Stay Centered (and Healthy) in the Midst of the Coronavirus

By: Rachel Tenenbaum

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As I type, perched at my desk, I am wildly aware that we all sit in different cities around the world, holding different perspectives and varying levels of fear regarding the most recent global pandemic, the coronavirus.

Much hangs in the balance as business trips and conferences get canceled, markets fluctuate, and employees and students are advised to stay at home. Truth be told, the instability could end quickly, or not.

What is frightening is not necessarily the virus itself; what has the globe in an anxious grip is the unknown and the resulting volatility it engenders.

Consequentially, our limbic (flight/flight/freeze) systems kick into gear, intending to protect. It’s there for a good reason, but when it is no longer the helpful passenger that points out the potholes or the merging lanes ahead, but aggressively grabs hold of the steering wheel, well, that’s a recipe for disastrous pileups on the interstate. In the end, it’s not just your car that you don’t have control over, but thousands of other drivers on the road, experiencing the same thing.

[Related: Anger and Action: Managing Strong Emotions]

So what do we do?

Most fundamentally, we need to stay calm. I’ll get to “how,” but let’s shed light on some critical whys you might not be aware of.

Irrespective of whether this virus comes to you, consistent stress inflames the body. Stress, attributed by some experts as responsible for up to 90% of illness and disease, floods the body with hormones during hyper-stressed states. As a result, white blood cells decrease, and rate of infection skyrockets.

If we expend our energy and our focus on stressors instead of creative solutions, we effectively lower our body’s ability to fight. And we all know what happens to sports teams that spend exhaustive games staying solely in the defense, instead of the offense: It is not likely they win the championship.

Fear also inhibits our ability to think clearly, in a solution-oriented manner, which is what we need most in times of unpredictability. As Neuroscientist Bruce Perry educates, “Fear destroys the capacity to learn.” It destroys not only our capacity to learn, but our ability to truly take care of ourselves and, ultimately, our capacity to innovate.

So. Stress less.

How? Simple — but not necessarily easy (which is why you should start now). What’s more, this ingenious antidote has benefits that far exceed lowering stress levels. Research shows it increases cortical thickness and grey matter, which helps improve memory, learning, and intellect. It helps with sleep, lowers depression and anxiety, improves concentration, and aids in overall contentment, which we could certainly all use right now.

If you haven’t already guessed, the radical drug is meditation.

[Related: Four Ways Meditation Can Multiply Your Business Results]

Meditation is not just a fad, and it is spreading for good reason with volumes of studies and research to back up the much-desired “side effects.”

The most critical side effect for this moment? Meditation boosts the immune system through increased production of t-cells and antibodies and activates the regions of the brain, which stimulate your immune system.

Further, meditation lowers inflammation in our bodies as we calm our minds amidst quite the crazy chitter-chatter that has us not just think of worst-case scenarios, but also live them as if they were happening now. Meditation allows us to step out of the spiral and back into what’s real, right now.

As Michael Singer astutely acknowledges, “You are not the voice of the mind. You are just the one that hears it.”

You are just the one that hears all the crazy talk. The more we meditate, the abler we are to recognize when our manic passenger has taken over screaming, anxiously yelling as it blames every other driver while swerving across all lanes.

Whatever happens, if the virus does drastically change lives, do we want to live in a state of turmoil, stress, and depression because we don’t have access to so much we’ve grown accustomed to, or do we want to think instead about what we can create with what is in front of us?

If you haven’t begun a meditation practice, start now. Three minutes a day can make a world of difference. Not in a week, not in a month when your fears and anxieties are through the roof, but now.

If you need a “where” or “how to start” consider the incredible apps of Insight Timer (my favorite), Headspace, Calm, or Breethe. I particularly love Tara Brach, Davidji, or Jason Stephenson, who you can find on Insight Timer.

[Related: 100 Days of Meditation Can Help Your Career]

A certified professional coach and facilitator, Rachel Tenenbaum has a background in neuroscience. Her focus is on leadership development and personal development in and outside organizations. This article was originally posted on Medium.

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