Dr. Adam L. Front, Psychologist

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Dr. Adam's Blog

COVID-19 and coping with anxiety - Mindfulness in Action

Posted on May 14, 2020 at 10:00 PM

"Facts not fear," the current tagline on a local San Francisco news channel, is a great mantra for dealing with the impact of the current worldwide health crisis resulting from the Corona virus pandemic. There is a lot of misinformation available, as well as a lot of reasonable, scientifically-based information. I recommend not watching the news TOO much, as it can heighten our anxiety about it. But there is a lot of good and simple information that can help, both in terms of preventing the spread of the illness as well as helping us to stay calm and feel better while this is all going on.

I have noticed that this unprecedented circumstance seems to bring out either the best in people or, in some cases, it can bring out the worst in us. It is shocking and concerning to me how much poor behavior I see lately on a daily basis, which i think comes partly from fear, partly from ignorance or unthinking, emotionally-driven reactivity and unreasoned bias. A few examples are discarded gloves and masks on the ground, people not respecting social distancing, people not wearing masks properly (or at all); these are three signs of the worst effects that the pandemic is having on people.

The stress and discomfort that this crisis is placing on us all is not sufficient justification to be rude or disrespectful to other people or to the environment. Please dispose of your protective gear properly and wear it properly and consistently. Click here for information from a physician at Kaiser Permanente on how to use a mask properly. I have seen some people doing each of the "don'ts" mentioned in the linked article: Not wearing a mask at all, wearing it around the chin, wearing it only over the mouth but not the nose, wearing it loosely so that it does not provide an effective barrier, or having it not pulled down to also cover the chin. In addition, for those that have N95 masks, there are some with a one-way valve that makes it less stuffy inside and easier to breathe, but some local government orders prohibit the valved N95s because they allow droplets to exit with your breath, so there is a chance that if you have the virus (symptomatic or not) you might still spread it to others. Some people are wearing a yellow or blue surgical mask OVER and N95 for extra protection.

Some stores have one-way traffic arrows in their aisles, and I it amazes me how many people pay absolutely no attention to this and other restrictions that stores have put in place during the pandemic, things that help us to keep a 6 foot distance. I regularly see people bustling where they want to go with no regard for keeping a 6 foot distance from others.

None of us is more important than anyone else, and neither is where we want to go or what we want to do or want to get. I have found that trying to maintain an attitude of kindness and mindfulness of others makes me feel better. If someone is in front of me in a supermarket aisle, stopped to decide what to purchase, I try to be patient and wait until they have made their decision and are ready to move on. This is not always easy. At the same time, I try to be mindful of others behind me who are waiting for me as I am stopped to decide what to purchase, and not take a long time standing there and making them wait. I try to stop and wait at the end of an aisle if someone is passing in the perpendicular aisle across my path. I try to make eye contact and smile at others (at least with my eyes, as they cannot see my mouth) because, after all, we are all in this together.

The other day, I was approaching the front doors of the post office lobby and a young woman who was about to enter held the door for me and motioned for me to exit while she held the door. It was a kind gesture, but it would have put us far less than 6 feet apart. I told her to please go ahead, as I was more than 6 feet inside the lobby, away from the door. She seemed surprised at my refusal of her kindness and hesitated, but finally she entered the lobby. I then approached the door and exited. So sometimes, the kind and thoughtful things we may do at other times and in other circumstances, with all the generous and considerate intentions that may motivate us to do them, might not be best during this time.

Another day recently, I was trying to pick up a package from the Amazon locker in the front of a store. One of the store employees had parked a shopping cart in which he had cleaning supplies right in front of the familiar yellow-orange wall of compartments. When he saw me there, he offered to move the cart. I thanked him and looked at him appreciatively.

As I said before, this crisis is bringing out the best in some of us, as well as the worst. Sometimes I find myself becoming impatient while waiting for others to move so that I can go where I want to go, but then I remind myself that keeping the distance is more important than my agenda or anyone else's. When I am able to do that, it brings me a sense of peace and a feeling of connection with the others around me. When I am not able to shift my attitude in this way, it only brings me misery, at least in that moment, when I am stewing about other people being in my way and delaying me in what I "need" to do. If I simply slow down and take a moment, take a breath (through my properly placed mask, of course), it makes me feel connected with the others I see because we are all dealing with the inconveniences, the need to do things differently. If I let impatience and selfishness get the better of me, then I am stuck in a prison of my own creation, feeling like it's me against the rest of the world. So it turns out that the story I tell myself in that moment, about my needs and other peoples intentions, makes a huge difference. It can dramatically change the way I feel and the level of physical and neurochemical stress effects I experience. I can either allow it to deplete my emotional resources or fill my coping arsenal with goodwill and patience and a feeling of belonging. We all have to make that choice every day, and that has always been true. The COVID-19 pandemic has only underlined this fact and given us a reason to think about it more, so that, hopefully, we can make decisions about how we act in each moment in order to help both ourselves and others to feel calmer, more connected and more true to ourselves, who we are and who we want to become.

 

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