One of the greatest blessings of adversity is that it throws our good fortune and happiness into stark relief, enabling us to appreciate them and re-evaluate our attitudes to external things beyond our control.
The COVID-19 pandemic is perhaps history’s greatest teacher of this lesson, one that spiritual leaders and adherents of the contemplative arts have for centuries been advocating; urging us to slow down, be still and listen. While scientists all over the world anxiously collaborate to come up with medicine to mitigate symptoms, and vaccines to prevent the inexorable spread of the coronavirus, there is nothing (besides taking the now obvious self-protection measures) that we can currently do to stop it. For all of 2020 so far, we’ve been at its mercy as it brings the world to a standstill; changing life as we know it – in many spheres, forever.
In this time of uncertainty, it’s never been more important to reflect inward on our own identity and long-term goals, and to re-evaluate our finances. How do we positively alter one of the most fundamental things we do have control over – our attitude – to challenge the beliefs that undermine us. This while we identify our emotional, economic, interpersonal, health and fitness, and socio-ethical goals? What is really most important to us? How do we use this newly enforced pause for thought to get out of autopilot and into a more fundamental, sensory way of being? Or, you could put it another way – who and how do I want to be, after COVID-19?
Finding ourselves through COVID-19
According to Kimberlee Davis, host and founder of The Fiscal Feminist, our own sense of self is one of the few things we can control. She believes, the key to making solid transitions is to start them in a quiet place – like the unique setting of coronavirus quarantine.
“With mouths to feed, bills to pay and immune systems to protect, taking stock of the bigger picture might seem like a low priority at present, but it shouldn’t be. Ultimately, who we choose to be – in business, in wealth, in family or just spiritually – will determine our paths out of this crisis. We have a unique opportunity to do some personal observation, self-reflection, introspection and evaluation, simply because we’re no longer losing time dashing to in-person meetings and children’s soccer practices,” she says with empathic irony.
Ms Davis recommends we comb through our spending habits (many are already adjusted by COVID-19) and examine our fiscal wellbeing – to plan for the long term, acquire knowledge and use the ubiquitous tools (most of them available online) to shape our futures.
She proposes four strategies to help us embrace the new world we live in so we can more easily find happiness, success and fulfilment. She says hardships may have left us bitter and unhappy, questioning life and the world and even blaming circumstances – but emphasises that this will hold us back.
Choose your attitude
A consciously chosen attitude is where it all starts, Ms Hagan asserts, quoting Henry Ford’s famous line, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t – you’re right.”
She asks us to consider what actions or activities will help us find true direction while being our most authentic selves. Surrounding ourselves with those in our social circles who remind us to maintain a positive and hopeful attitude is key. Being in the fitness game, she’s also a great proponent of ‘acting our way into right thinking.’
Use power posing to improve your confidence and lower stress
Ms Hagan adds, “While we know that our mind can change our physiology, social psychologist Am Cuddy has proved that the reverse is also true; our posture affects how we feel and how we behave (confidence). Cuddy’s work highlights the importance of standing in a high and open ‘power pose,’ versus low and closed postures. Practicing these for just two minutes can dramatically improve your confidence and lower your stress.”
Identify your goals to inspire a future vision
By revisiting our goals, we can re-invent them to match our new reality; be it in our careers, health, fitness or family and relationships by asking, “Where do you want to see improvements?” Breaking big dreams and goals into manageable steps and ‘reverse engineering’ them, is another effective technique.
Ms Hagan believes that dwelling in the past is a sure way to stop us moving into the kind of future we’d like. Seeing life as it is and realising what we have to work with, enable us to see opportunities. This while investing in education and upskilling by using ubiquitous online learning opportunities to accelerate our progress, instils confidence and helps us stand out.
Mindfulness and relaxing
Professor Dave Johnson, an employee assistance specialist at the University of St Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is an expert on mindfulness. He says that we’ve been consumed with media, community, work and healthcare responses as the world evolves at an unprecedented speed. This uncertainty generates fear, and often people speed up instead of slowing down and noticing things in their environment in the ‘here and now’ – and connecting to their senses.
He concurs with Hagan and Davis that staying current with events by using reputable medical and government sources about the pandemic is important. However, our body keeps score with the fight, flight or freeze response – we have to avoid getting stuck in fear toxicity and rather give ourselves an intentional reprieve. He recommends a mindful body scan to become aware of your physical self and your emotions, naming your fears by saying the feelings out loud. You can for instance do this by saying, “I’m feeling scared, angry, confused and overwhelmed.” Professor Johnson says that this gives light and voice to where one is consumed. He doesn’t believe in placating or sugar-coating the pain of others. Instead, he believes authenticating the emotional response by reflecting that, “This is hard, damn hard!” is the most compassionate response.
Like many before him, Prof Johnson says that hope is the embodiment of spirit, pairing well with self-compassion and helping us focus on goodness and healing to build resilience to the wear and tear of stress. Using slow breathing to shift one from ruminative thinking to, ‘a place of rhythm and flow,” where the brain can relax, is good medicine for the body and soul. Another de-stressing technique is to ‘savour the moment’, whether it is breakfast or that first cup of coffee at the start of a busy day. Using the age-old spiritual practice of ‘blessing’ also helps draw from the deep well of stillness. Prof Johnson says that finding resources to help your family cope is important, and getting into nature to experience its life-giving stillness and majesty, is a potent antidote to our fear responses. He believes we suffer from what he calls ‘Nature Deficit Disorder,’ in the modern technological world and recommends actions as straightforward as opening a window, looking at a beautiful landscape picture or watching our favourite nature channel.
It seems blessings don’t always come in expected ways – sometimes we are challenged to seek them out by the very things we find the most difficult.