This morning I went to the grocery store and couldn’t find an available cart; all the carts were in use by shoppers desperate to buy food and supplies before they ran out—a sure sign of coronavirus-anxiety. I overheard one shopper ask an employee, “When do you expect to get in more eggs?” Besides toilet paper, I wondered what other products had been sold out by anxious shoppers. I hadn’t seen this kind of panic shopping since the threat of Hurricane Irma.
Nothing mobilizes masses of people like fear, but what is it exactly? Fear of illness? Fear of hunger? Fear of the unknown? Fear of death? Forgive me for asking, but I tend to observe anxiety through the lens of emotional and spiritual assessment. It’s what I do. You might call it an obsession, but I hope it is rooted in a passion for caring for people. When those I love are scared or anxious, my soul wakes up, and I want to go into action.
So, how do we cope with illness-anxiety in uncertain times? There are so many things we can’t control, like the behavior of people who sneeze near your face or rarely wash their hands and want to shake yours. Rather than get emotionally flooded with anxiety over things I can’t control, I step back and think about things I can control. I can wash my hands frequently. I can do fist bumps and elbow bumps instead of shaking hands. I can be respectful of others by covering my face if I must cough or sneeze. I can care for co-workers by staying home if I feel ill. I can avoid crowds in confined spaces.
Another thing I can do is to eat healthily, get plenty of sleep, and drink water as opposed to eating junk food and drinking sodas or unhealthy beverages. Self-care means paying attention to my immune system. My friends and family already know my recipe for the care of the immune system: 1) healthy eating. 2) Exercise. 3) Plenty of sleep. 4) Meditation/Prayer/Music, and 5) Meaningful social engagement. I should add a word of wisdom from my Ayurvedic doctor friend from India who says, “Your pharmacy is in your kitchen.” (By that he means herbs and spices.)
Avoiding crowds in confined spaces and staying home to maintain social distancing is a sacrifice that many of us will find challenging. However, there may be a silver lining. By getting off the fast-paced-social-treadmill, we might re-engage with family, eat more meals together, care for each other, or read a book that we never had time to read. During uncertain times we may remember what is truly important in our lives, our values, beliefs, and relationships. It may even be a time to reflect on our life-meaning and purpose. My Dad often told us the story of when he lost his job during the Great Depression and went to live on a cousin’s farm and chopped wood and sold it for firewood. After a hard day of work, the family would gather and take out musical instruments and sing folk songs. Some of his best memories came from those times of economic hardship. Your family may have similar life stories.
Perhaps especially in troubled times, our spiritual values of compassion and care for one another builds resilience and strengthens our mutual bonds and leads to hope.