The news has been pretty stressful during the past week or so. Coronavirus is dominating the headlines. The country is in crisis mode. Public health officials are scrambling, education leaders are closing schools, and event organizers are canceling public gatherings. The president isn’t helping calm the country. He’s clueless as usual, too focused on himself. He’s having a hard time telling the truth. We don’t know what’s going on.
Coronavirus is new. No one really knows what to expect. It’s like a wildfire out of control. Anxiety and fear is spreading faster than the disease itself. Health experts tell us that the best prevention is washing hands regularly, avoiding physical contact with others, and staying away from crowded places. While that should slow down the expansion of the virus, worry and panic continue to grow.
Soap, hand sanitizer, toilet paper – toilet paper! – are flying off store shelves. People are panicking as if Armageddon is upon us. The numbers don’t seem to reflect the level of alarm, at least for now. As I’m writing this post, there are over 1,500 diagnosed cases and 32 confirmed deaths in the United States. By comparison, 365,914 Americans died of coronary heart disease in 2017 according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
A quick analysis of the data shows that heart disease is a much bigger threat. In fact, heart problems kill more Americans than anything else. Nevertheless, Coronavirus is public enemy #1 right now. It’s the fear of the unknown that has catapulted the virus to the forefront. Yesterday, during my morning walk, I saw a guy wearing a surgical mask walking out of McDonald’s. A New Yorker cartoon came to mind. Actually, the irony with heart disease was kind of funny.
With all that said, Coronavirus is a serious matter. It’s untreated growth is a danger to all of us. Most people – younger and healthier folks – will get through this crisis just fine. Older people and those with pre-existing chronic diseases are at a higher risk of getting really sick and succumbing to the virus. It’s no surprise that heart failure tops that list. That puts me in the crosshairs of the illness.
I’m no stranger to living with disease knocking on my door every day, so I’m good at doing what the docs advise. Other than good hygiene and smart interactions with others, there’s not much more we can do as individuals to cure Coronavirus. We have to leave that to scientists and public health experts. They’ll figure it out soon enough. Meanwhile, the virus continues to wreak havoc on our sense of security.
News about the virus is pretty scary. Psychologists tell us that worrying about the unknown and losing sleep over things we can’t control are parts of our evolutionary DNA as humans. This trait allows us to focus on solving whatever needs fixing. That’s a good thing. Unfortunately, if we lack the expertise, ability, or resources needed to remedy what ails us, evolution hasn’t given us the tools to separate that reality from the anxiety that comes with the unknown.
While the Coronavirus has contaminated more than 1,500 Americans (and counting), fear of the virus has infected millions more. Cable news and social media are infecting people with worry around the clock. What should we do when nature doesn’t give us the mechanism to detach our inability to change what we can’t control from the fear that swirls through our minds in uncontrollable situations?
My decade-long health crisis and subsequent spiritual journey have provided some answers for me. I started this blog six years ago to share my story with the hope that it will help others endure life challenges. The project has taken me to places I didn’t even know existed. As we’re in the throes of Corona-mania, my journey has given me the wisdom and tools to be measured and calm as fear rises around me.
Let’s start by listening to the experts. This is perhaps the most valuable lesson I’ve learned. Scientists, doctors, and public health officials are telling us how to stay healthy and prevent the spread of the virus. WASH YOUR HANDS. DON’T TOUCH ANYONE. STAY AWAY FROM CROWDS. It’s the first thing you see on the CDC website. These folks are smarter than the rest of us. Try not to let social media, cable news, or friends who mean well take your mind to a frightening place.
Advice is best when it’s simple, especially when it comes from people who know what they’re talking about. After the heart attack and lung crisis that changed my life in 2010, doctors told me that I could live a pretty good life if I stuck to a low-salt, low-fat diet, took meds as prescribed, and exercised regularly. Three simple things from some pretty smart people gave me a new lease on life.
That’s been the easy part. The hard part has been accepting the truth about my health and understanding that I have no control over my fate. Living life moment by moment instead of in the past or the future has by far been the most difficult part. After nearly a decade of reading, thinking, reflecting, and praying, I’ve come to terms with the first two. The third is and will always be a work in progress.
Faith, hope, and love have formed the foundation of my spiritual awakening and learning about the ancient philosophy of living in the present have added insight into managing life’s troubles. Faith is all about acceptance of what is. Hope is knowing that what happens is God’s will. Love is wholeheartedly serving God by serving others. I try to work on all three every day. Living in the here and now keeps my mind at peace instead of fretting over the past and worrying about the future.
What does all of this have to do with Coronavirus and the growing panic? Practicing faith, hope, and love will soothe your fears. If God isn’t your thing, try out the ancient Stoic philosophers or check out The Buddha. Go ahead, google St. Paul the Apostle, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus, or The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. The worst thing that can happen is that you get your mind off of the craziness in the world for a few minutes. The best thing that can happen is that you’ll realize that that’s the point