org