This is a very challenging time we are living through together. With the growing spread of the novel coronavirus and Covid 19 disease, we are facing the worst global pandemic since the Spanish Flu pandemic over 100 years ago. This global pandemic will not reach those proportions, thank goodness, because of the knowledge and medical capabilities we have, but it is going to be very widespread and create very significant disruption in all of our lives, as it already has for fellow human beings in China, Italy and other places. According to the WHO, which declared a global pandemic on March 11, the novel coronavirus has already spread to at least 114 countries and led to over 4000 deaths worldwide. I share this not to alarm, but to awaken and prepare us for this serious challenge we need to face together with as much mindfulness, bravery and compassion as we can muster.
The most important thing any of us can do right now is to keep ourselves healthy and support our families, friends and coworkers in staying healthy. This is not out of self-concern alone; it is the best way to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus and prevent as many people as possible from suffering the effects of Covid 19 disease. Fear and panic take our immune system offline. Mindfulness and self-regulating our autonomic nervous system through breath awareness, simple breathing techniques, yoga practices and other means help to bring our immune system back on line and strengthen it.
Every time we hear the words coronavirus or Covid 19, the alarm bells or amygdala in the limbic system of our brain are likely sounding the alarm and triggering the fight or flight response to one degree or another resulting in a suppression of our immune response. Apprehension, fear and panic also lead to isolating behaviors that further suppress our immune system's capacity to fight viruses and infectious diseases. Public health officials are wisely advising all of us who can stay home and restrict travel to do so and to practice social distancing (remaining at 2 meters length from each other) when out in public.
While this is good advice, we also need to stay connected. It is very important for all of us to do our best to stay calm, resourced and connected with our families, friends and each other, even online, as we go through this together. Feeling connected to others enhances the vagal tone and autonomic nervous system response that will support rather than suppress immune function.
I’ve been training prisoners, business leaders, healthcare professionals and public safety professionals in resilience for many years. I just recorded the 44-minute Resilience Building video attached to this message to offer what I know about enhancing and maintaining our resilience along with some simple resilience-building practices. Due to an evolutionary survival mechanism built into our brain and nervous system known as the negativity bias, our nervous system tends to spin things to the negative. This negativity bias evolved to keep us safe from predators, but it can also do us harm by keeping us in fight or flight mode when we actually need to be engaging the relaxation response. Knowing this, we can use our mindfulness practices, knowledge and community connections to keep ourselves and our loved ones, friends and fellow citizens safe and healthy.
Please do not feel bad about yourself if you are having a hard time or experiencing anxiety, dread, fear or even panic. This is completely normal, and we are all experiencing it to one degree or another, myself included. Self-compassion is also critical to supporting good immune function. So please, let’s be especially kind and compassionate to ourselves and each other at this time.
Many of you are familiar with mindfulness-based practices like loving kindness (metta), mindful self-compassion and other compassion practices. In the coming days, I will be offering both live and recorded self-care and resilience-building practice sessions online. Many other mindfulness teachers are doing the same. Please share these resources widely in your communities and networks. We are all in this together, and we will get through this in the best way together. While no one would invite the terrible health emergency that we are now facing, it is an opportunity to transcend our differences and divisions and to come together as one people with compassion, bravery and loving kindness.
Last, but certainly not least, please keep the most vulnerable among us in your prayers… our first responders and healthcare workers, the elderly, people without homes, incarcerated persons, refugees and all of our fellow humans and other beings already suffering the impact of the other global crisis and emergency we are facing, climate change. If you have the ability to support the most vulnerable among us or organizations doing so, please do. Let’s all pull together and do everything we can to keep each other and our original mother, the Earth, as healthy and safe as possible.
With love and solidarity,