Mindfulness practices are a proactive alternative to our base animal survival instincts. Every crisis offers unique opportunities to create value and bring about meaningful change. Being mindful is a way to move from threat to opportunity, not as a matter of simply surviving but seeing new way to thrive in the future. A crisis lessens our attachment to the way things are, since the ways things are is in the process of disintegrating. It'll never be easier than right now, at the peak of the chaos, to launch something new. This is how evolution works.
Last summer, I fell off my bike and punctured my leg in some rotting deadfall. Within hours, my leg swelled with infection. I was sure something foreign had jammed its way past the fascia into the soft belly of my calf, but X-Rays and ultrasounds revealed nothing. I dutifully took a course of antibiotics but the swelling persisted. I started fantasizing about necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating disease), which my old design professor died of shortly after getting nicked by a branch in the backcountry.
After about four weeks of this, I spoke to a nurse practitioner about my situation and my fear of dying from the terrifying bacteria. My irrational sympathetic nervous system which controls my "fight or flight response" was in full swing. He patiently listened and then instructed me to "get back onto planet earth." I continued my twice daily ritual of squeezing pus out of the wound and refreshing the topical antibiotic when a giant piece of stick nonchalantly popped out of my leg like a small Alien. Three days later my leg was fully healed.
Anxiety and insecurity spiral out of control with an overreactive amygdala.
The coronavirus, the sudden drop of oil prices and a violent contraction of social and business activities and spending are a perfect storm for panic. In the face of such looming doom, high levels of apocalyptic thinking, catastrophizing, hoarding, isolation, anxiety and insecurity are natural overreactions to the massive uncertainty. The full breadth and depth of human behavior is on full display. But through all the hysteria the best of our human nature is also emerging in an unprecedented level of global cooperation to solve the most complex of problems.
As a coach and adventure athlete, one thing I know for sure is this, despite the many things we don't know about the pandemic and the ensuing pandemonia, it's best to stay calm, stay informed with credible sources and look for ways to manage stress and develop a position of strength. The activation of the parasympathetic nervous system leads to more measured responses.
Proactive is better than overreactive in the face of crisis.
There are four tried and true mindfulness practices that work as a hedge against loss aversion and an overreactive amygdala. The first is meditation. While the traditional practice of meditation is very difficult to learn and master, a whole new collection of apps has come out in the last few years to make it easy. I've been using the app from centerpointe.com now for close to 10 years. I took a break from meditating last summer and I think my drama with the leg infection took greater hold than it might have. Meditation works great also with a journaling practice. I developed my own software to document my insights, questions, challenges and intentions and share them with my partner and my coach, but a really nice journal and a fountain pen are a great way to start logging what you are grateful for. On the physical side, regular stretching (yoga, in the gym or in physiotherapy) forces a flexibility of thinking to go along with a flexibility of body. And lastly, I'd include cardio (biking, swimming, running) as a mindfulness practice as the metronomic pace acts as a kind of consistent rhythm or beat to track you heart and soul against.
There is much suffering and struggle in the days ahead. The best thing any of us can do is find a way to not just stay strong and survive, but get stronger, use the crisis as an opportunity to launch something new and share that strength with the people who need it most. The world is more connected than ever. Your community needs your unique value and your higher self.
We are all in this together and we only get out of it together.