If you were to ask the general public what specific outbreak might wreak mayhem within our lifetimes, you’d likely hear Flu, locusts, boils, frogs, politicians or something similar from social media prophetics or the Book of Revelations.
Even when news of another coronavirus hit, it was in a far away land impacting only “other peoples.” It would seem hyperbole that cruise ships would become the vector ferrying tiny, spiky, murder spheres to our own shores.
Our sole defense was keeping the potentially contagious temporarily adrift on floating petri dishes, while enjoying 24-hour buffets and sequined ABBA and NSYNC cover bands.
But we’d soon be worried over parents, grandparents, and ourselves as we came face-to-face with our vulnerability and the inter-connectedness of our Planet. Moreover, we realized that nothing was ever “under control” – an illusion we had believed and subscribed to for a generation. And we became angry at the thin veil through which life was sewn.
Didn’t Someone’s God assure us we’d never be given more than we can handle?
Actually, no. This guarantee isn’t in the Bible, Quran, Torah, Guru Granth Sahib, Vedas, Tripitaka, or Kojiki. It’s a motivational quip we like to keep next to those Live, Love, Laugh prints from Bed, Bath & Beyond.
The problem with living such a comfortable existence for so long, is the depth of the fall to a life of discomfort.
Thankfully, we’re buoyed by the frontline workers in healthcare, at nursing homes, behind badges, delivery personnel, pharmacists, grocery employees, and perhaps the most unexpected superheroes: undocumented agriculture workers – without whom we’d lose a vital tier of the food pyramid.
Mid 2020 has seen the indoctrination of millions of newcomers into the anxiety and depression clubs – the steep dues paid with inner chill and peace of mind. Though many of us (i.e., the anxious) have been mentally prepping for a lifetime, we too found ourselves ill-equipped for an epidemic. You can’t train for a contagion that exists only in one’s mind (another reason why worry is a useless endeavor). But suddenly it’s not so weird to clean an apple with a bleach wipe.
Find the humor, find the cure.
It’s always there. This might not be the best time to ponder Dostoyevsky’s Poor Folk or The House of the Dead – though I’m a huge proponent of the man otherwise. A pandemic calls for some light and cheery reading to facilitate levity and laughs. Consider anything from Dave Barry or Augustin Burroughs. And don’t overlook works by other great contributors like Erma Bombeck and Dorothy Parker.
Mark Twain knew it best: “The secret source of humor itself is not joy but sorrow.” Studies confirm that laughter lowers blood pressure and releases beta-endorphins, a chemical in the brain that creates a sense of joy. Moreover, humor is clinically validated to reduce stress long-term by improving the immune system through the release of neuropeptides, relieving pain, increasing personal satisfaction, and lessening depression and anxiety. The simple act of smiling causes the brain to release dopamine, which in turn makes us feel happy. But don’t worry about the science. Just YouTube “Sebastian Maniscalco” or “cat videos” and away you go.
Humor = Calamity + Time.
Humor will change your relationship to the problem of stress, worry, or anxiety. It reduces stigma, promotes wellbeing, helps you to cope with difficult situations, reduces tension, discomfort and stress; and strengthens your immune system. It’s pretty much a miracle elixir.
Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, sourced and used humor as one tactic to survive German concentration camps, and he highlighted humor as ‘another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation.’ “The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living,” cited Frankl.
Humor produces endorphins that soothe the body and allows a responsive brain to take charge – like a legal massage somewhere with no blacked-out windows.
There cannot be a “normal” in an unpredictable world. We use terms like “new normal” to instill an element of control over things. Control is an illusion.
But radically accepting the randomness of life, while staying mindful in the present is damn liberating. We don’t like to admit that we actually have little control over anything – especially our own fates – yet we do things that impact our longevity. You can now observe the rampant OCD taking place nearly everywhere by those not accustomed to proper OCD’ing. For example, shaking hands during Flu season (or otherwise) has always been an archaic practice in the transmission of filth. Have you seen what you do with your hands?! Despite lacking opposable thumbs, even dogs know that sniffing butts is a more hygienic “hello.”
And consider a University of Arizona study revealing that cellphones carry 10 times more bacteria than most toilet seats. Yet we don’t hesitate to pinch zoom a pic when someone hands us their toilet phone.
And, how many times have you eaten birthday cake blown on by someone you didn’t like or barely knew? Well, you might as well have them blow directly into your open mouth. A study in the Journal of Food Research determined that blowing out candles over that sweet, sticky icing resulted in 1,400% more bacteria compared to icing spared the puff (The study was aptly titled “Bacterial Transfer Associated with Blowing Out Candles on a Birthday Cake”).
Black-light most any hotel room and it will look like a Jackson Pollock painting.
Hotels will charge $250 for smoking in your room, but you can leave a bodily bio-hazard at no charge. This serves to heighten my perception of hotels as wildly filthy. And do you think the card keys ever get cleaned? I question the entire arrangement altogether. Most of us make that room as cozy as our own, in full denial that few people tip the maids upon checkout.
Hotels are where people go to cut their toenails, trim body hair, or bleed. The mattresses are literal smut sponges. But we gladly pay for the privilege of rubbing our faces into the pillows and bleach-infused towels.
Humor is ever present. You just gotta peek through the dank mental hues of your angst. Sourcing the lighter side of your emotions is vital – particularly when a third of Americans are now showing signs of clinical anxiety or depression.
Covid created a massive wake of anxiety and depression across the globe, along with budding terms like “immunity privileged” and “vaccine nationalism.”
Understandably, as most of us had not incurred a life disruption of this magnitude prior. During the initial stages of the pandemic, I spent most of my time hiding from humanity to avoid the contagion. My sole activity was sterilizing everything I ordered via Instacart and Amazon with disinfectant wipes. I wondered if anyone else was using hospital grade wipes on their organic lettuce.
There are a handful of things I’ve done to maintain internal peace and manage my anxiety during the quarantines and isolation. One of the most vital was distraction afforded by Netflix binges, naturally. But I also read a lot. At any given time during the pandemic, I’ve been concurrently reading five to six books depending on mood.
I also attend live or archived online church and devotional sessions to feel grounded. This is where I learned specific scriptures that also helped carry me through the salty times. Isaiah 41:10-13, Isaiah 53, Psalm 23, Psalm 40:1-3, Psalm 91, and particularly Philippians 4:6-8 were pivotal in smoothing the frays. Memorizing scripture is also a form of meditation. And it helps train the brain for other things – like remembering to brush your teeth or what day it is.
A good chunk of my Covid coping time was spent on building an in-home gym since my fitness center closed. This was exceptionally challenging as millions had the same idea, and every dumbbell, kettlebell, and old-school cement-filled, vinyl prison weight was sold-out everywhere.
Over weeks, I slowly accrued a Frankenstein gym of mismatched heavy things.
I converted my living room into a carpeted fitness studio where I performed calisthenic and plyometric feats of athleticism, such as 3,000 burpees and push-ups per month. I also fast-walked like a soccer mom late to A.A. 25 miles per week. Sadly, my ”nothing succeeds like excess” mindset and compromised shoulders reminded me why my body was made for writing in an ergonomic chair. I was soon too injured from one of the physical endeavors to do anything else, and I had to take two months off. But my anxiety did not.
Anxiety and depression can pique in the absence of coping skills. When we assign value or validity to intrusive thoughts and fears, it’s like mental Miracle-Gro. Talking to a therapist via phone or teletherapy is a measurably effective adjunct tool during stressful times.
There is a little-known dichotomy about mental health issues that makes seeking treatment difficult:
When you’re feeling anxious or depressed, it’s often hard to do what’s best for your welfare – this includes seeking help. My anxiety doesn’t want me to pay bills until I’m getting hate mail from creditors, fold laundry until I have no room on my bed to sleep, get groceries until I’m down to ramen and a jar of crusted mayo, or wash my car until stranger’s spell profanities on the windows.
There are two incidences when you should seek out a professional.
- If you are in danger of hurting yourself or others, or if you are having passive thoughts about hurting yourself or others (even if you don’t have a plan or any real intent to follow through with these thoughts).
- If your symptoms are starting to interfere with your daily life. Such symptoms could include suddenly not getting along with friends or family, difficulty with sleep, problems eating, doing poorly in school or work, or starting to use alcohol or drugs to cope or feel better.
How to choose a therapist
There are many different types of talk therapies available, and many types of therapists to choose from. So which therapy and therapist is right for you? When it comes to treating all mental health issues, especially anxiety or depression, you want to make sure you chose a therapist that uses an approach that is evidence based or empirically validated. This means that they say and do things to treat your symptoms that have been proven by research to be effective. It doesn’t mean watching episodes of Dr. Phil or Dr. Oz.
Client: “What should I do?”
Therapist: “What do you think you should do?”
Client: “Alright then, keep your secrets.”
When choosing a therapist, there’s an array of therapy degrees that include psychiatrists (M.D.), psychologists (PsyD.), and masters level therapists (LCSW, MCSW, etc.). Don’t get hung-up on the pedigree. Just make sure the person is licensed – meaning s/he went to a school that was accredited, received training that was accredited, and have passed both a national and state licensing examination to prove they know what they are talking about.
Equally important, you want to see someone that you like. If you’re going to see a therapist, the type of degree is less important than making sure they are licensed, using techniques that are supported by research, and are someone you can trust and get along with. I personally know some smart but
asshole jerk psychologists that shouldn’t be advising anyone on anything, despite their diplomas. Remember who’s paying whom, and hire/fire accordingly.
How long will you need to attend therapy?
The duration of therapy needed is unique for everyone. Many people experience improvement within only a few sessions, while others reap benefits through months or even years of seeing a professional. There’s no commitment required. The goal is simply helping you achieve measurable improvement.