Coronavirus, protests against prejudice, political infighting and widespread economic uncertainty are all contributing to surging levels of stress across America and around the world. Headlines invade our peace of mind. Powerful and negative narratives threaten to carry us away with them.
Faced with such forces, there is one simple tool that many people can use to try to short-circuit runaway anxiety. Here it is: Make sure that two or three times a day you allow yourself one minute to get very quiet, without distraction, and to notice that—if you can breathe, if you can eat, if you have shelter–you are okay. For those minutes, be aware that your heart is beating, that you can take a deep breath or two, that you can probably look forward to a cup of coffee, that you can hold fast to any opinion you value. The world is swirling around you, but not inside you. You are, for those minutes, the eye of the storm, not a boat carried here and there by its force.
Practicing this sort of detachment is necessary these days because it is so easy to feel vulnerable to every potential threat the media broadcasts. It is easy to feel vulnerable to the pandemic. It is easy to feel the specter of increasing racial and international conflict. That’s because we are, all of us, very much connected to the events around us and the people around us. We’re so connected that we could forget that—thankfully—many millions of us can walk where we like, buy what we need, stay in touch with those we love and even sit down for an hour or two and read a book.
If right now, you can find center and find peace and be undisturbed for a minute, then you will be planting your feet more firmly on the ground—not just for that minute, but for much longer. Because your nervous system will be taking note of the fact that, amidst all the turmoil, you can still decide to be existing in it, while not being of it.
This lesson, repeated frequently enough, may invite you to consider a core truth: There is a level of “being” that is unassailable by any stress, no matter how intense. Few of us will reach that level. But even being reminded that it exists can be profoundly steadying.
Dr. Keith Ablow
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