As I write this, the world is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, this is my first post related to this universal experience. I have noticed a phenomenon soon after restrictions were placed on movement, gathering, socializing, etc., which seems to be a form of shell shock. As the gravity of the situation hit, many of us experienced a time when we felt the weight of a very foreign situation. It is, perhaps, a primal response to the fear, the panic, and the uncertainty of the moment. As the brain focuses on immediate needs (toilet paper, anyone?) or threats, a sort of tunnel vision kicks in and normal brain function is changed. We make silly mistakes, we miss normal cues, we don’t think through all we are saying or hearing. We are not mindful of our environment in ways that impact work, play, and our lives. It dulls the normal senses. I am certain that this happens in many crises – I know it does in the preparation for and the aftermath of a hurricane. I am sure it happens in many natural disasters. But, this time we are all in it, worldwide, at the same time! As a result, work productivity is impacted. Tempers flare. And, even things like car accidents increase, as was reported in various ways, especially in the first weeks after the “shut down.” All because people are unable to focus on the things they must focus on daily. Distractions abound and fear, some of it unreasonably driven (as in many hurricane broadcasts), by the unceasing media coverage. Realizing this is important. Pause, take a step back, a deep breath (and exhale). We will survive but it will help to turn your brain “on” to something other than the immediate panic. Think about your actions, small or large, and try not to let the distractions lead to something negative. Actively engaging with your activities of daily living, not on auto pilot, but on careful manual control, is important to getting to the other side of the curve.
In times like these, mindless behavior is, unfortunately, the norm. Many people are suffering from duress due to lost employment, inability to pay bills, and worry about their future. Forced to stay at home, we are realizing that, maybe, going to work every day is something we used to take for granted. Many of us walk around, zombie like, when we allow ourselves to venture outside our bubbles to go to the grocery store. Those of us who are lucky enough to be able to work are having to “make do” with limited resources, while shared computers, screaming children, and barking dogs add to our frustrations. In this type of environment, mistakes are bound to happen. Some of these mistakes are simple errors and easily corrected, while others, such as an auto accident, will have profound effects on the people involved. Watching and reading endless media reports of the pandemic crisis only adds fuel to the fire, resulting in panic and pandemonium, leading to further lapses in attention and judgment. In times like these, I turn to mindful thinking, reading thoughtful books, and of course, listening to music that truly calms my soul and provides perspective. One can choose to turn off the TV and instead, listen to calming music or the sound of a cat purring or one can turn up the TV volume and get caught up in the latest account of impending doom. As with many things in life, how one chooses to conduct oneself in a crisis situation says a lot about us, as individuals.