Guest Post by Mental Health Coach Victoria Janka
Being intentional about our thoughts is more important than ever. We’re staying home, stuck inside with kids, trying to figure out how to create a routine. Some of us might be living alone. Friends are getting laid off or furloughed. Relatives are getting sick. Friends of friends are passing away.
This is not the Spanish flu of 1918—we are more connected and aware of what’s going globally on than ever. We know how many people are sick in every country and what their recovery rates are and how we’re stacking up against each other. The media is constantly sharing increasing cases and deaths, keeping our minds in a state of fear and anxiety.
This is massively important to be aware of. It can be all too easy to think “no I need to have the news on all the time, I need to constantly check Instagram, I need to check in with everyone I know and talk about all the terrible fears I have.”
But those are all choices. You get to choose what you’re putting into your mind, seeing on your feed, and sharing that info with others. If you’re feeling anxious, stressed, or worried about the future, close your eyes, take a few deeeeep breaths, and ask yourself “am I allowing an excess of discouraging or unhelpful information to come into my mind? Am I being mindful about choosing what I focus on throughout the day? Do I feel in charge of my mind and emotions?”
Now is the time to be incredibly aware mental gatekeepers.
I’m not advocating for ignorance—of course it’s important to be educated and to know what’s going on in the world. But if you tend to struggle with anxiety or depression, it’s probably not in your best interest to have the news on and talk to your paranoid mom about “why this is the next Great Depression.”
I want you to consider something: many are calling this a “time of uncertainty,” but all times are times of uncertainty. Even though you might have felt like things were a little more certain because you had your routine and your schedule and your office chair and all of those things might be missing right now…things are no less certain than they always are.
And what is it about certainty that seems so comforting?
Certainty, confidence in tomorrow, a sense of control…they all promise an empty peace. Because at the end of the day, certainty and control are just an illusion. None of these things are actually a true source of peace. We think they are. We think that if we can predict what we’ll eat for dinner because we meal-planned on Sunday or we know we have that meeting in the morning so we need to be up and ready for work by 8:30, and then we’re getting lunch with a friend, oh and then go to that 7:00 yoga class after work…this is not certainty. This is not control. It’s just a plan.
I want to share about an incredible device we have in our brains: it’s called the reticular activating system (RAS). What this bundle of nerves is designed to do is to filter through all the seemingly insignificant data that the five senses take in and notice only what is more pertinent to your specific brain based on past experiences.
Initially, this was how we survived. If we were walking through the jungle and heard a twig rustle, felt the breeze, tasted the last berry we just ate, and smelled a flower, and saw a tiger, our brains would be most interested in hearing the twig rustle and seeing the tiger. Why? Because the last time we heard rustling in the bushes a tiger jumped out and we all had to run for our lives. It created a connection between the two and told us “DANGER. Get out of here STAT.” We’re constantly taking in so much input—our RAS makes it possible to latch onto what will keep us safe.
Yes, people are getting sick. Yes, people are losing jobs. Yes, there is death….but when are these things not happening? People are always getting sick and losing jobs, and dying. It just seems scarier right now because everyone’s talking about it. Fear, anxiety, and stress are kicking in because our RAS is constantly trying to keep us safe (which, right now means not catching COVID-19 or running out of paper towels).
This is why decreasing negative/discouraging content and increasing positive/uplifting content is immensely important. It tells your RAS, “yes there are some crazy things happening right now, but there is also goodness. There is humanity pulling together. There are people giving and serving others. There are businesses that are thriving. There are people recovering and healing. There are people who aren’t even getting sick in the first place. There are people reconnecting to their families. There is so much good.”
This is an incredible time to start training your brain to look for things to be grateful for. This is an opportunity to grow. This is a chance to change the way you perceive life happening to you to life happening for you. How can you best use this time? What can you do to make the most of this unique time?
This is your life. Use your RAS wisely.
Find Victoria on her website at victoriajanka.com and on Instagram @victoriajankacoaching.