Restrictions are escalating. Anxiety is rising. How can we productively respond to our new circumstances?
The last two weeks have been a blur of announcements, coming in such rapid-fire succession as to be mind-numbing!
- Daily increases in the number of new cases of the novel coronavirus.
- Stay-at-home orders coming from cities, counties, and states.
- Critical shortages of personal protective equipment, ICU beds, and ventilators either encountered or predicted soon.
- New weekly unemployment claims eclipsing the previous weekly record by more than four times the affected individuals.
- A $2 trillion dollar coronavirus relief bill with provisions to help unemployed individuals, and to provide funding to companies whose revenues have dropped or collapsed, so as to keep people on the payroll and paying bills essential to keeping the company afloat.
To top it all off, major announcements like these will likely become more common.
Why might that be? The best explanation I've heard came from a guest on a podcast, who noted that our brains have evolved to process information in a linear manner, while the coronavirus is spreading in an exponential fashion. Thus, the only way to get on top of things is for our policy makers to rely upon models predicting exponential growth.
All this is certainly disconcerting and fear-inducing, even for someone like me who tries to approach issues in as rational a manner as possible. Thus, I was thankful a friend reminded me of a concept I'd heard of years ago, "Wise Mind."
What is "Wise Mind"?
According to a very useful worksheet on TherapistAid.com, everyone's mind has three states:
- Emotional Mind – This mind is in use when feelings direct our thoughts and behaviors.
- Reasonable Mind – This mind is in use when we approach a situation intellectually and make decisions based on facts.
- Wise Mind – This mind is a balance of the emotional and reasonable minds, and is in use when we are able to recognize and acknowledge our feelings, while also planning and carrying out a rational response to them.
The worksheet depicts these three states of mind as a Venn Diagram:
As someone who seeks out objective and reliable information on any topic, I have approached COVID-19 in the same way. Here are some sources I use and trust:
- The New York Times – While this website normally requires a paid subscription, The Times is providing free access to all its coronavirus coverage.
- The Daily – This is a free weekday podcast going in-depth (about 20 minutes) on a major news story, and many episodes cover various aspects – financial, medical, ethical, and personal – of the coronavirus.
- Stay Tuned with Preet – While this free podcast – hosted by Preet Bharara, the former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York – normally covers justice and fairness and social issues, recent episodes have featured interviews and commentary related to the coronavirus.
- One episode I highly recommend for everyone is "Tracking & Tackling COVID-19 with Andy Slavitt". Andy Slavitt is a healthcare industry veteran who helped to salvage Healthcare.gov and worked to improve federal health care data analytics, and who is now on the front lines of this crisis – working to acquire healthcare supplies for medical workers, helping to popularize #StayHome, and advising various members of the Trump administration.
- Short Wave – This free NPR weekday podcast features a short (about 10 minutes) and snappy discussion of an interesting science topic. Several recent episodes cover various aspects of COVID-19.
- Health Now – This is WebMD's free weekly podcast covering one topic in depth (about 40 minutes). The two most recent episodes – "Coronavirus: What You Must Know" and "Your Top Coronavirus Questions Answered" – are outstanding.
These sources provide outstanding evidence-based information on, and strategies to protect against, this novel coronavirus and thus satisfy the needs of the Reasonable Mind.
Have you ever had trouble identifying a specific emotion you're experiencing? Probably so, yet to develop emotional intelligence, you first need to name what you are feeling. There are several tools to help you do so.
Perhaps you've seen charts depicting various facial expressions used to help children understand and name their emotions. Another tool I’ve found helpful in naming emotions can be found in Emotional Intelligence 2.0, by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves. This book provides a table (on page 15) containing 100 different emotions, categorized as High, Medium, or Low under each of the five core emotions – Happy, Sad, Angry, Afraid, and Ashamed. Here is that table, where I've indicated some of the emotions I've experienced over the past two weeks:
Note that many of the emotions in the table are "negative" or uncomfortable emotions, ones we typically try to avoid. Nonetheless, negative emotions have great value – they prepare us for a "fight or flight" response and thus are essential to survival. The problem with this type of response? The "fight or flight" response evolved to keep us safe at a time when physical danger constantly threatened our lives.
Today's dangers are rarely life-threatening, yet we cannot undo millennia of evolutionary development hard-wired into our brains and central nervous system. Immediately acting on "fight or flight" for today's dangers could be exactly the wrong thing to do, because it causes us to act without first thinking about consequences.
Because COVID-19 threatens our safety or security, our emotions turn negative and prepare us for immediate action, reflecting the take-charge nature of Emotional Mind.
My Grandmother Bolick was fond of saying, in a slightly more colorful manner, "Poop in one hand, and wish in the other, and see which one fills up first!" Her point – you can wish something were not so, yet wishing is not going to change anything.
That's the key concept behind Wise Mind – we have to honor the feelings of Emotional Mind, yet draw upon the rational thinking of Reasonable Mind to respond appropriately to changed circumstances.
Let me share some examples of how I or others have applied Wise Mind to respond COVID-19:
- Work – I had to rigorously analyze the cash needs of Todd Herman Associates, assess how recent announcements would affect our client, business development, and administrative work, and make some hard decisions – and have some tough conversations with staff – to give my company the best possible chance of riding things out.
- Family – My wife and I contacted our son and daughter, who live and work in Raleigh and Washington, DC, respectively, to ensure they were taking appropriate safety measures and to understand how their workplace and jobs might be affected.
- Friends – I stay in contact with five guy friends via group text message. Most of the time, we share funny pictures or comments on news articles. One friend, though, shared something especially heartwarming – his daughter and her fiance (living in Berkely, CA), on the spur of the moment one night, decided to write some notes to their friends in town, then went to Taco Bell to pick up food, and left both the food and a note on each doorstep!
- Volunteer Groups – I co-founded and co-lead a group of friends, mainly from my congregation First Lutheran Church (FLC), that gathers each Friday morning to prepare and serve a hot breakfast to our guests at Greensboro Urban Ministry (GUM). Normally, we need 18-20 volunteers to do all the work. With the onset of COVID-19 and accompanying guidelines for social distancing and size of gatherings, we only need 7 volunteers to help setup and serve the breakfast temporarily being made by the GUM staff. Many of our volunteers are over 65 years old, or are younger yet have special circumstances at work or home that prevent them from volunteering until things settle down. Fortunately, we have about 10 volunteers who can still show up to wipe down tables and chairs, set out creamer and sweeteners for coffee, fill cups with juice and set them on the tables, and pass out the bagged or boxed breakfast – all with welcoming smiles on our faces and gloved hands!
- Spirituality – Wise Mind grew out of Eastern philosophies and practices, especially meditation and mindfulness, adapted for use in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). While I attend FLC's online worship services, I find working outdoors is currently the best way to fill my spiritual needs. There is something inherently meditative about working in the woods or digging holes for plants. Being in contact with the ground connects me strongly with the Ground of Being.
Remember, these are just a few of the ways I've seen people apply Wise Mind – doing what you CAN do to productively RESPOND to COVID-19.
Some Closing Thoughts
A few closing thoughts:
- New Normal = New Rules – We're all taking on new roles and responsibilities during this crisis, so develop new routines to help support yourself.
- Crises Reveal Character – A friend of mine, Lori Koop, coined the acronym TRU – "The Real You." How you respond to this crisis reveals your TRU to others. Conversely, how others handle things reveals their TRU to you.
- Stay Connected – Smartphones provide multiple ways to stay in touch with friends, families, and colleagues. Our computers-in-our-pockets can send emails or text messages to individuals or groups, initiate various types of online meetings using apps such as Skype, Zoom, or Facetime – and, heaven forbid, place an actual phone call! (Kids, call your parents!)
- Focus on What You CAN Do – Yes, there are a number of activities we can't do for a while – going to the barber or hair dresser, shopping at favorite stores, seeing a movie in the theaters, and working out in the gym, to name a few. Still, there are many things we CAN do – order take-out from your favorite restaurant, play golf, go to a park, take a walk or run, exercise to videos, attend online worship, and perform random acts of kindness.
- My Spending = Someone's Paycheck – While not being profligate, I am continuing to buy goods and services I need for business or personal use. My purchases provide revenue to various businesses, and this helps those companies pay their employees.
- Flatten The Curve – Finally, we ALL need to do our part to help everyone else.
- THE most important thing we can ALL do is practice social distancing and avoid gatherings of 10 or more people.
- We also need to "Do the Five" – Hands - Wash them often, Elbow - Cough into it, Face - Don't touch it, Feet - Stay at least six feet apart, and Feel Sick? - Stay home.
- Why do we need to do these things? To "flatten the curve" – that is, the time-dependent progression of total cases needing hospitalization. As a guest on a podcast explained – We need to flatten the curve to keep doctors and nurses from being overwhelmed, and to provide scientists time to find a cure and develop a vaccine.
Take care, and stay safe!
Todd L. Herman
In addition to the resources cited above, here are some other resources to help address these unprecedented times:
- Getting Involved – Want to pitch in with time, talent, or treasure, yet you are not sure where help is needed?
- The Volunteer Center – Volunteer opportunities in Greensboro and the Piedmont Triad.
- Greensboro Urban Ministry – Cash and food donations needed to meet increased demand.
- Interactive Resource Center – Supplies needed to support large recent increase in emergency shelter capacity.
- HandsOn Northwest North Carolina – Volunteer and donation opportunities in Winston-Salem and surrounding areas.
- Business Resources – Own or manage a business, and need to know what assistance might be available?
- Lifting Your Spirits – Need something other than Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ to pick you up?
- Triad Stage – Streaming a series of FREE events through Facebook Live.
- Tara Brach – Tara’s teachings blend Western clinical psychology and Eastern spiritual practices to promote a full, compassionate engagement with our world.