Navigating change is never easy. Whether it’s a health scare, personal loss, or financial hardship, it’s natural to experience anxiety, grief, and a lack of feeling in control. But the current COVID-19 crisis is in a league of its own. The unexpected disruption to our accustomed routine can feel overwhelming and unrelenting. Worst of all, the change is hitting every part of our life—all at once.
In times of crisis and uncertainty, we can instinctively revert to our primal “Survival Brain”—the innate biological “fight-or-flight response” for seeking safety, security and stability. Our Survival Brain abhors change; it craves certitude. Thanks to our Survival Brain, we have evolved to “be adaptive” in order to solve problems in an unstable environment. But, left unchecked and rampant the Survival Brain can also make us “be reactive” under stressful and threatening situations that fuel chaos and confusion.
As students in my Chapman “Happiness” course discover, we don’t have to be imprisoned by our Survival Brain. In fact, brain science and timeless spiritual wisdom both teach us a valuable lesson: When your outside world feels out of control, learn to control your inside world. The concept of “neuroplasticity” reveals how we have the ability to rewire and retrain the brain to be more adaptive to change. Contemplative practices, such as meditation or mindful breathing, empower us to be less reactive to uncertainty. Together, science and spirituality provide solutions for coping with crisis.
Below are the 4Cs—applied strategies drawn from both science and spirituality—to help us be adaptive, not reactive in these challenging times of change and uncertainty.
The 4Cs to “Be Adaptive, Not Reactive”
Boost your immunity through sleep, diet, exercise, and meditation.
View your health holistically—brain, body, and being. Avoid sugar and processed foods, as they increase inflammation and suppress your immunity to disease. When feelings of anxiety or panic pops up, stop and take ten, slow, deep breaths. Science affirms that doing so will regulate your body’s “stress-response” system, strengthen your immune system, and increase resilience.
Sacrifices can be heroic and patriotic.
We all will be required to make sacrifices and alter our way of life. If you’re required to self-isolate or have to cancel a trip, wedding, or graduation, remember that it’s for the ultimate welfare of society. Reframe your sacrifices as altruistic acts of civic responsibility, of religious duty, and of patriotism for the greater good. If your kids are upset over scrapped vacations, birthdays, or family gatherings, call them “heroes” for their courage in understanding how their sacrifices help society.
We need each other.
Times of crisis expose how we are far more interconnected and interdependent than we realize. If you’re required to implement “physical distancing,” it doesn’t equate to “social distancing and disconnecting”. Show up for one another. Message the people you care about. Check in on a long-lost friend, family members, and your elderly neighbors. Have your kids make and send a video to grandparents they can’t visit.
Practice proper “emotional and mental hygiene”
Know it’s okay to acknowledge your fears, anxieties, and concerns. Your emotions are real, so honor what you feel. Practicing emotional and spiritual self-care can equally help you feel calm, centered, and in control. Listencompassionately. Practice empathy. Be gentle to yourself. Give others the benefit of the doubt. Kindness is key. Remember that fear is not the final word.
Dr. Jay Kumar is the Director of Contemplative Practices and Wellbeing at The Fish Interfaith Center. Join him every Thur. 3-4pm for his “Healthy Brain, Healthy Mind” webinar series.
Stay Calm. Stay Safe. Stay Healthy.
Your Happiness Professor
Author of “Science of a Happy Brain”
Follow me @docjaykumar (FB, IG, LI, TW)