Currently, Covid-19 is undoubtedly a threat to our physical as well as mental health. On this occasion, lots of healthcare facilities are introducing us to clinical methods to handle Coronavirus anxiety. However, what is the meaning of “handling anxiety”? Is there a way to get rid of anxiety? Are there any ways to coexist with it?
On March 31st, the Irish Covid-19 Psychological Survey released the first report of the study with regards to the mental condition of people during the Coronavirus outbreak. The results suggested that mental health problems were quite common among the 1,000 adult citizens of the Republic of Ireland who completed the survey — 41% of people reported feeling lonely, 23% reported clinically meaningful levels of depression, 20% reported clinically meaningful levels of anxiety, and 18% reported clinically meaningful levels of post-traumatic stress.
The effect of coronavirus on mental health cannot be overlooked. Unlike our physical condition, anxiety, fear, or loneliness are invisible and can gradually harm our mental state.
There are some tips to manage coronavirus anxiety — Keeping up healthy routines, staying connected to others, not making assumptions on who will get the virus, etc. Most of the time, this advice is quite helpful. Indeed, while we are talking with our friends on the phone, going for a jog or reading a book, we are forgetting our worries. We have relatively less time or chances to be thinking things like: “Am I getting the virus?” “Did I correctly wash my hands?” “What should I do if I lose my job?” But when we have nothing to do, and have plenty of time to think, we tend to feel anxious or worried. It seems like we can never get rid of the anxiety.
The way to embrace coronavirus anxiety
“There’s a tendency in us to run away from suffering,” Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk said in his book “Reconciliation”. We naturally see all negative emotions like suffering, anger, or anxiety as our enemy.
Thich Nhat Hanh was born in central Vietnam in 1926. When he was 16, he entered Tu Hieu Temple and became a monk. During the Vietnam war, he engaged in helping people suffering under the bombings and turmoil of war.
He travelled to the US to appeal for peace in 1966. He first met Martin Luther King, Jr., who nominated Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize. However, as a consequence of his peacekeeping activities, North and South Vietnam denied him the possibility to return to Vietnam. There started a long exile of 39 years.
Knowing his dramatic history, his teachings on how to handle suffering sound credible.
According to him, we have a fear from the time of our birth. Before we came into this world, we were in the womb of our mothers. Our mothers ate for us. We did not have to worry to survive ourselves. The womb was a “protected paradise”.
However, the situation changed dramatically after we were born. The umbilical cord was cut, and we had to breathe for ourselves for the first time. As a baby, we felt vulnerable, and we needed someone’s help all the time. We were afraid of being left alone. He called this suffering as “original fear”. And the original fear comes from the original desire — the desire that we want to survive, not die, and we need someone’s protection.
As we grew up, this original fear and desire was always within us like a little child. This inner child needed someone’s protection, support, existence to survive. But we always run away from facing this inner child because we are afraid of suffering. We distract ourselves by watching TV, listening to music, working, or drinking, and do not take care of our wounded inner child needing our help.
He teaches us that being mindful of our inner child will calm our fear. When our inner child is suffering, we need to recognise it. And then, we can embrace it with a mindful breath and compassion: “Whenever you need to, you can sit and breathe with the child. ‘Breathing in, I go back to my wounded child; breathing out, I take good care of my wounded child’.”
On March 20th, he shared a practical method which is particularly useful to stay sane in challenging times. During this lockdown, we still tend to forget to take care of our bodies and minds. From his teaching, we can guide ourselves to spend our routine — getting up in the morning, working remotely, staying at home, or going for a walk– in a calm and mindful state. We can slowly take our time to manage our coronavirus anxiety.
A Zen Master’s tips for staying sane in challenging times. https://t.co/3R1rYrK5OT
— Thich Nhat Hanh (@thichnhathanh) March 20, 2020
Ego-defined emotional drama
Like Nhat Hanh encourages us to embrace our fear, other spiritual teachers also give us insightful approaches. Eckhart Tolle’s guidance to observe our negative emotions became prominent when Oprah Winfrey chose his book “New Earth” for Oprah’s Book Club and described it as a key novel on her “super soulful reading list”.
Tolle is originally from Germany. He was depressed for most of his life until age 29 when he experienced a profound inner transformation. After that, he devoted the next several years trying to understand that transformation more.
Why do we suffer? According to him, we are not suffering from a situation itself but suffering from a situation which is created by our perception — our ego. The ego creates a narrative for what we experience.
A narrative of the ego defines and judges the situation. When the egoistic narrative says “it’s a rainy day and I feel unhappy,” or “I don’t want to meet him because he always makes me angry,” or “I will be single for my entire life and that makes me sad,” we are not taking the situation as it is. The ego creates an emotional drama in every situation. People are always trapped by their ego-defined story every day.
Most of us are not aware of the narrative — The situation makes us unhappy, sad, depressed, etc. But Tolle encourages us to separate the narrative and the situation. We can simply observe and notice the emergence of our inner voice. This will help us to experience a truly peaceful state which is the so-called “present moment”.
Unlike the ego-created story, we are just in the present moment. We cannot experience the past and future. The past has already gone, and the future has not arrived yet.
On April 3rd, Tolle released a video on his own YouTube channel with his message to people who were under a difficult situation.
When we feel anxiety, we can try not to fight with it. Instead, we can face our negative emotions with a spiritual approach. That would definitely help us to coexist with Coronavirus anxiety. During the Coronavirus lockdown, why not try to embrace and observe your negative emotions?