By now all of us have been made painfully aware of the COVID-19 pandemic that is sweeping the planet. While we’re all trying to figure out what our “new normal” will look like in these trying times, we’ve seen a wide range of responses from responsibly cautious to fear mongering and dissemination of half true news to blatant and irresponsible disregard.
Our news channels and social media feeds have become a confusing place; an almost guaranteed source for spiking our anxiety and panic. We’re worried about loved ones and wonder what the future holds.
With social distancing at the top of the list of precautions, we find ourselves forced to live in ways that are counter to how we’re created to live. Amidst all the chaos, it’s easy to feel lost in what is unquestionably a time when a lot of darkness can be found.
Yet, at the same time, if we’re paying attention, there's a lot of light to be found too.
Hang on! Don’t tune out. Just stick with me here. I promise you’ll be glad you did. Yes, we’re going to explore “the other side of the coin”, but there is a difference between Positivity and Pollyanna.
While embracing an unrealistic Pollyanna attitude can throw us into an unhealthy state of denial, engaging in positive thought and positive action (particularly as they pertain to
helping others) boosts protective and healing chemicals and hormones in the brain like serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. This is important because this actually makes our immune system stronger!
Conversely, when we experience unhealthy levels or prolonged exposure to stress, our cortisol levels spike (or at the least, stay on a constant “low simmer”) which causes a whole host of problems. One significant problem related to our present topic is that those unhealthy levels of cortisol weaken our immune system.
Dr. Mario Martinez, a neuropsychologist and best-selling author says, “panic can be as detrimental to our health as the pandemic that created it”. He recommends maintaining connections to people and finding creative ways to “shine light” in these trying times to help keep our immune systems healthy. His advice along with that of many others in the field of mental and emotional health is to be careful how much of the “doom and gloom” we allow into our lives.
Yes, it’s important to be informed and to take the facts seriously. But we must also recognize there comes a time when the steady stream of news we’re ingesting no longer provides benefits to help us stay safe and has merely become a source of toxic fear and anxiety.
But in these times, when we’re feeling afraid and unsure, where can we look to find relief? Where can we see people “shining the light”?
The first thing that comes to mind for me is this quote from Mr. Rogers,
“when I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me ‘look for the helpers. You will always find people helping’.”
Mama Rogers knew what she was talking about. I just have one slight tweak to make on her wisdom.
What if we decided to be the helpers?
I understand that the ways we might typically “help” each other aren’t realistic, given the present circumstances. But there are plenty of inventive and creative ways to help. I’ll start us off by naming a few, and I would love it if you shared your ideas too.
With so many people taking walks in their neighborhoods and parks to combat cabin fever, you can…
· Paint rocks with positive messages and leave them around your neighborhood or wherever you’re out walking (fun for kids and adults! See some of mine below)
· Put up Christmas lights in your windows or out on trees to brighten up your neighborhood
· Use sidewalk chalk to write uplifting messages or draw fun pictures so neighbors see them when out walking
To help meet some needs, you can…
· Sew masks for people who might need them
· Offer to drop off groceries to someone who is elderly or immunocompromised
· Look for helpful things to do for first responders and healthcare workers (gift cards to restaurants for pick up or for groceries or simply ask what they need and how you can help)
· Post online resources for mental health like virtual counseling, etc.
You can offer ways for people to connect by…
· Hosting watch parties on social media for painting classes, concerts or other positive events
· Checking on your extraverted friends and offering to connect via video (this social isolation will be extremely hard on them)
· Hosting virtual gatherings (Google Hangout/Zoom, etc) for dinner parties, “happy hours”, coffees, Bible studies, birthday parties, etc.
· Posting riddles and/or games and give away gift certificates to local restaurants as prizes (helps the local businesses too!)
We can push back on the steady stream of unhelpful “news” by…
· Committing to not posting anything that doesn’t offer something helpful or that isn’t fact checked. Post things that will be part of the solution.
· Posting and sharing downloadable and printable resources for adults, teens and kids (see bottom of this post for a unique gratitude resource to share)
We can further meet and lift spirits by…
· Sending letters, cards, or notes (virtual or snail mail)
· Checking on people who are alone or isolated at the highest levels (and check on them often)
· Sending gift cards to family/friends who are in a dire financial situation
· Praying and sharing those prayers privately and corporately
· Asking people how you can specifically pray for them
These might seem like simple things, and in some ways they are. But the seemingly simple can have a profound impact. For as much as engaging in these activities will benefit your health, they will benefit the health of others too.
If we play our cards right, despite our physical distancing, we can still be better together. We can use our collective out loud voice to spread hope and encouragement, and to point people to our Ultimate Source of Light.
Download our free gratitude journal with 30 days of unique and creative ways to experience and express gratitude (another wonderful way to boost those chemicals that boost our immune system!)
Stay tuned for more helpful idea on how to care for yourself and others during these challenging times.
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