The world is on fire. Have you noticed?
And gosh, aren’t people reacting in very different ways?
You’ve likely already got stories about interactions with someone that went a little weird. Like, the communication was just off between you, like maybe they weren’t really paying attention and not hearing you. Or bizarre behavior from the neighbor down the street, like mowing the lawn at midnight. Or the guy in the Honda in the grocery store parking lot that seemed to actually speed up when he saw you.
Sometimes, the word “anxiety” makes people anxious. Or, for other people, “anxiety” is tossed about almost with pride. “I have so much anxiety right now!” But the word “anxiety” could make you feel like you’re damaged or something is wrong with you.
Same thing with “depressed.” It’s got all this stigma.
But guess what? Chances are extraordinarily high that you personally are experiencing symptoms of anxiety. Or depression. Or both.
Common symptoms of these disorders are things like:
- Sleeping too much
- Unable to sleep
- Eating too much
- No appetite
- Body aches and pains — neck, back, stomach
- Racing thoughts
- Dull mind
- Low mood
- No energy
- Lack of motivation
- Difficulty concentrating
Any of those sound familiar?
Pretty much everyone on the planet is going through different levels of fear response. This shit is causing us to realize that life is uncertain, and heck, we are having to think about death. Yeah. Death. Ain’t nobody wants to think about that!
Nobody can plan anything, and that uncertainty alone can make some of us panicky.
But guess what? Recognition is dissolution — meaning, when you see what something is, it loses its power.
It’s not going to magically go away, but you gain increased awareness.
Some people are kind of joyful during this time because they don’t have to go to work and it feels like they’re getting a bit of a vacation. The work-from-home thing where you don’t have to commute is indeed liberating. And maybe you’ve gotten away with a bunch of days in a row of working in your pajamas and really playing Animal Crossing for hours at a time. And you’re still having a paycheck show up in your bank account! (Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with the ‘Snark.)
We don’t want to take your fun away from you, and honestly, we’re not trying to tell you that you’re screwed up if you truly don’t think you are. But from so many interactions we’ve had with people IRL just lately, we’re noticing that a lot of people on the surface seem to be acting OK, but if you have more than a 5-second conversation with them, you realize that there’s all this fear-stuff oozing out from around the edges, and they may not even be aware of it at all. That’s a protective measure that the mind uses to keep itself safe, but it means that under the hood, there’s a low-grade freak-out happening. And eventually, there’s gonna be a problem.
The stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine cause havoc to the body’s systems. These hormones flowing near constantly right now is kind of unavoidable — you just glance at a news feed and you’re back in the cocktail. Having that level of stress would be difficult even under a “normal” world, but the world we’re living in right now is far from normal — and that’s why this is a bigger deal than you might realize. When we’re all trying to STAY HEALTHY (remember the game?), then it’s important to keep the immune system cranking at full capacity. Yet these stress hormones really do a number to our ability to shake off an attack. You know, from something like a virus.
Just because you’re exposed to some number of virus particles doesn’t mean you’re going to get infected. We don’t mean “asymptomatically infected”; we mean not infected. Like when you’re on a crowded sidewalk and it rained all day yesterday and a taxicab flies down the street and into a big puddle and splashes water out over everyone, but they all get wet and you were somewhat perfectly positioned behind that person and this lamp post and you got hardly a drop. (Not a perfect analogy, but you get it.) If your immune system is doing its job because you’re otherwise healthy, it’s possible that you could be exposed and not infected. You could be carrying little viral critters on the sleeve of your jacket and they brush off onto your cheek when you do that sneeze-into-your-pit thing where it looks like you’re dabbing. And then you have virus critters on your face. And then — oh no!! — they’re in the zone. And maybe some of them actually get into your nose and mouth, and they get into some of your cells and start doing their viral thing, shedding their coats and mixing with your DNA to replicate.
But you don’t get sick. They try to invade, and your body fights them off. They don’t really make it past the gate.
This can totally happen. Not everyone who’s exposed gets infected.
It’s your immune system that is your fighting chance.
And if you’re living in a state of chronic stress, your immune system is all whacked to hell.
And the toughest part about it is, when you’re feeling like crap because of all the stress, it can be so difficult to do anything to change it.
But guess what?
RIGHT NOW you can do something healthy for yourself.
Yeah, it’s true.
RIGHT NOW is literally all we ever have (said The Buddha) and we just lose sight of this.
RIGHT NOW you can do one of a bajillion things that can actually decrease your stress levels and help your immune system.
Here’s the deal: Pretty much anything that makes you feel good is doing that by way of the dopamine highway. That high you feel after you work out? Dopamine. That rush after eating a cupcake? Dopamine. That buzz after drinking a beer? Yup, dopamine.
There’s obvious problems with relying on cupcakes and beer for the dopamine fix. But you know all the other remedies that can get you some dopamine. Like doing yoga. Or meditation. Or heck, if you do some deep-breathing exercises, it can help.
Other dopamine release mechanisms are looking at cat pictures. Or watching comedy. Or giving a hug.
Sitting here right now, which of these are you going to do?
Is there someone in your vicinity that you can go hug?
(Tell ’em EssaySnark told you to.)
Is there a corny joke you know, that you can share with a friend? Bonus points for leaving it in the comments of this post!
Can you drop and do 50 pushups?
Another great dopamine hack: Being grateful. Think of someone who you appreciate, who maybe you’ve never told it to. Or maybe someone you don’t, but you should. Like that grumpy doorman who seems like he’s always irritated with you. Call, email, or text this person and say “I just wanted you to know that what you do matters and I’m glad that you do it.” Something unexpected and out of the blue — as long as it’s sincere. Try it. It can be an interesting experiment in life.
Maybe you’re in a good routine and doing all sorts of healthy things right now. But maybe you’ve been sort of falling apart, and not maintaining the habits you had before. Both responses to this situation are totally fine! Please don’t suddenly start feeling guilty because we’re talking about the healthy bits now. The point of this post isn’t to make you feel bad. It’s just a reminder that literally RIGHT NOW you can do something that will bring a little more light into your life.
Because some people have reacted to this reality of the world on fire by pulling in deeper and deeper inside to try to be safe, but they end up kind of withdrawing completely, until they go a little dead.
Some things are difficult, impractical, or impossible in our current situation. You’re not going to the gym right now. You’re not meeting your friends and giving handshakes or hugs. But you can still check in with yourself, and see how you’re doing. Is everything OK in there?
The decisions you make RIGHT NOW will determine how your life unfolds from this moment.
Shelter-in-place and coronavirus quarantines don’t mean that life stops.
If you’re sick, or someone you know is, our hearts go out.
If you’re not, and you’re grumbling about the inconvenience of it all, or you’re feeling worn down by the stress… Totally OK to be feeling that way.
Lots of health insurance plans are offering free access to mental health counselors right now, with sessions by phone or video. Maybe you can see if you have that as an option? Just to chat with someone for 20 minutes, to check in, and have them listen to some of your concerns.
If you find yourself getting angry, or rageful, or you’ve even exploded at someone you love recently… It’s OK. It’s normal to lose it sometimes; the pressure needs to go somewhere. We’re operating under massive amounts of stress. But it also means that you need to find a way to decrease the cortisol and increase the dopamine — in a HEALTHY way. Not by getting sh!tfaced tonight, or gorging on pizza. Try getting some exercise if you’ve been skipping that completely. Even some jumping jacks or burpees. Try sitting on the balcony for half an hour, and let the sunshine do some healing.
Try not to be a jerk and pretend that everything is normal and go out to a bonfire party on the beach since it’s the first weekend with good weather.
Yeah, social distancing is seriously starting to suck. But dealing with it in adaptive ways that build resilience… That’s how you become stronger in mind, body, and spirit.
And who knows, maybe that’s how you can shake of the nasties when some virus critters land on you and try to invade.
It’s about getting real, knowing your limits, getting help if you need it and not being embarrassed to do so. Or getting over the embarrassment, because you realized it’s important.
The things that make us feel better AND make us stronger at the same time are almost always ones that are uncomfortable. Like exercise, or meditation, or taking a risk to tell someone you appreciate them out of the blue. If you can expand your window of tolerance for being uncomfortable, you are developing the skill of grit. You’re transmutating pain into joy, even if it’s only on a small scale.
These things build on each other.
All that you have is RIGHT NOW.
What, pray tell, will you do with it?