Because this is serious, very serious, and we all want to be safe.
Does worrying help, or does it just cause more suffering? Can we care about each other and not experience undue suffering? Yes.
COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on our social structures, families, and loved ones. There is no such thing as normal anymore. I’ve had friends get very sick. I’ve watched my fellow health care colleagues struggle to stay safe and healthy so they can care for you and I – some have contracted the virus and been unable to perform their lives calling, delegated to the sidelines in quarantine. Parents have to home school and still work, and kids miss their peers. It’s a mess.
Jobs are being axed; parents are working at home. If you send your kids to school it’s a risk and homeschooling is overwhelming. You can’t get to the gym or head out to decompress with friends. And this all amounts to a mountain of pain, and a lot of worry about what is coming next. It hurts we worry, and we suffer.
But worrying does not mean suffering. Yet that is so much easier said than done, but it can be done. And here is how….
An accountant friend of mine recently said, “Life is just a numbers game.” It sounded a bit callous but since I know this fellow to be pretty wise, I listened. He rarely speaks unless his words have been considered. I decided to listen to really hear what he meant by this statement. (Learning to listen to learn, instead of listening to react, is part of our answer here, but more on that in a future blog.)
My friend David was reflecting on having achieved two years of successful single parenting with two two-year-old twin girls and their 6-year-old sister. He was also a very successful partner in a large accounting firm. I had noticed over the last year he had become less frantic and quite settled. The kids were still a handful! “Parenting was overwhelming at first, so much to learn and to do, and when one baby would settle the next would go off like a rocket. I started to wonder if I could manage all of this and if I had made the right decision. And now with COVID I have my oldest at home full-time. I could handle being pulled in so many directions, that was a well-refined management skill I had mastered, but the worrisome thoughts – THEY started to consume me. ‘What if…’ and I would be off down a rabbit hole.”
David continued, “A while ago you told me about learning to manage my thoughts. You sent me to an old blog of yours called Focal Point Meditation. I never bothered to follow-up until last fall when my EC [Executive Coach] at work mentioned I should take up meditation. At the same time, I had started some martial arts training to stay in shape and they offered a meditation program at my dojo. I signed up.”
“The first thing our instructor told us was, ‘Life is suffering, it is up to you if you want to suffer in response.’ So, I paid attention and dug in. And now, well, the same pile of stuff is on my plate – kids still don’t sleep, I’m a home school parent, work on my dining room table yet now I just deal with it. I don’t hang on to it. Feels good dude,” he concluded.
“OK so what this got to do with being a number game?” I inquired.
David laughed, “My thoughts used to be consumed with worry – like 100% of the time. Now I see a worrisome thought beginning, and instead of mindlessly going down that rabbit hole and suffering, I’ve learned to notice the thought, let it go, and move on to something that better for me and better for the kids. It’s a numbers game, less worrisome thoughts and more good stuff. There’s a ton in my life I am grateful for and now I know how to focus on that. Sure, the kids are still a handful, works a bear and we’re all locked down in the house but hey, what I choose to notice is how lucky I am to have all three!”
“It’s a numbers game. Same pile of crap on my plate, but less worry. Now I know the game and have the skills, I pay attention and make my move. I know when I allow myself to start worrying, I lose, so I stack the odds, and focus on the good shit. Meditation taught me how.”
David is a smart guy but he’s always picked on me for being a ‘bit too weird.’ So I was really surprised he took the plunge to learn how to manage his thoughts. That was always a part of my weirdness apparently! I wasn’t surprised he was able to interpret it as a number game.
COVID-19 is taking allot away from us. And as a result, we are all facing a lot more suffering. It is a skill to learn how not to suffer in response to all these new challenges. David is right, when we learn how to pay attention to how and what we think, we can minimize our worrying.
There are a number of ways to learn these skills, and they are the cornerstone of much of the work I do as both a psychotherapist and psychotherapeutic coach. Is it time you, like David, won the numbers game? Book an appointment online and I will show you how to get started.
Todd Kaufman is a Registered Psychotherapist and Coach specializing in anxiety disorders. You can reach Todd or book an appointment online at www.TheAnxiety.Clinic 1-800-699-3396.