As many of you know my family and I live in Pennsylvania. Last Friday our governor closed all public schools for an initial two weeks, and then Monday he closed all non-essential businesses. Cities, states, and countries across the world are responding to COVID-19 in an attempt to flatten the curve and not overwhelm our medical community and resources. It’s impacting our daily lives and our world wide economy.

I’m experiencing what many of you probably are too: questioning the global reactions and recommended precautions, wondering if it’s an overreaction or if we’re doing enough, and also fearing the unknown and long term impact. I’ve been frustrated at times feeling that I’m not being given a choice, that my own autonomy is being infringed on. None of us enjoy feeling loss of control, at least when we’re not safely secured on a thrill ride.  I’m also reminded, that we still have control over the most important thing in life, our own actions.

Here we are. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring or what will happen in the near future; we are watching and responding in real time as things unfold. So first things first, remember to keep breathing. When we are confronted with fear and anxiety our amygdala activates our fight/flight or freeze response system and stress hormones are released. Breathing deeply and focusing on your breath will bring you back to the present moment, allowing your frontal lobes to come back online which gives you the ability to think rationally and calmly.  

It’s also natural in these times to think that what’s happening right now and how you feel in the moment will continue into the foreseeable future, so keep perspective. While we don’t know how everything will unfold or how long it will last, what you are feeling and how you are seeing a situation is not permanent.

You’ve been through difficult times before, remember your resilience. You’ve experienced adverse events before. You’ve met challenges and you’ve adapted. You’ve grown and evolved, improving your life along the way. It may be helpful to remember back on a challenging time you faced and recall how you handled it and what you learned from it. (More on building resilience.

While we may not have a choice about physically going into work or dining at our favorite restaurant, we do have choice in how we live through these circumstances. I’m choosing to look for opportunities:  

  • opportunities to build memories with my family, 
  • opportunities to work on some things I haven’t had time for, 
  • opportunities to learn something new, and 
  • opportunities to make a difference. 

Helping others makes a difference, and not just for the people you’re helping. There are powerful personal benefits as well. When we reach outside of ourselves we create a sense of community, we break that feeling of being alone which reduces fear.  Doing something good gives our brains a dose of dopamine, that “feel good” hormone, which in turn has many health benefits, both physical and mental. (More on increasing happy hormones.)

We’re all living with certain restrictions right now.  Some of us will be resentful and fight them all the way, while others of us will use these restrictions as catalysts to be innovative. I’m already seeing innovation take flight and I know we’re just getting started. Innovation will be key in how we move through these unprecedented times.  We are literally making history and we all can play a meaningful role.

Here are some questions to consider as you move through your day:

What’s one thing you can do today to improve your quality of life?

What would it look like for you to promote the feelings of love and belonging among the people you want to feel safe?

How can use this time of physical “social distancing” to become socially closer in meaningful ways?