In the introduction of Gregory Hays translation of Marcus Aurelius' "Meditations" it is said, "Not objects and events but the interpretations we place on them that are the problem therefore to exercise stringent control over the faculty of perception, with the aim of protecting our mind from error." I came across another description of this concept from the book "The Coddling of the American Mind" in the Buddha quote "Nothing can harm you as much as your own thoughts unguarded."
A common and problematic way that the human mind responds to uncertainty is to create and dwell on automatic catastrophic predictions. A perfect example of this is why there we have shortages of hand sanitizer and toilet paper. People allowed their fear-based predictions to override rational thinking. The thought that we are on the verge of a Mad-Max like post apocalyptic existence caused people to imagine being trapped in their home and therefore we MUST have a year's worth of toilet paper. There was nothing going on two weeks ago that indicated there was a toilet paper shortage, this was the event. But it was our interpretation or judgment of the event that caused the fear, resulting in panic purchasing. I suggest everyone to work on the valuable practice of taking some control over their interpretation of life. Would you prefer to interpret the events of the coronavirus with intense fear or mild/moderate concern? I actually think the mild/moderate concern is a good thing. It is causing people to take social distancing seriously which will decrease the impact of this virus. This is an example of how appropriate and reality based worry is helpful. This is why I tell my high school and college-aged clients that their anxiety isn't all bad. Their worry of failing a test can influence them to stay in on a Thursday night to study instead of going to the party. On the flip side this same student must exert control over the same worry so it does not become an overwhelming fear that causes test taking anxiety.
Anxious thinking that is purposely kept in check by grounding them in reality can lead to resiliency and mental strengthening. Courage does not happen in the absence of fear. Courage is the act of persevering despite the presence of fear.
Anxiety that is unhinged/untethered can lead to panic or paranoia which breathes life into worst case scenarios. This is why people are struggling to find toilet paper.
More than anything people need to support and take care of one another, something that is built into our human nature. But in order to take care of those in our family and communities we must first take care of ourselves. Psychological distress hinders one's ability to effectively care for others. Take some time, which we all have an abundance of, to pay attention to anxious thoughts that are not grounded in reality. Then challenge those thoughts and replace them with predictions that are more likely to happen. For my athletes out there compare this down time as the off season. The off season provides ample time for athletes work very hard to get faster, stronger, and fitter for the approaching season. We now have ample time to work very hard to build mental strength, resilience, and psychological coping mechanisms.
We are in the middle of a series of never before experienced events and real uncertainty. We are going to have to care for ourselves and one another in new and creative means because we still need to respect social distancing. We are not out of the woods, YET.
*For a little context, I've been thinking about the concepts in this blog for a few days now. Yesterday morning I came across a Pete Yorn FaceBook post where he played a few acoustic songs from his home to entertain and help people during this challenging time. During this particular post he said he is "becoming better at dealing with uncertainty." Once I heard that, I knew I had to write and post this blog. Below is a song he played yesterday about resiliency and effort in the face of negativity. It is called "Try."