When I sit down to read articles about the COVID-19 crisis, it’s interesting to see the disparity in people’s opinions about human nature. Some essays tout the belief that crises bring out the best in human communities. Others complain that hoarding, political squabbling, or blatant disregard for the safety of others highlight our baser instincts.
The truth is that humans vary in our ability to stay thoughtful in anxious times. Some people can know their own minds, while others grab as many solutions from others as they can. Some people can stay relatively calm around anxious family members, while others sink quickly into the stew of emotional reactivity.
The good news is that this ability isn’t fixed—you can show up and tinker with it every day.
When we’re anxious, it’s easy to focus on the immaturity of others. How many of your conversations have been about how the government, your family, or your neighbors aren’t being as responsible as you’d like?
What’s more difficult is to consider how your own immaturity gets in the way of your best thinking. How it keeps you from being a resource to yourself, your family, and your community.
When I think about what it looks like to be my “best self” in these anxious times, I’m not thinking about my fittest, most productive, most helpful self. I thinking about the version of myself that refuses to get sucked into the immaturity that often accompanies anxiety. The self that is managing my own responsibilities rather than trying to control everyone else. The self that is able to put up with some anxiety as I activate my best thinking about how to take care of myself and serve my neighbors.
Being my “best self” in a pandemic looks like:
Asking myself thoughtful questions to start every day.
Being responsible for when I wake up and when I go to sleep.
Not gathering any information about the pandemic after 9pm.
Determining when and where I’d like to donate money, instead of just throwing it at random problems.
Not treating every problem like it’s a 10 on a scale of 1-10.
Not automatically taking on other people’s responsibilities when I am bored or anxious.
Not hoarding items I don’t need at the moment.
Sharing my thinking, rather than lecturing or try to control others.
Reaching out to family members, even those who might make me feel anxious.
Hearing my spouse’s thinking, rather than automatically making decisions for the entire family.
Generating my own thinking, rather than automatically adopting my spouse’s when I’m distressed.
Avoiding anxious focus on my daughter’s wellbeing when I feel overwhelmed by the news.
Asking people to give me space on the sidewalk, even if they think I’m rude!
If these ideas sound useful to you, consider taking some time this week to ask yourself these questions:
How might the most immature version of myself act in this crisis?
How might the most mature version of myself act in this crisis?
How can I stay focused on expressing maturity, instead of forcing others to be mature?
How can I make time every day to do this thinking?
News from Kathleen
Read my latest essay at Medium’s Forge - “Don’t Try to Fix Anything Right Now”
Listen to my interview with WCBS Radio about coping with anxiety during the COVID-19 crisis.
New Anxiety Journal! The folks at Hachette Books have helped me create a new, free digital resource to supplement your reading of my book, Everything Isn’t Terrible. It’s called Calming Down & Growing Up: A 30-Day Anxiety Journal, and it includes thirty daily prompts to help you reflect on and respond to your anxious behaviors, using the ideas in Everything Isn’t Terrible.
To get a copy of the digital journal, you can submit a copy of your receipt for my book at the Hachette page, and they’ll send you it to you.
Buy my book! If you haven't gotten your copy of Everything Isn't Terrible yet, you can buy it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indiebound, Target, or anywhere you buy books! But I encourage you to support your local indie bookstore. The book is also available in e-book and audio book form.
If you're new to the newsletter, you can check out my website for past newsletters about anxiety and relationships. You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, or email me if you have questions about the book, want me to speak to your group, or want to learn more about my therapy practice in Washington, DC. You can also visit the Bowen Center’s website to learn more about Bowen theory, as well their conferences and training programs.