We know stress is caused by the anticipation of future possibilities, and as humans, we prefer to sit in certainty. So, how do we cope in the midst of a global pandemic where there is no shortage of uncertainty?
In Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, author Dr. Robert Sapolsky describes how animals experience intermittent stress.
When zebras are being chased by a predator, they run with their life on the line. But as soon as they outrun this threat, they go back to whatever they were doing before – grazing in the field, enjoying their next meal or simply basking in the warmth of the sun. They’re not worried about “next time,” only what’s in their immediate control.
We’re different from our animal friends because we have the ability to foresee possible future events and plan accordingly.
This ability, of course, has led us to incredible innovation. But on the downside, this tendency to forecast causes us to ruminate and worry about future events.
It is this anticipation of adversity that leads to prolonged and unhealthy stress.
In this case, we’re not talking about future events. The devastating effects of COVID-19 have taken their toll on humanity. Our front-line healthcare workers and caregivers are nothing short of heroes who have witnessed firsthand the loss of loved ones and the grief of family members left behind who are unable to plan funerals and mourn together. People all around the world are experiencing feelings of loneliness, isolation and fear.
Yet at times like this, it becomes even more imperative to limit playing the “what if” game, turn our focus on our own immediate environment and make the best decisions we can today – for the well-being of ourselves and our family.
We sometimes hear this described as “doing the next right thing”. (This is attributed to many and most recently heard in Frozen 2. We’ll take wisdom wherever we can get it these days!)
How do we do this? As long as we are fortunate enough to already have life’s basic necessities at hand, we can:
- Commit to doing our best and to helping others
- Choose to focus on what we can control
- Try not to catastrophize
- Remember it won’t always be like this
- View change as a challenge and look for positive and creative solutions
In the days and weeks ahead, if we can find comfort and empowerment in choosing to focus on what we can control, we’ll emerge strong and ready to thrive.