*Update: substitute for “pandemic” any highly charged story currently looping on news media.
“People are saying….” People are saying all kinds of things as this pandemic unfolds. Of course they are, that’s what people do !! Inspiring things, horrible things, hypocritical things, smart things, stupid things, true things, false things, all kinds of things. Some of us get up in arms about these things and say things ourselves. I’m going to say something now.
A lot of what we say right now is going to reflect and vent our anxieties. And the way we interpret and respond to the things others say also reflects and vents our anxieties. We’re stressed. My caveat is that stress is hard on the immune system, and in the middle of a pandemic it seems that our immune systems need all the help they can get. So, maybe it’s a good time to pause and think about how the things “people are saying” are relieving and/or compounding your own stress levels. And if you feel you ought to dial back your stress levels a bit, I have a couple of suggestions to that end. For what they’re worth.
I’m NOT going to tell you not to get upset or to stop venting your anxieties by talking. C’mon. Rather, I suggest 1) information “fasts”, and 2) philosophy. For the former, you retreat from information. The latter, approach. But both are controlled responses.
- Information fasts. I’ve taken this concept from a book by Dr. Andrew Weil that I read years ago. To my recollection, Dr. Weil suggests taking “news fasts” to reduce stress and thereby improve one’s general health. Right now, it is good practice to stay apprised of what is going on around you, new instructions, and so on. But, staying apprised doesn’t require staying glued to media 24-7. Set yourself a few hours every day to shut off media and leave your newspapers alone. I suggest pandemic-conversation fasts during this period as well. I’ve told my husband, Paul, to just shut up and to turn off the TV because I need a break from pandemic-talk. And news generally, like the never-ending US election coverage. Bleaghhh! Paul and I negotiate the needs each of us have for information and for refuge from information, and our needs don’t always mesh. Fortunately, we work it out. But, in other households, this negotiation might be difficult, if not impossible. Do the best you can. Sit on the can — with cotton in your ears if you have to!
- Philosophy. I’m not suggesting everyone run out and get a philosophy degree. Although, perusing YouTube and other philosophy resources on the net might be a nice distraction! Rather, what I have in mind is that you envision yourself a philosopher as you receive and interpret information. Why? Because while you won’t have control over the pandemic, you will have some control over some of your responses. And any little sense of control you feel can go some way to ratcheting down your stress levels. Here’s a rough and ready guide to being a philosopher. i) Be curious, both about what people say and your responses. Take a breath and say, “Well, that’s interesting.” ii) Start a dialectic. That is, ask yourself questions such as is that true, how do I know, why would she say that, what evidence do I have, can I think of evidence to the contrary, what does that mean, what should I do, what can I do, and so on. Think slowwwwwwwwly and carefully on these questions. You’ll find you have more insights than answers, and probably more questions. iii) Test your newfound insights and ideas against what you see in the world.