To quote one of my heroes, Ron Burgundy, "Boy... That escalated quickly!"
The Coronavirus is a Black Swan, which is defined by another one of my heroes, Nassim Taleb, "an event that is beyond normal expectations that is so rare that even the possibility that it might occur is unknown, has a catastrophic impact when it does occur, and is explained in hindsight as if it were actually predictable."
I feel a lot of emotions about this Black Swan -- fear, anger, sadness, worried, helplessness, hope -- are at the top of the list. It's OK to feel those things. It is NOT OK to bury your head in the sand and pretend that all this is not happening and you're not feeling feelings.
Here's my thoughts on the Coronavirus crisis, how to stay calm, fight anxiety, be prepared, and take the fight to the virus.
There have been several moments of "yikes, this is crazy" this last week. First when the NBA suspended their season. Second when countries started shutting down international travel. Third, when the shelves at Trader Joe's were cleared of pasta and ramen noodles (and the next day the line went around the store).
I did have moments of panic and anxiety, though. And I think a lot of "fight or flight" "lizard brain" "primordial habits" started to flair up. This thought flashed through my brain: "I better grab everything I can because it will all be gone and who knows what is going to happen tomorrow." But I took a breath (not even a deep diaphragmatic breath) and thought -- nope, everything is going to be OK, the shelves are bare now but this is only temporary, people are still working to provide food, there is more on the way, people are just freaked out right now.
I do suffer from anxiety and actively take anti-anxiety medicine, so when I say I got anxious, that is not an understatement.
Four Helpful Tips on Staying Calm
Remind Yourself of Truths and Be Compassionate To Yourself
When it seems like everything is spinning, take a breath, remind yourself of simple truths and be compassionate with yourself. For me, those simple truths are that God and my family loves me. And being compassionate for me is gently asking why am I feeling this way, not condemning myself for feeling these feelings.
Control What You Can Control
What are you doing at that very moment? What is the task you set out on? -- not the task your anxiety is taking you toward. For Trader Joe's example: I came to the store to get some food, they're out of ramen, but I can still get milk and meat, which I originally set out to get; I don't need to irrationally buy 17 cans of beans.
Set Dedicated Times for Inputs
Watching the news all day or constantly checking your phone whenever
you've got down time is NOT going to help the situation. Tell yourself that at every certain interval, you'll check the latest news -- say, every 2 or 3 hours. Then go about doing what you were already doing and can control. When that is taken care of, allow yourself to search for and think rationally about the latest news.
Admit Your Feelings to a Trusted Friend
Most likely, you are condemning yourself for whatever emotion you are feeling, regardless of whether it is helpful, harmful, or apathetic. The human brain has an amazing ability to make us feel bad for having emotions that someone might not agree with. But call up a friend and help yourself process these emotions by talking them out.
OK, now that you're calm. Let's walk through being prepared -- controlling the things you can control. This situation kind of reminds me of an emergency on an airplane -- put on your oxygen mask first, then help others. You're no good to others if you're laid up at home with flu like symptoms. So, first of all, protect yourself, wash your hands, be vigilant, practice social distancing.
Second, if you feel like having some extra groceries in the cupboard or freezer will help you feel more secure, go buy some. You could be quarantined for two weeks, so your typical grocery run should do the trick, no need to irrationally buy everything in sight. When you run low on food, go grocery shopping again. The stores will still be there!
Third, if you do get exposed or sick, stay home, get yourself better, seek medical attention if you need it!
Figure Out Ways to Serve
Check out your local church, civic organization, or government's resources (facebook, instagram, twitter, website), about ways to serve in this time. Here are ways that have popped in my head over the last few days:
Taking food to at risk populations -- elderly, people going through chemo.
Calling quarantined relatives, friends or strangers.
Engaging with populations that have been displaced by the virus -- students, low skill workers, hotel employees, small businesses. Specifically for students in your neighborhood, giving them a non-traditional means to pass the time, such as a puzzle, legos, old school lincoln logs or erector sets. Something that will stimulate their brain, give them something to focus on other than just sitting around the house. Obviously, do this in a non-germ spreading way.
Working on others' yards or exterior of the home. Mother Nature is going to keep springing up weeds -- help your neighbor, keep your neighborhood pretty, and get some fresh air all the same time!
Maybe you could start a neighborhood at-home building project, where everyone on the street seeks to build something cool with materials found in their house, then load it all to a youtube channel and everyone votes on what is the coolest, most original, tallest, and with prizes to be awarded after the quarantine is over.
Get a virtual board game going with your friends
Pay for a low-skilled person to get some online skill training -- English as a second language course, computer programming, introductory courses that could be used to advance a career and make them less vulnerable next time there is a Black Swan.
Find Your Victory Garden
In World War II victory garden's sprang up all over the United States. This was a small way Americans could provide self-sufficiency and fight back against the Axis Powers even if they weren't on the front lines. It was their middle finger to helplessness, despondency, and a pro-active step to maintain their dignity, self-worth, and productivity.
Spring is here: let's all start Victory Gardens.
Maybe you don't have a yard. You CAN do something to reclaim your sense of dignity, self-worth, productivity, and control. Do something you've been wanting to do for a long time but haven't had the chance -- building that project at your house, cleaning out your garage, learning to play guitar, chisel some figurines as Christmas ornaments with spare pieces of wood lying around, organizing your digital photos, writing a family biography. And don't just do it, but DO IT. Make a big deal out of it. Track your progress. Share it on social media. Set your goal and accomplish your goal. Give yourself a big pat on the back afterward too! FIGHT BACK.
Provide Pro Bono Services in Your Area of Expertise
Have skills that others could find helpful in this time? Perhaps you're a good sewer and people need some clothes repaired. Perhaps you're a yoga teacher, make some videos and post them on social media. Perhaps you teach, put together a video series for your friends and family on the latest in your field. Maybe you are a hobbyist craftsmen, host a wood working webinar. I'm a personal trainer, so I imagine I'll be giving out lots of advice over the next few months on in home workouts, alternative forms of training, and tips on eating and staying healthy during this time.
This is a crazy time in human history. We face some enormous challenges. But we will overcome. Not just as Americans but as a people -- this is not just hitting the US, but virtually the entire Earth. We're in this together. Stay Calm. Be Prepared. Fight Back.