There is so much coming at us about the novel coronavirus (COVID 19). There is important, well researched information and good best practices along with false news, opinions stated as facts, and advice of all kinds. In this digital age, where so much of all of it is in our faces whether we want it or not, I’d like to share something that can be truly helpful no matter where you are in the process of coming to terms with this current pandemic.
If I carry only one message, I want to encourage us all to be practicing compassion. We must practice because it is hard and we need to get better at it because it will help everyone, no matter what is happening in our lives or in the world today. We need to practice compassion for others, but just as importantly, compassion for ourselves.
The definition of compassion is to hold pain and suffering with loving kindness. Having to cancel your vacation or be deprived of attending events you were looking forward to is painful. Trying to help your kids deal with canceled sporting events, social gatherings, and school closings is painful. Forced or self-imposed social distancing creates suffering of various kinds for people of all ages. Losing income because businesses have to close down for a time surely creates suffering. And of course fear of any kind, especially fear of the unknown, can be incredibly painful.
This current situation is one where so much is unknown. New things are unfolding constantly and we are all required to adjust, day by day, to changing circumstances. Humans don’t do so well with fear of the unknown and we have many different coping strategies; ways to try to help ourselves feel safe. These can range from denial: “This is all nothing, no different from the flu and everyone is over reacting!” to the fear driven hoarding of everything that might be helpful to prevent or treat the virus. Sometimes it’s anger that helps manage our fears: “What’s wrong with those horrible people buying up all the toilet paper?”
These kinds of reactions are in response to the suffering; the pain of how the spread of this virus is, or might impact us. How can we hold our own and other people’s feelings and behaviors with kindness? When we get to the store and find that all the bleach, and Lysol, and toilet paper is sold out, can we notice our fear about the possibility of not having what we need? Can we notice how quickly that fear turns to anger at the people who over-bought, depriving us of a sense of safety? Can we hold ourselves with kindness in all our feelings? Of course we feel this way. Can we remember that the people who are cleaning out the shelves are also feeling fear? Probably the same fear we have?
This sense of common humanity is one of the most important elements in the practice of compassion. To remember that we’re all human with human responses and the human drive to try to feel safe. We reach for a feeling of safety in many different ways, but we’re all doing it all of the time. And we’re all suffering, especially now. How can we hold this suffering, this fear, this annoyance, this disappointment with kindness?
If you’re disappointed that your plans to travel or to go out with friends have been interrupted, can you remember that there are thousands of other people with the same disappointment? Maybe you can connect on the phone, Face-time, or Skype. If you are losing income because of the outbreak, can you remember that the financial fallout of this pandemic will be shared by many others? Can you reach out to someone else in a similar boat and commiserate or get support? If you’re terrified that you or your loved ones will get sick and die can you remember how many people are afraid at this time? Maybe you can take a break from reading the news, scrolling Facebook, talking about the situation. Find something good to watch on Netflix or escape into a good book. If you are feeling annoyed and inconvenienced and think people are over-reacting, you are also not alone. But, can you recognize that many people are very scared and trying to make decisions for safety? Can you remember a time in your life when you were scared and then try to act in ways that would have helped you in your fear?
In our fast paced digital world many people are already struggling with varying levels of emotional and psychological challenges. The current push for social distancing, along with the financial pressures many are facing can greatly increase feelings of isolation which can lead to depression and even more anxiety. In these times it’s even more important for all of us to be practicing compassion. How can you make space for whatever you’re feeling and be kind to yourself and others? How can you reach out and ask for support or offer support to someone you know is suffering? How can we use our technology to be closer to people as opposed to create further distancing?
I believe that how we respond to what is happening will have a larger, longer lasting effect on us all than the coronavirus itself. Let’s respond to the suffering, other’s and our own, with loving kindness as much as we can and we’ll get through this time together.
Penny Field is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice in East Hartford CT. You can learn more about her work at http://www.pfield.com/ or read her blog Progress not Perfection at https://pfieldpsychotherapy.wordpress.com/.
For more information about the coronavirus (COVID-19) visit CDC.gov.
If you need support now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or, text “CONNECT” to 741741 to get help 24/7 from the Crisis Text Line.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit the Jordan Porco Foundation’s resources page.
The opinions expressed in this blog are personal, and not those of the Jordan Porco Foundation. The information in this blog post is provided for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as mental health advice from the individual