How to Survive when the World is Ending: a mental, emotional, and creative survival guide to COVID-19

It’s a challenging moment to be alive.  As I write this where I live, businesses are closing and city and state services are shutting down to ride out the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

In the midst of everything that is happening, I’m finding that it’s hard to stay present and productive.  It’s easy instead to panic and let fear drive choices, conversations, and thoughts of the future.

While being prepared and cautious is one thing, being hysterical is another.

I’ve put together some on how to survive when the world feels like it’s falling apart.  And by “survive”, I don’t mean physically survive (most people will survive).  I mean mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and even financially.  Be smart.  Wash your hands.  Etc. 

Please note that this is not medical advice. I am not liable for your choices. If you want and need that kind of advice, it’s everywhere else.

Here’s a simple guide on how to survive what feels like the end of the world.

Limit Your Inputs

The media runs on fear.  For large media outlets, the more hyperbolic and sensational, the more people will read, watch, react, share, and repeat the experience.  They are incentivized to scare you and keep you addicted to the news cycle of what the next horrible thing is.

Social media functions in a similar manner.  Every social network is built to keep people engaged in their network, which means that the network itself is built to surface the kinds of content that you can’t help but engage with.

Have you ever had the experience where you jump onto Facebook (or another app/network) to check something, and fall down the feed rabbit hole for 10 minutes, only to realize that you didn’t do what you first logged on to do?

That’s exactly what the app is designed to do: keep you on it.

Watch for this and be careful what input you receive and from which outlets.  Do you need to check the updates more than once a day?  Unless it directly effects your life, then the answer is likely no.

Breathe, Stay Present, & Focus on What You Can Control

In the last few days schools where I live announced that they would be shut down for a month.  Community centers and public libraries did the same next.

As parents with two kids under 5 (and another on the way), my family relies on these services to get through the day, get our work done (read: pay the bills), and more.  I have no idea how we’re going to get through the next few weeks.

But I know what I can do this morning: 

– Make breakfast for my 1.5 year old daughter and laugh at her silly antics.

– Write a blog post about not going crazy when the world seems to be (you’re reading it)!

Panic and fear mostly drive us to dwell on things that are outside of our control.  That’s the easy path to take.

The harder but better path is to thank your fear for keeping you on your toes, but then remember that right now in this moment, you’re ok.  And no matter how bad things get, you’ll be ok.

Over the past two years I’ve been increasing my physical fitness.  I’m training for a fast 10k run, doing yoga, training on still rings, and intermittent fasting.  In the middle of a hard workout or set of reps, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by how far I have to go.  During speed workouts I look at my watch and see that I have to keep up this challenging pace for 8 more minutes, and the thoughts flood my mind: I can’t do it.  There’s no way I can keep it up for 8 minutes!

But if I let go of the future and be here right now, taking these steps and running this pace — I’m ok.  I can do this right now.

And if I can do right now over and over, sooner than you know it those 8 minutes have gone by and I’ve made it.

The same is true in times like this.

I have no idea what the next few months will hold.  I have no idea how we’re going to make ends meet when our income stops.  I have no idea how I’ll get work done.

There is so much that is outside of my control and your control.

But the one thing that is always in your control is how you choose to respond.

I can let that fear paralyze me.  Or I can choose to focus on right now and on the things that are within my power.

If you feel the fear and panic well up, practice intentional breathing.  If you don’t know what to do beside panic, imagine yourself in the future, after life returns back to normal (because it will) looking back on today.  Imagine what you’d tell yourself, knowing that everything will work out.  Imagine what advice you’d give yourself on how to respond and what to do.  And then go do it.

Help

It’s easy to let fear drive us into self preservation mode and into a fear and scarcity mindset.  The part of your brain the feels fear has two default modes: fight or flight.  While helpful when facing an angry bear, it’s less helpful in modern society.  It’s not us vs. Them.  It’s not you win or you loose.  Everything will be better when we help one another.

One simple thing that my family is doing is setting up some play times for our kids so their friends’ parents can have a few free moments.

(UPDATE: We’re practicing social distancing to help limit the spread of the disease. Some of the things we’ve done to help are: 1) facetime and call friends — particularly single friends, 2) make some cookies for a few friends and neighbors)

If you know people who are vulnerable to the disease, go shopping and run errands for them so they don’t have to.

Help your neighbors. Smile at people.

The options are endless!

Look for the Opportunities

Along with the uncertainty, there’s a lot of opportunity for you and whatever your work or project is.  I don’t know what it is, but I know that it’s there.  And I know that if you’re focused on fear and what you might be loosing, you won’t be able to see the opportunity and what you might be able to gain.

What might you be able to achieve or do right now that may not be an option in other times?

While everyone else is panicking, worried, or watching netflix, what can you be doing?

Spend Your Time Wisely

A lot of people are experiencing a disruption of their normal life. That might mean you’re working from home or not working at all. Maybe you can’t even leave the house right now.

This is a huge opportunity! What have you been wanting to do but haven’t had time for?

Can you even imagine what it would be like under normal circumstances to be given this kind of time? What would you do? What books have you been wanting to read? What project would you tackle? What skill would you learn? What new thing would you create?

If you want to make progress on your Calling and life’s work, the 5 Clues Mini-course is a free resource to start on.

You can learn just about anything on the internet with a bit of digging.

Now’s the time.

The easy choice is media input: social media, news, Netflix.

A better choice is intentionality.

The best choice is seizing the opportunity and making the most of what life is giving you.

None of us would have chosen this reality, and yet we’re here. The best thing you can do is to accept it and make the most of it. This is a chance for you to create your future.

I hope you will.

Comment below and let me know what you choose to do. And if this means something to you, please share it. We all need a reminder.

(Visited 699 times, 1 visits today)

11 Comments

  1. Pingback: How to Survive when the World is Ending: a mental, emotional, and creative survival guide to COVID-19 – thesocietyofleadership

  2. Angie White March 13, 2020 at 1:23 pm

    Dan – it’s 3am and I’ve woken with a fever and sore throat and aches. And I’m a single mum in Australia with no support network since escaping DV and starting a new life. I don’t know what my kids will do if I’m hospitalised – the older ones will have to miss college to look after the younger… Panic.
    So I can’t get back to sleep, but I can’t go anywhere for help til morning. And I checked my email and found this! THANK YOU! Yes, I’ll just focus on the things I can control. I can pack a bag, I can write up some instructions for whoever has to take care of the kids should I be hospitalized. If I am hospitalised, I can catch up on my study. And right now I can focus on some relaxing breathing and calm my body and see if I can get back to sleep. Thanks again.

    Reply
    1. Dan Cumberland March 13, 2020 at 2:09 pm

      Hi Angie – Just take it one moment at a time. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers. It’s all going to be ok.

      Reply
  3. Susie March 13, 2020 at 2:06 pm

    Indeed well said Dan~ calm, clear focus…GROUND!

    Reply
  4. Ruth Woods March 13, 2020 at 3:51 pm

    Dan, thanks for these reminders and suggestions. We all need more positive reading. My mom used to tell me, “This too shall pass.” And it will. I’m not opposed to limited television, most especially if one can find some good clean laughter. Good for us.

    Reply
    1. Dan March 15, 2020 at 1:25 pm

      Thanks for your note Ruth. That’s a great reminder from your mom, “This too shall pass.” I appreciate it.

      Reply
  5. Inimfon Colonel March 16, 2020 at 7:03 am

    I live in NIGERIA where we do not have any cases yet, however I do understand what people in other parts of the world are passing through at the moment and I’m constantly praying that PEACE BE STILL!
    Thank you Dan for such an insighful and calming post.

    Reply
  6. Kathryn March 17, 2020 at 6:58 am

    Full lockdown here in Austria, so unless you work in an essential industry (healthcare, food supplies, agriculture etc) or are taking care of a dependent who lives in a different household we are home with our own housemates (no visits to neighbours, friends or relatives). We can go out for food and medical supplies by virtue of the fact that delivery services are extremely limited.

    I don’t have kids so no need to distract/amuse/homeschool & work from home anyway. I have a strong relationship with my husband. We have a house with a garden & strong WiFi! I keep thinking about a friend from Wuhan, who travelled with her husband and 2 small kids to visit the in-laws over Chinese New Year and they ended up stuck there until last week. 6 of them in a 50m2 small flat, not allowed to set foot out of the door or even go onto the balcony. Things could be much worse…

    Reply
  7. EMi March 17, 2020 at 12:15 pm

    Love this gentle (yet provocative) reminder that yes, the only things we can control is what is right here and now AND what we choose to do, with intention, at this time.

    I am especially at another difficult time of ‘waiting’ with my first baby on the way (I’m currently past my due date) so I am already naturally at a pause with much anticipation. Now this whole hub-bub of the virus slowly escalating, I can’t help but fill my time with news and etc (as I must stay up to date regarding the health care system for my imminent visit). But I fear it does more harm than good– I’m trying to stay positive and enjoy the quiet before new parenthood but the temptation to freak out a bit is there. But I am okay. And deep down inside, I know I will be okay alongside my baby as well. So fast forwarding to that peace and speaking from it is key right now. It’s about balance, yes, but ultimately making choices to react with confidence and peace. Maybe I’ll go paint something now …. 🙂

    Reply
  8. Curt March 20, 2020 at 4:22 pm

    Dan;
    Great article and happy you and yours are ok and safe. My wife and I are both in the High critical risk category as far as COVID-19, and there is a lot of garbage news as well as truthful it may be hard to determine which is correct. I m a Sr. Quality Engineer for one of the BEST and large Biological Pharma manufacturers, and due to the life saving medicines even if all biz shuts down, the US Feds have classified us a essential to life. Our leadership team have been working tirelessly to ensure 1st the employees safety, 2nd how if the worse happens we will be able to continue to provide the meds people need to survive various cancers, lupus, respiratory and blood diseases. Since we are capable of mass producing vaccines, the government may order us to do that for the world, and our leadership team is ready to help at any cost (my impression of our GREAT company!).

    All that said, it is a stressful time for us all. For myself and coworkers, our company is bending over backwards to ensure we are okay, today we have a daily online led 20 minute time to learn and practice meditation/mindfulness (on company time, not mandatory). We are encouraged to spend quality time with family, when we meet virtually it is highly recommended to enable video so we all can have that virtual sight and sound personal experience. Our company is transparent with all real news, yours to read or not, but you know it is truthful and as factual as possible. Even when attending meetings, unless it is completely company confidential, which 90% are not, there seems to be more children in attendance (with the parent) than adults at times. My wife retired just before this went pandemic, and so glad she did with her compromised immune system. Realize, for many of these diseases, COVID-19 is not a direct threat, it is the disease modifying therapies which can affect your immune system which then can help lead to greater complications. My wife has Arthritis and Parkinson’s, I have diabetes, above 60 yrs young and Multiple Sclerosis and more. Hence prime risk, especially factor in the medication I take which has been determined to make matters much worse if I contract COVID-19 or any SARS/Corona type viruses. We could wallow in self pity and worry, but why … there is enough stress as it is. So, you are 1000% (thousand) correct! It is like driving a car, forward focus on the now, occasionally checking the rear view mirror to avoid being rear ended (lessons learned) and a bit look ahead. Avoid pot holes, idiot drivers, and such (wash hands for 60 seconds, wipe/soak for a bit surfaces others may have touched with 60 or 70% IPA (higher concentrations evaporate too fast to be effective), watch for signs the CDC tells us to, stay home or if you go out 6′ (2 meters) circumference distances).

    Forget about governments watching over us, at least in the US it is obvious their care is about them being re-elected and how to turn this to better themselves …. look at the Senators who sold their stocks since they had info about this before the nation and felt their opportunity to profit was a higher priority than informing their constituents). What I know is in the US our figure head failed us, regardless of what he spins daily (please this do not turn this into a political piece the way our republicans’ have been doing). As the human race, we are one people and we must and will survive. My wife is a baker, and we have stocked up (not horded) with flour and have local suppliers lined up. She is starting to bake and donate goods to those who cannot afford such luxuries. We figure I am still working (remote) and although we are not financially rich, we can afford to help others who are not so lucky, especially due to this Global pandemic. She is making birthday cakes for some, especially this is either hard to get or folks just cannot afford now that they may be out of work and some places are charging double what they did a few weeks ago. I share this to reach out globally and challenge all others who have capabilities to help those in need to reach out and extend what you can. My wife and I are strong advocates of paying forward. We never think of what is in for us, outside of the hope we helped others. At this time (and hopefully forever) as members of the Human Race, we need a paradigm shift in this direction! Enough rambling, a wish for great health and stay safe!

    Reply

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.