tiny, yet so powerful, managing to change the
world around us hourly. We don’t know as of
yet how to get him to leave, and the question we
keep on asking is: how can we keep ourselves,
our loved ones, and our fellow humans safe?
We each experience fear in distinct ways:
Some of us have developed fears of any previ-ously-
considered-innocent physical symptoms:
I just sneezed. I am now analyzing my random
sneeze. Is it different from all previous sneezing
events? Is it a Coronavirus-induced sneeze? I
am over 70! In the high-risk category! Was this
a warning? Am I getting sick? Am I going to
Some of us focus fear on the possibility of
running out of supplies and try to combat this
fear by stocking up: hoarding cleaning supplies,
tissues, toilet paper. Why? Because it gives us
an illusion of the control we don’t really have.
Additionally, panic is cyclical: I go down to the
supermarket and see people on line in front
of me with carts filled with paper towels. I
think about the two lone roles I still have in
my apartment. What if there won’t be any left
for me to clean surfaces with, as instructed by
all mavens? Maybe I should run back to the
shelves and get more...
Some of us worry about the economic toll.
Will our retirement accounts disappear into
thin (virus-filled) air? Some worry about elderly
relatives (wait, WE are the elderly relatives...), or
about the impact of this plague on children and
grandchildren. So many scary case scenarios.
Will life return to normal in the foreseeable
future? All the advances in science have not
been sufficient to stop a tiny virus spreading
unnoticed among us!
What are the best ways of keeping this
objectively-induced anxiety at bay? Which
resources can we mobilize to facilitate coping?
Although this may seem strange, we must allow
ourselves to experience darker emotions, so
that we can let go of them. What feels most
challenging to you right now? Most distressing?
Give yourself permission to acknowledge and
feel those emotions. Look Fear in the eyes and
say: ‘OK fear, you are here, but you are not a
Stop sign.’ A certain level of productive anx-iety
is useful: It prompts us to take necessary
measures, such as hand washing and social
distancing. The goal is to find balance and not
let anxiety become an all-consuming, obsessive
Meditative approaches are extremely helpful
in the management of anxiety. All meditative
approaches have something in common. They
all elicit a physiological response often referred
to as “the relaxation response” – enhancement
of the parasympathetic nervous system responsi-ble
for stress reduction. Anxiety is based on pro-jecting
images onto some future state: what will
happen if... Meditation can help us come back
into the present, stay in the current moment.
Try, for example, a brief breathing meditation.
Choose a quiet place (sitting in a comfortable
armchair or lying down on your bed). Close your
eyes. Focus on your breathing. Try to empty your
mind of everyday thinking. Let your breathing
find its own natural rhythm, don’t try to con-trol
it in any way. Inhale through the nose and
exhale through either the nose or the mouth.
Follow each in-breath, as cool air enters your
body. Follow each out-breath, as warm air leaves
your body taking along all toxic thoughts. If
your mind wanders, simply notice where your
mind goes, without judgement. View thoughts
or feelings that enter your mind uninvited as
clouds floating by. When a thought floats in,
let it float away and guide your attention back
to your breath.
Visualization is very helpful too. Retrieve an
image of a favorite place you have visited some-time
in your life, a place that evokes calmness
and serenity. I usually choose a serene beach
scene, finding comfort in the sea (that can teach
me how to contain all types of waves...). I retrieve
from my memory archive images of turquoise
water, soft powdery sand, and a clear blue sky.
I feel the soothing warm air, the softness of the
breeze. I listen to the waves gliding smoothly
toward the shore, watch seagulls soaring high
above, follow a golden sun rising or setting...
Try to embrace the feelings your chosen place
evokes, the force of life it emanates. Remember,
you can always go back. This place is in you and
can be called upon any time.
There are additional ways to relax our mind
and body. Try connecting to nature, even from
your balcony or window. Listen to soothing
music. Immerse yourself in a book. Write (how
about brief daily gratitude lists?). Try positive
self-talk: ‘right now, in the present moment, I
am OK. Nothing I have anticipated in my Worst-
Case-Scenario imaginings has taken place as of
yet. I am alive. My body is in working condition.
I have food. There are stores and a pharmacy
in the arcade that deliver. There are wonderful
people who work hard to keep us safe. I can
try to learn from this situation and grow as a
Beyond fear, Social Distancing is a major
hardship. Social Distancing? It goes against
common sense, against everything we have
learned about the importance of social con-nectedness.
Our lives now depend on us staying
away from each other! Suddenly, distance can
save and closeness can infect! For how long?
We don’t know...
Social isolation is as dangerous as a virus. We
used to have a variety of methods to prevent
this danger, till the coronavirus came to keep
us apart. I remember growing up in times of war
and adversity. We found comfort in togetherness,
being there with one another and for one anoth-er.
This comfort is not available in the familiar
ways. I miss being with the people I love like
I never have before. So, what should we do?
Social Distancing does not mean social dis-engagement.
We need to be creative, find ways
to remain socially attached across physical
distance. Until the coronavirus days, we blamed
technology for negatively influencing our social
interaction, making us spend too much time on
social media and not enough time interacting
with each other in real life. Now, we need to rely
on technology to maintain meaningful human
contacts from afar, connect without physical
contact: telephone conversations, texting, sky-ping,
digital support groups, FaceTime sessions
with children and grandchildren. I just had a
digital coffee date with my friend who lives on
another continent. I enjoyed our heart-to-heart
conversation. I felt so near to her, despite the
physical distance, that I could (almost) smell
Ask yourself: how can I respond to this chal-lenge
in a way that is aligned with who I am?
How do I wish to be in the midst of this major
crisis? This pandemic is a powerful reminder:
we are all in it together (a cliché, but so accu-rate).
We are facing a common enemy. For this
virus – we are all equal, all more human than
otherwise. This virus does not discriminate by
nationality, religion, race, or socioeconomic
status. Also, we can only be victorious if we
each do our part. I realize yet again how much
we need each other.
David Brooks’ highly recommended article
in the NY Times, The Moral Meaning of the
Plague, stays with me. Brooks believes that
we are likely to look back at this as one of
the most meaningful periods of our lives. He
is referring to Viktor Frankl, one of my role
models, who learned, during the madness of
the Holocaust, that “we don’t get to choose
our difficulties, but we do have the freedom
to select our responses.” Brooks encourages us
to examine what role we can play in this crisis;
find out in what specific way we can serve. He
believes that this crisis can unite us, change
us for the better, and help us find meaning.
“In situations like this,” Brooks concludes,
“meaning is a vital medication for the soul.”
Similarly, in a recent conference call with
reporters, our governor, Andrew Cuomo, said:
“A crisis shows you a person’s soul. It shows
you what they’re made of. The weaknesses
explode and the strengths are, uh, embold-ened.”
Yes, in the throes of a major crisis, our
weaknesses explode – our fears, our anxiet-ies,
our insecurities, and we must encompass
them with compassion and understanding.
Acceptance of our vulnerabilities can optimize
our strengths, harness our compassion, and
help us operate from an empowered mindset.
We happen to be living in a truly unsettling
chapter of human history, an era of a plague
(sales of Albert Camus’ 1947 classic, The
Plague, soar...). Both, human fragility and the
strength of the human spirit manifest them-selves,
I keep on reminding myself: This is tempo-rary.
This is survivable. Eventually, we shall
overcome. Yes, deep in my heart, I do believe
that we shall overcome and, ultimately, find
meaning in this experience. But for now, we
must embrace hope tightly, retrieve her even
when she slips away. As Queen Elizabeth said
in her inspiring address to the nation:
“We should take comfort that while we may
have more still to endure, better days will
return. We will be with our friends again;
we will be with our families again; we will
May 2020 ¢ NORTH SHORE TOWERS COURIER 21