(Update 16 Apr 20: The situation is more under control in Australia as the curve has flattened; while some other parts of the world are still in shocking condition. With the lockdowns and various levels of social restrictions, and many working from home or having lost their jobs, the advice below can still be very helpful.)
The World Health Organisation has just declared the COVID-19 a pandemic. In his last media briefing, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.“
For some, this may lead to feeling fearful and alarmed. Others may continue their inaction leading to potential disaster; too late to handle. All this and witnessing the recent madness of empty supermarket shelves on the one hand; and some negligent folks ignoring all the health advice on the other; reminded me of the wisdom of effortless doing; which means being agile and responsive but not overreactive. Not avoiding but feeling our fears, and then doing what is in our capacity to do at the time, Being mindful not to rev up our fears with worrying thoughts which may never happen. Such thoughts only create anxiety and weaken our immune system. While a healthy immune system is our best tool for fighting the Coronavirus should we contract it.
Some of us become highly alarmed and panic in these situations, and when that happens it is out of our control. People are often advised not to panic, but this is easier said than done. There is a reason why we panic. Our fears kick in our fight-flight mode and we mobilise to ensure our survival. This has evolutionary benefits and cannot be stopped. However, what we can practice to learn is to allow the panic to go through us without having to overreact. In other words we can find creative ways to channel the energy of self-mobilisation into disengaging from our unfounded fearful thoughts and then take reasonable actions to mitigate the risks.
Every culture knows the value of this. At the end of this post I share some pearls of Eastern and Western wisdom with you. In the meantime here are a few things that you can do now.
What you can do
In case of the Coronavirus alarm, the fear of unknown and excessive media consumption will put us in a state of stress and anxiety which in turn will weaken our immune system, leading to worse outcomes should one contract the virus.
- You should always check the official resources such as the Australian Government Dept. of Health COVID-19 page, While there, check the Resources page. You can also find the resources in quite a few different languages.
- Avoid sensationalised news in the mainstream and social media. Being continually exposed to alarming stories convinces our psyche that there is something real to panic about. And this in turn further perpetuates the myths, rumours and misinformation; causing uncertainty and anxiety.
- The NPR article Pandemic Panic? These 5 Tips Can Help You Regain Your Calm illustrates the fact that Coronavirus anxiety defeats the purpose of fighting it; and offers 5 tips summarised below:
- Plan ahead to feel more in control. (See e.g. Dept. of Health Resources page.)
- Unplug. Learn to be in the moment by practicing mindfulness.
- Limit your media consumption. “There’s a point where, information gathering could become problematic,” says Stewart Shankman, a psychologist at Northwestern University who studies anxiety. He says it could have the unintended effect of driving up your fear. Taking basic steps to protect yourself and staying informed is enough. “There’s no way to reduce your risk to zero. Spending all day and night reading headlines, news alerts or tweets does not change your risk of getting coronavirus.”
- For more on mindfulness see my Mindfulness Resources page.
- Prioritise good sleep.
- Exercise and eat well.
- Wash your hands. Forgo handshakes and hugging. Try the ‘Thank you’ bow with both hands pressed together gesture 🙏. Or the elbow bump.
Inspiring ideas & passages from East and West
Every culture knows the value of effortless doing.
In the Zen Buddhist and Daoist traditions, this is called “Wu wei”. It means freedom from reactivity. Acting when it is time to act, not acting when it is not time to act. Action is thus aligned with the natural movement of things in service of that which wants to be born.
Watch this useful TEDX talk by Edward Slingerland: Trying Not to Try: the Power of Spontaneity . Around the 9′ mark he talks about Wu wei.
Rumi and free will or predestination
The truth seeded in this non-doing is that the natural birth of events will happen whether we want it or not. But please do not misunderstand this as fate or predestination. The lesson is more subtle than that. Rumi also pays extensive attention to free will versus predestination and says that they exist simultaneously. We definitely posses free will; however it is in our own best interest to align our will with the Universal Will. This may be done only with stillness of the mind and when our inner eyes and ears are open. For more on this you can read my earlier post: Dear Rumi, do I have free will?
Australian Aboriginal Proverb
We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… and then we return home.
Peace by Henry Van Dyke
With eager heart and will on fire,
I strove to win my great desire.
“Peace shall be mine,” I said; but life
Grew bitter in the barren strife.
My soul was weary, and my pride
Was wounded deep; to Heaven I cried,
“God grant me peace or I must die;”
The dumb stars glittered no reply.
Broken at last, I bowed my head,
Forgetting all myself, and said,
“Whatever comes, His will be done;”
And in that moment peace was won.
Sympathy by Emily Bronte
There should be no despair for you
While nightly stars are burning;
While evening pours its silent dew,
And sunshine gilds the morning.
There should be no despair-though tears
May flow down like a river:
Are not the best beloved of years
Around your heart for ever?
They weep, you weep, it must be so;
Winds sigh as you are sighing,
And winter sheds its grief in snow
Where Autumn’s leaves are lying:
Yet, these revive, and from their fate
Your fate cannot be parted:
Then, journey on, if not elate,
Still, NEVER broken-hearted!
Do Not Worry – The Bible (Luke 12:25-34)
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air: They do not sow or reap or gather into barns—and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
And why do you worry about clothes? Consider how the lilies of the field grow: They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was adorned like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles strive after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.
As I always suggest: “Do your best, then rest“.