It’s Okay To Be Scared

Life is scary right now.

We are living through an unprecedented time. 400,000 Americans are dead from Covid, more than 11 million are unemployed, businesses are failing, people are struggling to pay bills and everyone feels some level of anxiety. The vaccine offered a moment of hope but almost half the population is afraid to be vaccinated. It can feel as if the world is coming to an end.

As scary as things appear, we don’t have to reside in fear. There are simple things we can do to mitigate anxiety.

Practice Gratitude: My grandma lived through the 1918 Pandemic and the Depression. She often said, “No matter how bad things are, they can always be worse.” She implored me to be thankful for the things I have. Every morning when I awake I make a list of things for which I’m grateful. Here is today’s list:

— a roof over my head

— food in the refrigerator

— good health

— my wife

— my cat

— a working car

— my family

— my friends

— a comfortable bed with pillows not made by the My Pillow Guy.

— the ability to breathe

— indoor plumbing

When you focus on that which you have, you attune yourself to your good fortune. This protects you from a “woe is me” posture that can lead to depression and a feeling of helplessness. Living through challenging times requires all the energy you can muster. Gratitude fills you with hope and creative energy and puts you in a positive mindset.

You’ve Overcome Challenges in the past: Everyone born on this planet will at some point be pushed to the brink of despair. You may have lost a friend or a family member, been fired, gone through divorce, been in a car accident, been robbed. Some have struggled through illness or battled addiction or spent time in prison.

Nelson Mandela said, “It’s not how many times you fall, but how many times you rise.” As you proceed through difficulty, remind yourself you’ve overcome challenges in the past. You are a survivor.

This Too Shall Pass: The first noble truth of Buddhism is “Life is suffering.” Buddha went on to say that all things are transient and impermanent. Nothing lasts. This is true of a beautiful sunset and a terrifying pandemic.

We want the good things in our life to remain as they are forever. What leads to suffering is not life’s impermanence, but the unwillingness to embrace this impermanence. The poet Rumi wrote, “Everything you see now will vanish like a dream.” Those who cannot endure the bad will not live to see the good.

This pandemic will end some day. Many of us will return to the hamster wheel of life. Do not waste this moment. Work on a project you’ve put on the back burner. Read a book. Take up painting. Life will return to some sense of normalcy. Make sure you’re able to look back and say you took advantage of this period.

Be Kind to Yourself: Hike, eat well, get exercise, take vitamins, drink water, pray, do yoga, meditate. Don’t judge yourself too harshly. You may be struggling financially. Remind yourself you are not your bank account. Maybe you lost a job. You are not what you do for a living. Some have had to sell their house or move out of an apartment. There are millions of unhoused people in the world. If you have a roof over your head, you are among the blessed.

You Are Alive: As long as you can get out of bed in the morning and breathe and feel the sun on your face, it’s a good day. Life is precious. Focus on the little things you ignored before the pandemic. Take up gardening, listen to the birds, watch a sunset.

I love hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains. During the summer, I encounter rattlesnakes. This can be terrifying. Once I calm myself and give the snake some distance, I realize I’m observing something extraordinary. To be able to watch this creature slither into the brush is awe-inspiring. I view the pandemic in a similar fashion. It’s scary, but it’s also extraordinary.

Be of Service: In my teen years, I suffered from depression. I tried many things to lift my mood: drugs, alcohol, dating, therapy. The only behavior that consistently helped was being of service to others. I visited lonely patients in hospitals. I worked at a senior daycare center. I answered phones at a suicide hotline.

Helping others extricates you from self-pity and shows you there is always someone who has it worse. There are plenty of people floundering right now. Call a church or synagogue and tell them you want to help those in need. Donate food, clothes or supplies to a shelter. Knock on an elderly neighbor’s door and ask if they need help shopping or getting medical supplies. As Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Something good will come of this:

There is a saying from the Hebrew Talmud: Gam zu l’tova. Everything is for the good.

Our culture has been out of balance for a long time. This includes the divide between rich and poor, the lack of affordable healthcare, homelessness, racism, poverty, famine. Perhaps it takes a mutual crisis to shed light on the status quo. Maybe we all need to feel pain to sensitize us to the pain of others.

The pandemic is egalitarian. It can impact us regardless of our ethnicity, religion or financial status. Hopefully something wonderful will come out of this period. With God’s grace, we will survive. And boy will we have a story to tell.

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