Making the most out of our isolation in the time of panic and disquiet
A Different Perspective
Maybe we can call this lockdown an interlude between our predictable schedules.
Maybe, for the time being, let’s call this moment, a time-out.
Maybe, it’s time to pause, give room for optimism for just a moment, and call this interlude an opportunity to come out of this crisis, renewed, re-energized, re-formed.
Maybe for the first time in your life you have been shut out of this world and you’re not okay with it. But maybe you need to. Maybe we need this break to appreciate things we’ve often taken for granted. Like, the ability to go places, walk on the streets, visit the mall, watch in a cinema, satisfy your food cravings, shake hands, hang out with your friends.
An optimist would say, regardless of the circumstances and the difficulty that surrounds it, that this is a blessing in disguise. Besides, if it’s time for the caterpillar to go into its incubation period, it needs to drop everything and get into the cocoon. Their wings can’t wait for anything.
Believe that something, somehow, fate intervened and asks you—here and now—to step back, take a break, and give your life the assessment it needs.
Basically, there are four kinds of people that emerge after a crisis. The first one is defeated by it. The second one survives but is traumatized forever. The third remains unchanged yet will continue to face subsequent crises as part of their routine. The fourth one is awakened by it. Not only did they weather the storm, but has tamed it, and used it to their advantage.
A radical crisis like this makes the old ways of doing things obsolete. When our survival apparently hangs in a balance, threatened by a seemingly insurmountable problem, you, as an individual, can either surrender or rise above your limitations. The conditions set upon you can lead to ruin or it can present itself as the very opportunity to make an evolutionary leap.
Crisis = Opportunity
The best entrepreneurs and the titans of industries certainly had to go through tremendous crises before emerging from it in better and greater forms.
The greats found their groove after being forged by such big, monumental crises. John D. Rockefeller was a sophomore bookkeeper when the Panic of 1857 struck. He would’ve retreated and joined the chorus of the panicking masses. But he soldiered on and sharpened his business acumen. At the height of the American Civil War, he ventured into the oil business despite all its risks… and would eventually become the wealthiest man in modern history.
When Thomas Edison’s campus burned to the ground, the man got even more energized and, within three weeks, had his new lab set up and running again.
Walt Disney was a struggling cartoonist when he produced "Snow White and Seven Dwarfs" during the Great Depression as a way to cheer people up.
So what makes a crisis an opportunity? It starts, as in many things, with our human behavior—with our decision to cope and rise above the situation.
If you keep yourself the space you have been given, your body will enable you to cope.
Our-stay-at-home can either be a time of paranoia/mania or peace. Pull your mind in the latter, if you can. Turn off your electronic devices and find a comfortable place, sit or lie down, and bring yourself at ease. Meditate for 15-20 minutes.
The Happy Molecules
The silence that you give your mind is how you heal yourself. Enlightened teachers across cultures and religions describe silence as the greatest form of prayer, while psychiatrists encourage meditation as a first-response against stress and anxiety before they prescribe any drug.
Given space, the brain exerts chemical neurotransmitters that deal with specific imbalances: Dopamine (the reward molecule) boosts your motivation; serotonin (the confidence molecule) makes you feel significant and improves your sense of purpose; oxytocin creates trust and intimacy. People who practice meditation and yoga are often showered by gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is an anti-anxiety molecule that creates a sense of calmness. And then, there is the good ole’ endorphins or the laugh molecule. Endorphins are the brain’s defense mechanism against painful experiences. It's similar to morphine because it acts as a sedative, shielding your perception of hurt.
The Present Moment
Giving yourself the space is also an opportunity to understand the source of your anxiety. If broken down to its essence, anxiety and stress are a result of a mind overthinking about possible future outcomes; whereas sadness and depression are the conditions of the mind looking back.
Indeed, it will take time, patience and practice to remove yourself from the past and the future. But you have a better chance of succeeding if you put yourself in silence.
The easiest path to peace and calmness is to appreciate the present moment. The Japanese called this practice “mushin” or no mind. Remove your mind from the trivialities of yesterday and tomorrow and live in the moment. You cannot control the events of the past. Your purpose in this world is not to predict the future. Your job is to be the good captain of the ship called the Present. Make a full appreciation of the journey, not the destination.
All the power and the energies that you need can be found at this moment, this time, this very second you are reading this. As one spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, wrote: “you are beneath the thinker. You are the stillness beneath the mental noise. You are the love and joy beneath the pain”.
The Benefits of Stress
When you come out of your silence, you would emerge better than you used to be. I’m not saying this out of some mumbo-jumbo assumptions. This is based on the strength of recent scientific findings that our mental health is better off when embracing stress as part of your life.
Stanford psychologist, Kelly McGonigal, explained that if you embrace the concept of stress as something that is beneficial for you, it will. The right amount of stress and proper stress management can make you happier and stronger. Not the other way around.
The only key ingredient to turn stress into your advantage is to think that it is good for you—that it makes your body better at handling it. Further details about this idea can be found in McGonigal’s book The Upside of Stress. Or you can watch her lecture here.
Essentially, giving yourself space, meditating, ensuring calmness, letting the brain shower you with the necessary neuro-chemicals to cope, and appreciating the present moment all boil down to one thing: it makes you better at handling stress and overcoming anxiety.
Maybe here’s our chance to make do with the things that have been handed to us, plant the seeds today and become the greats we were meant to be.
Theodore Marc Gutierrez is a Registered Financial Planner (RFP), freelance writer, speaker, and researcher specializing in behavioral finance. Next to writing, he designs old school card/board games as a hobby. He published his first book, Astronomer's Tales, in 2007.