An unexpected benefit of having been a depressed, anxiety-ridden person is that I’ve spent a lot of time learning how the human mind works and how (and why) to manage my own emotional state.
I’ve delved into various resources from religion and spirituality to philosophy and psychology searching for things that would help me find answers and feel better.
And while I can’t claim to be an enlightened Stoic master or a wizened Eastern sage, my familiarity with these various theories and traditions makes it a lot easier to deal with challenging circumstances such as the ongoing global pandemic.
For example, I get that people are afraid. But the worst thing that can happen to you is that you die, and that’s always been on the cards. In fact death is one of the few things in life we are all guaranteed to experience.
That’s why it’s been such a focal point of religious, spiritual and philosophical thought throughout human history.
People have always feared it, but they have also sought to understand it, make peace with it, and even use it to keep things in perspective, with a touch of memento mori.
If you accept that death is the worst thing that could happen, and yet it was always going to happen anyway, doesn’t that take some of the stress out of current circumstances?
If death is unavoidable should we even consider it such a bad thing? If death is going to happen anyway, I might as well not stress too much about it.
If death is inevitable, there’s no point succumbing to fear and anxiety about it. Not only is death inevitable, it’s clearly part of the plan.
Since death is inevitable the worst that can happen is I live in fear and anxiety over it. I can’t control death, but I can control how I feel about it.
I can control how I feel by choosing what I pay attention to, which trains of thought I encourage, and what information I contemplate.
In every moment I can choose what to think, and with practice I can change the overall tendency of my thoughts. The more you focus on thoughts that feel bad, the easier it will be to find bad-feeling thoughts.
The more you look for thoughts that feel good, the easier it is to find them.
It’s not as simple as looking at “the facts” either. Because we are the ones who determine what facts are relevant and admissible; and on a subconscious level we even filter and interpret our reality, “the facts”, according to our prior expectations.
That’s why it’s not enough to wait for things to improve before letting go of anxiety and fear. The choice to feel better needs to come first.
Have you ever had the experience of sharing good news with someone only to have them stubbornly persist in feeling bad?
In my city there are people who think they are living in a news report, who assume every person they meet has the virus, and that they might catch it by eating takeaway.
And it’s not possible to prove them wrong or convince them to feel better.
But it is possible for them to feel better, if they practice talking themselves into a better-feeling place.
What it takes is a commitment to feeling good, regardless of what “the facts” might be. It takes a degree of faith that there will always be reasons to feel good about life no matter what is going on. It takes a clarity of knowing that no matter where we stand, it is always better to feel good than to feel bad.
I decided for myself that I would feel good even if there was no evidence to support my feeling good. And once I made that decision, I began to find evidence that did support my optimism.
At the same time I stopped giving attention to news and media that I felt would encourage fear and pessimism. I don’t watch TV news. I don’t read articles saying how bad things are or how much worse they’ll get or how worried I should be.
Don’t agree when people make dire predictions or tell you how bad things seem to them. Also don’t try to convince them otherwise.
When you make a commitment to feeling good regardless of what the facts say, you allow yourself peace of mind and clarity, and then you are in the best position to find and interpret evidence that supports feeling good.
While feeling good I stumbled across information about mortality rates that showed the figures in some countries were likely to be drastically exaggerated.
Out of curiosity rather than fear, I started looking at the statistics in my own state and found that here in South Australia we had amongst the highest levels of testing per capita in the world, but with very low positive test results. These results strongly suggested that the virus was not being transmitted in the community, and that the authorities were doing a good job of capturing and containing any outbreaks.
I was discussing these statistics with friends back on the 28th March, and subsequent reports from SA Health have affirmed my conclusions, with one further cluster of cases quickly brought under control, numbers of new cases steadily declining, and zero new cases over the past three days despite a testing blitz targeting anyone with cold or flu symptoms.
But even so I’m not relying on this information to make me feel better. I’m choosing to feel better, and noticing facts and details that affirm the direction I’ve already chosen.
People are now catching on that the situation is not as bad as they feared in Australia and SA in particular. But some are still fearful and anxious, going beyond the necessary safeguards and firmly believing they’re surrounded by contagion.
And that fear and stress is unnecessary. We don’t have to feel anxious and fearful. We don’t have to feel bad. It’s just a matter of what we choose to focus on, and how we practice.
And you know what? It’s even okay that people are scared unnecessarily. Being afraid helps some people do the right thing. Some people need fear and calamity before they take their social obligations seriously. There’s good to be found even in instances of people refusing to find the good where they are.