The Way It Is: Overcoming COVID-19 Negativity
Two weeks ago, Saturday 4 September to be exact, I wrote in this column about the negative psychological feelings most people suffer due to the pandemic, aggravated by lockdowns. I titled my article Psychological condition due to the pandemic and quoting a psychologist said the condition was called ‘languishing’, where without being ill we feel unwell; in spite of being energetic, we feel lethargic and often disinclined to do anything, even read a book or watch TV.
At the end of that article I wrote: ‘We need to attend to our emotions and help each other not to languish too severely. Answer to this: next Saturday’. That Saturday – September 11 - came and went and I did not give the answer to languishing, because I wrote about 9/11, since there were four solemn commemorations of it in the US and even we remembered the utter tragedy of that day when jihadist terrorists struck the US at three sites. Thus, today I will write about overcoming or at least reducing the effect of COVID-19 restrictions which we are still under with a prolongation of the lockdown till 1 October.
Self help to overcome negatives
We have to overcome negative psychological feelings; overcome languishing which we ourselves brought upon ourselves to lesser and greater degrees. And we can. The first idea is that the answer is in our own hands. We have to recharge our emotional batteries and spark a sense of fulfillment, purpose and happiness. Psychologists call this lofty combination of physical, mental and emotional fitness ‘flourishing’. It is the exact opposite of languishing with its sense of stagnation. Flourishing is an allencompassing notion of wellbeing and contentment.
Not so impossible to achieve, or even very difficult to those who are of a religious bent. Speaking as a Buddhist, we are tuned to the truism expressed in so many suttas by the Buddha: We are our own redeemers; we have to seek the Path and then travelling along it finally end all dukkha of samsaric existences. Leaving that aside, if and when we remember that life is full of change and impermanence, then we can tell ourselves even poor feelings are transient.
Unless we are mentally aberrated, we can regain emotional and mental equilibrium by ourselves. Guides are there a-plenty, starting from the Bible, the Dhamma, the Koran and Hindu teachings and monks, preachers and friends and elders too. But their help is limited since we have to take ourselves in hand and change from states of languishing to flourishing. We have to do it ourselves. Be an island unto yourself, seek your own deliverance.
Steps to flourishing
Search your mind and find out whether you were down in the dumps for no reason, emotionally not bright. One point is to ask yourself when you get up from a night’s sleep whether you welcome a new day or want to go back to sleep or loll miserably. Do you have a sense of purpose or can you muster it soon enough? This is not me advising but a professor of Yale who teaches a course called the Science of Well-being – Lauri Santos. “You are the expert on your own sense of Flourishing” she says.
Savour and celebrate small things
We have been merely telephoning, emailing, Skyping, SMS-ing, Zooming and having things virtual. Now that most of us are vaccinated and have at least a certain degree of immunity, we should get back to real contact with others, of course once the lockdown is ended. Also pay more attention to positives. Psychologists call it ‘savouring’. How many of us are grateful we got the second jab of A-Z we desired, at least those over 60 in Colombo? Gratitude is on par with the four dhamma viharas of metta, karuna, muditha and uppeka. We lost much of the last, disturbed as we were and consequently loosing whatever emotional equilibrium we had.
Do five good deeds
This too is advocated by psychologists who studied what happened to even normal, well balanced people during and post pandemic. Acts of kindness help others and help us too. Many people with loving kindness gave generously to those less privileged and suffering. Even giving a cuppa tea to the garbage person is good, but of course masked and distanced!
Find purpose in everyday routines
Usually we take a bath, go for a walk, even eat our food with thoughts dispersed. Now we should bathe with appreciation of water on tap or in shower; savour the food more and enjoy the trees, flowers and squirrels you pass as you walk briskly.
Try something new
I know positive thinking friends who said they started writing a story, took up some embroidery or even experimented in the kitchen. That sparked new energy. According to Psychologist Dr. Keyes the most important aspect for wellbeing is being interested in life. We need to make ourselves feel happiness and satisfaction. That seems a tall order in these times of restrictions and even fear of infection and hearing of deaths. But we have to veer away from negatives and count our blessings, which everyone is granted.