Transforming Pandemic Dread

How to nourish gratitude, generosity, hope, and your inner solutionary.

Posted Mar 19, 2020

'Zoe Weil'
Source: 'Zoe Weil'

Like many people, I have been obsessed with reading news about the coronavirus pandemic, scrolling through my #COVID19 twitter feed, and jumping from one source of information to the next. Given my work directing an educational nonprofit, it’s necessary that I’m well informed, but I do not need to be laying in bed late at night reading bad news and checking my feeds at 4 a.m., already anxious before dawn.

Neither do you.

There’s a famous Cherokee story about a grandfather telling his grandson about a battle between two wolves. He describes one wolf as evil, full of anger, sorrow, arrogance, and greed. He describes the other as good, full of joy, love, kindness, and generosity. When the grandson asks which wolf will win the battle, the grandfather answers: “The one we feed.”

It is difficult to stop feeding our anxiety during a pandemic (and I don’t expect this post to quell the fears of those in dire circumstances), but if we want to navigate this unprecedented and frightening time with more grace and calm — indeed, if we want to actually thrive to the greatest degree possible through COVID-19 — we need to actively nourish the best in ourselves. Doing so will also help us act more wisely as we take care of ourselves and others.

To strengthen the wolf of your better self, nourish:

Gratitude

Pay attention to who is making your and others’ lives manageable during this time.

These may include healthcare professionals and first responders; people working in grocery stores and pharmacies; teachers supporting students through distance learning; journalists keeping us all informed; scientists working to treat COVID-19 and create a safe vaccine; governors, mayors, and legislators working to ensure that people have emergency funds and don’t lose their homes and businesses. Hold these individuals in your mind. Feel your heart expand with gratitude.

Pay attention to the blessings of this particular era.

If you have a computer or phone, you have access to endless entertainment; free courses on every subject; fitness apps and videos; and video-conferencing capabilities to stay connected with friends and colleagues. Broadway shows are streaming free of charge. Museums are offering virtual tours. Libraries are making books available free online. If you are reading this post, that means you have access to this technology. Remember to be thankful for this privilege.

Express your gratitude by writing cards and sending useful gifts to those people risking infection to keep others safe, fed, and healthy.

If you have children, let this be an opportunity for them to do so as well (which provides them with a chance to practice their writing skills and make art while out of school).

Generosity

Shift your attention from your own anxiety by doing something helpful for someone else. 

Does an elderly neighbor need food or medicine? Can you get it for them? Might you be able to help a local animal shelter by fostering a homeless animal so fewer staff members are needed? Who could use a phone call to ease their fears and isolation? Make a list and make those calls.

If you are in a position to help someone financially, do so.

If you can afford to keep paying those people whose services are temporarily on hold, do that as well. And if you’re someone in need yourself, remember that reaching out for help provides others with the opportunity to be generous. When you reach out, you are actually supporting the best in others as you meet your most pressing needs.

Recite these inspirational words.

It’s been suggested that we all sing the happy birthday song twice while handwashing, but there are more powerful words we might recite while washing our hands that will foster generosity. Try memorizing and reciting this 25-second portion of the Prayer of St. Francis (edited to be fitting for whatever your religious faith or lack thereof):

Make me an instrument of peace.

where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy.

May I not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love;

for it is in giving that we receive.

Hope

While this is a serious and frightening pandemic, know that it will end.

Along with the bad, there will be good that comes from this time. Pay attention to the hopeful things that are happening every day. Scientists are already discovering treatments; a vaccine is in the works; governments are passing emergency measures to help; heroism is on display; families are spending time together and connecting in deep and beautiful ways, and people everywhere are striving to be of service to one another. 

Post hopeful and helpful articles, poems, videos, and music in your social media feeds.

Help others nourish their best selves with hope!

Professor David Orr said, “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.”

The more you are part of the outpouring of goodness and support in your community, the more hopeful you will likely be.

Your inner solutionary

Cultivate a solutionary mindset.

Solutionaries are people who identify unsustainable, inhumane, and unjust systems and develop systemic solutions to problems that do the most good and least harm for all. We need solutionaries now more than ever. Cultivate a solutionary mindset and use this time to start down your solutionary path.

Become a better critical and creative thinker.

For many people, life will be slowing down, providing some spaciousness to learn and contribute in new ways. This can be an exciting time for becoming a better critical and creative thinker who makes a difference. Doing so will also help you differentiate legitimate and important information about this pandemic from misinformation and fear-mongering, which will enable you to share what’s helpful and truthful with others.

Feed your inner solutionary.

Bringing a solutionary lens to the world is inherently positive. It staves off despair and fosters collaboration and positive change. There will be many challenges during this time. When you feed your inner solutionary, and invite others to join you, you will find ideas to address your own personal challenges that you might never have thought of before.

Avoid overexposure to news.

It’s obviously important to stay informed so that you can make responsible choices, but pandemic dread and anxiety won’t help you. In addition to feeding your body well, feed your mind and heart well, too. Find a balance where exposure to the news is as helpful as possible without slipping over into mental and emotional harm.

You are alive in a unique, albeit challenging, time. To the degree that it’s possible, take control of what you can: your response to this pandemic. Nurturing the best in yourself, and cultivating gratitude, generosity, hope, and solutionary thinking and action, will help you and your community simultaneously.