TL;DR: Do’s and Don’ts for Navigating a Global Crisis

I’ve been working on a detailed article about how the Art of Balance system applies to the current global crisis, and how to use it to navigate your way back to balance.

In the meantime, I’ve also been keeping track of what’s been helping my clients, neighbors, friends, and family members — and also what hasn’t been so helpful.

So, without further ado, I bring you this list of Pandemic Do’s and Don’ts.

Global crises are part of the human experience. We are a resilient species. We survived the Ice Age, the Black Death, two World Wars, the Great Depression, and the Cold War. As a people, we will survive this, too, and, if we stay aware and open, come back from it stronger than we were before.

Don’t panic

We’re wired to have a powerful fear response when we face unknown difficulties and dangers, so feeling fear at times like these is normal. But unlike most other creatures, once the initial fear response wears off, humans tend to re-ignite our fears with each piece of bad news or each catastrophic thought. The fight/flight/freeze response is good for getting us out of an immediate danger, but we rarely make good decisions when we’re gripped by fear. Good decisions happen when we’ve calmed ourselves down and can look at things as they are, then make the best of that moment. Try not to make financial, health, or relationship decisions when your predominant emotion is fear. If you do, your action will be impulsive. Instead, take a time out, draw on methods you use to relax, and then take a second, calmer look. You’re certain to make a better choice.

Don’t just “go with your gut”

Going with your gut is often the best way to proceed in the absence of good information, but that’s not the situation today. Today, going with your gut usually means going with fear, greed, or anger, and neither of these emotions often leads to sound decisions. Get your information from reliable sources such as the CDC, city and state governments, and major newspapers and use this information as the basis of decision you make about safety, finances, and acquiring emergency supplies.

Don’t fall for scams – or inadvertently promote them

Follow the recommendations and mandates of your state and local governments regarding safety. These people are the experts, and while their recommendations may change as the situation gets clearer, and this can be confusing, it’s still the best information we have. Don’t fall for rumors, fake treatments and cures, or financial and identity theft schemes now proliferating on social media and forwarded by well-meaning friends. If something seems too good to be true … it is! Don’t pass this misinformation on. Instead, either ignore it or check it out on sites such as snopes.com.

Don’t be selfish

We’re wired for selfishness when we’re threatened, and from an evolutionary point of view, that selfishness helped our ancestors to propagate their genetic lines. So, in a crisis, many of us revert to “every man for himself.” But we’re also wired for altruism and community, and when the entire world is living through the same crisis, we’re much stronger when we band together as a community and help each other than when we grab what we can and fend only for ourselves.

Don’t just hunker down and wait for things to go back to normal

The “normal” you left behind when the pandemic struck is not the normal you return to as it recedes. The normal you left behind is gone. Before the pandemic, all of us believed we were on a particular path, and many of us want to get back to that path again. But the world has changed, the paradigm has shifted, and so have every one of us. Instead of waiting for things to get back to “normal,” embrace the path you’re on now. There were opportunities and benefits to the old path, and there are opportunities and benefits to this new, evolving one.

Don’t spend too much time regretting what you’ve lost

It’s normal to regret opportunities we’ve now missed, and to grieve what we’ve lost and the future we will no longer have. It’s not only okay, but emotionally healthy, to acknowledge all that. Maybe there’s a trip you wanted to take, a relationship you hoped to start, a job you just started that now you’ve lost, or something else that can’t happen now, may not happen in the near future, or may no longer be possible in the new normal to come. Take as much time as you need to feel those losses and to grieve them. And then open yourself to the opportunities that may lie ahead. They’re there, and if you look for them you’ll find them. As singer songwriter Pete Morton put it, “There’s another train / there always is / maybe the next one is yours / step up an climb aboard / another train.”

Do feel your feelings (but don’t be mean)

Unprecedented situations stir up both familiar feelings and unfamiliar ones. They can stimulate fear, confusion, anger, sadness, depression, despair, but also bursts of gratitude and joy. It’s okay to feel all these things, even if it seems as if you are feeling them “for no reason.” There is a reason. You are in unprecedented territory. Acknowledge these feelings, rather than trying to push them away. When you let yourself feel your feelings, even the difficult ones, they are free to transition into other feelings. When you hold them back, they tend to return, again and again. But, be careful how you act when powerful feelings overtake you. Our emotional ecosystem is fragile, and of all the almost numberless feelings we have, compassion for ourselves and others, and hope, are the ones that will help us most in these difficult times.

Do cut yourself some slack

Many of us, especially those who are out of work, or who are working from home instead of commuting, now have more time on our hands. “Great!” we may have thought when this crisis started, “Now I can get a lot of things done!” But weeks later, we may find that we aren’t cleaning out that basement or creating that art project or catching up on all that reading, or doing whatever it was we thought we’d do, if only we had the time. Cut yourself some slack. We’re in an unprecedented and constantly shifting situation, and the strain of the unusual and unknown raises our level of anxiety and stress. Everything is a little more difficult than it was before, and the effort it takes to cope with these additional demands saps our energy. So, until you’ve adapted to the ever-shifting “new normal,” set your sights on smaller, more immediately doable goals, and take the time to feel the satisfaction of completing them.

Do be grateful for what you have

Focus more on what you have than on what you don’t have. If you have a house, be grateful for that house. If you don’t have a house but live in an apartment, be grateful for that apartment. If you have a garden, spend time in the garden and be grateful for it. If you don’t have a garden but have a window, spend time gazing out of it and be grateful for the view. If you have a family, be grateful for them (even if they sometimes get on your nerves during lockdown). If you are alone, be grateful for your solitude.

Do accept that you are in this for the long haul

Accept what is, what is not, and that there is much that is uncertain. When you can do that, you’re processing the whole picture, not just one particular corner of it. When you resist fight reality, much of your energy feeds denial, catastrophizing, or overthinking. That energy can be put to better uses.

Do find alternatives to the things you miss most

Miss eating in restaurants? Set up a special area, light it in a way that pleases you, and put your favorite takeout food on the table and eat it as if you were in that restaurant. Miss going to the movies? Have a movie night at home, where instead of the half-dozen films you could have seen at the local multiplex, you can choose from hundreds of thousands of films on streaming services like Netflix and Prime Video. Miss going to the gym? Many gyms are offering online classes and workouts, and YouTube is overflowing with workout routines. Grab your phone or tablet and arrange to meet other gym members at a local park for a socially-distant workout. Miss quietly sitting in a café? Grab your laptop and the best cup of coffee you know how to make, a cushion or folding chair, and head for a local park, beach, or even a cemetery, where you can commune with nature as you sip your brew.

Do notice what you don’t miss

There are many things we miss from our pre-lockdown days. But there are also many things we don’t miss, and noticing what they are can help you envision a more aligned future. A lockdown can help you reset your priorities and screen out the things that aren’t really important to you, so you can focus on the things that are. Perhaps you went to social gatherings out of obligation, in the past. You can say a polite “no” to them when they resume in the future. Maybe time-consuming or resource-consuming distractions or entertainments you did out of habit don’t need to be part of your life going forward. Instead, you can narrow your focus to what gives you joy or purpose, instead.

Do spend time connecting virtually or in a socially distanced way

When a crisis strikes, many of us isolate, but isolation is not what we need to get through a crisis. We live in an interconnected world. When the normal avenues of connection are interrupted, seek and exercise alternatives. Be like water, as Bruce Lee put it. If your main channel of connection is blocked, find the cracks and crevices you can flow through. The ability to connect virtually, through video conferencing, has been given a big push by the pandemic. As with any evolving technology, it has limitations – it’s difficult to catch some of the nonverbal cues we take for granted in face-to-face connections – but it also has advantages that meeting in person can’t easily provide. Now, we may find it isn’t possible to meet up with the people we’re used to seeing, but we can meet, virtually, with anyone, anywhere in the world. So meet your friends and family for socially-distanced walks and talks, but also seek out old or distant connections. Find affinity groups online to collaborate and connect with. Enjoy these additions to your life.

Do help others whenever you can

Feeling helpless or hopeless? It’s almost impossible to feel helpless or hopeless when you’re helping others. Check in on friends, family, and neighbors to see how they’re doing. If you sew, make masks for members of your community who can’t find them. Volunteer for organizations that are helping us get through this.

Do accept the help that others offer you

We are all in this together. Slow down and let yourself experience that togetherness not only in the form of your own generosity, but also in the generosity of others. It feels good when you help others, right? It feels just as good, for others, when they can help you.

Do look for opportunities within the crisis

Set the stage for optimizing your life after the pandemic. We are all in the world’s largest “AFGO” (Another F**king Growth Opportunity). Thinking of our struggles as growth opportunities, even when they are unwelcome, allows us to accept, in a tongue-in-cheek but still meaningful way, that positive change can emerge from these difficult experiences. What growth opportunities does the pandemic offer you in your relationships, your career, your health, your environment, and your spirituality? When you incline yourself to look for them, you’re much more likely to find them, even in the darkest times.

Stay safe –
David

Copyright 2020, David J. Bookbinder


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