Coronavirus & Buddhism - How to Deal with Fear, Anxiety & Uncertainty?
There is no doubt that we are living unsettling time with the coronavirus pandemic. Its effect is expanding to every area of life, we're all having to cope with the stress.
Actually, fear, panic, and anxiety seem to spread more rapidly than the virus itself.
Whether you are a Buddhist or not, the teachings of the Buddha offer an encouraging message to all of us during this challenging time - learning to live with awareness, compassion, and wisdom.
Let's examine how Buddhism can help us deal with fear and anxiety caused by the coronavirus outbreak that is going on around the world right now.
An opportunity to grow
In life, we must overcome obstacles and challenges in order to grow. Sometimes, the circumstances are so huge that they feel insurmountable. It certainly seems to be the case for the coronavirus pandemic.
But remember, this obstacle - like any other - is, unfortunately, part of life, that's called being alive.
I know it might be difficult to accept right now, but as Buddhists, we should see the coronavirus outbreak as an opportunity to learn and grow spiritually.
The event should encourage us to manage our monkey mind, and transform our fears and anxiety into support for our practice of the Dharma.
The question is, how do we learn and grow from this challenge instead of becoming trapped or consumed by it? How do we transform our minds so that we move forward, instead of being paralyzed by fear and anxiety?
The following Buddhists principles would definitely help us calm our minds, see more clearly, and turn this challenge into an opportunity.
Acceptance & Letting Go
Around two thousand five hundred years ago, the Buddha was teaching his disciples about the ability to transform our mindset and ease the dissatisfaction, suffering and make peace with what lay in front of us.
One of the things that the Buddha taught us was the principle of letting go of attachment. Being attached to circumstances only makes us fearful and anxious.
Instead, by learning to let go of our attachment to the situation, we can transform our mind in a way that we experience inner peace, selflessness, and clarity instead of worry and fear.
With the coronavirus pandemic that is going on, how do we apply the principles of acceptance and letting go into our lives? Simply by realizing that all the amount of fear, worry, and anxiety won't change what is happening with the coronavirus pandemic - so it's better to accept it, to make peace with it.
Of course, we have to follow the World Health Organization's recommendations, but other than that, there is nothing we can do, so we have no choice but to let go and accept.
It might sound simplistic, but accepting reality as it's is actually very liberating, your mind will come to rest, and you'll have a much sharper vision of the situation.
Acceptance will remove a huge weight off our shoulders and give us a sense of inner peace and tranquility - something much needed right now.
That being said, acceptance and letting go does not equal recklessness or carelessness. Accepting "what is" doesn't mean giving up. You do what you can do not be infected and not to infect others.
Follow the WHO recommendation and play it safe for everyone.
Live in the now
It's very easy for us humans to cling to the past and be worried about the future - our mind is rarely in the present moment. That is especially true now with the coronavirus outbreak that is going on.
As we could see in the last week or so, fear can spread from person to person faster than the virus itself. Of course, we need to be aware of the reality of the moment, but we should avoid projecting into the future because we'll end up in one uncomfortable territory.
How many people will die? Will my family going to be safe? What will be the pandemic's impact on the economy? These are questions we tend to ask ourselves in this time of crisis, but it would be much more beneficial for us - and others - to live in the present moment rather than in the future, worried about what might be coming at us.
The future is unknown - nobody knows the outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic, so it's useless to speculate about it and live in fear.
Overworrying is not the solution and will only make matters worse. Being in the now will be much more beneficial for you, your loved ones, and society as a whole.
Being present and adopting mindfully the safety measures suggested to you by the Government is the best thing you can do right now.
The World Health Organization and Governments around the world are asking us to change our behavior for a while in order to adapt to the pandemic.
In just a matter of weeks, people have become accustomed to measures like adopting "social distancing", working from home, avoiding public places like stores, bars, restaurants, and movie theaters.
All these measures have a profound effect on us and force us to rethink our day to day behaviors and activities - here comes mindfulness.
Being mindful of our moment to moment behavior and habits can help us avoid getting and transmitting the COVID-19 virus.
Mindfulness makes us not only more present and more aware of our potentially harmful or dangerous behavior, but of course, of our healthy habits and actions as well.
How can mindfulness keep you safe during the coronavirus outbreak?
- Being mindful makes you wash your hands regularly.
- Being mindful makes you avoid touching your face (eyes, nose, and mouth) with unwashed hands.
- Being mindful makes you remember to use a tissue for coughs and sneezes.
- Being mindful makes you cough in your sleeve if you don't have a tissue.
- Being mindful makes you keep a safe distance from the people around you.
- Being mindful makes you seek medical care early if you have a fever, cough, and difficulty breathing.
- Being mindful makes you follow the guidelines outlined above.
Be Compassionate & Kind
In this time of uncertainty and anxiety, compassion and kindness are much needed. It's not the time to think only about ourselves, but also about others. We're all together in this.
As we could see on the news over the last weeks, fear and anxiety can lead to all sorts of unkind, egotistical, and even violent behavior.
Now is the time to switch from me to we.
It's no time for hoarding
One great way to be compassionate towards others is to stop hoarding supplies and food.
People are afraid of product shortage, particularly toilet paper, and are quick to empty the shelves of convenience and grocery stores.
Don't take everything for yourself, make sure others can have access to these products too, they need it as much as you do.
If we buy mindfully and respectfully, everybody will have what they need, and product restocking will flow naturally.
Cooperation is the key here.
Be kind to one another
Now that schools are closed, and people are asked to work from their place and to stay away from public places, we will definitely spend more time at home together.
It can be difficult to be together for an extended period of time, it'll certainly going to test our patience, but it's important to be kind to each other, it will help us cope better with the pandemic.
At work (if you have to go) or at the grocery store, remember to be kind and patient with other people, they too have to deal with stress and anxiety.
Support your local food bank
The stockpiling has been so intense, especially in America, that some food banks have suffered a significant decrease in donations, both from the general public and retail grocery stores alike. Giving a few dollars or a few cans can make a big difference in the life of many people. If everybody gave just a single dollar, there would be no more empty food banks.
Support local businesses
Many local businesses are having difficulty right now with the closure of eat-in restaurants, bars, and stores. It's time to have compassion for these poor local business owners. Find out if there are ways you can still buy from them or donate.
Many countries are facing severe blood shortages. Governments and organizations are encouraging anyone healthy and eligible to give blood. Don't underestimate the importance of blood donation; it can save lives. Be compassionate and donate blood.
Reach out to family and friends
In time of crisis, isolation can be devastating. Use social media, text, phones to stay in touch with family members and friends. Having exchange with other humans beings is comforting, and it'll take your mind off your worries.
Help the elderly
The Government has announced that elderly people are asked to self-isolate at home to protect themselves from the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
Although these measures are necessary, they can have an impact in terms of mental health and increased loneliness for the elderly.
Make sure your elderly and vulnerable neighbors have everything they need and let them know, by phone or other means, that they are not alone.
Volunteer your time if possible
Of course, elderly neighbors are vulnerable and need help during the coronavirus, but other people in the community might need help as well.
Charities are working with the government and local authorities to create ways for people to get involved. Check your local charity or social center to find out how to help.
With the frantic media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's understandable that it affects your stress level.
That being said, don't become a victim of the media. When you feel that anxiety is starting to get a hold of you, you know it's time for mindful breathing. The best way to stay calm is to connect with your breath. Mindful breathing is an easy meditation practice that can be practiced anywhere, and that can calm you down in no time.
Simply bring your focus to your breath. You can practice mindful breath meditation while standing, sitting, or even lying in a comfortable position.
Star off by connection between your mind and body through calm, long, and deep breath. While keeping to exhale naturally but do it a bit longer than you inhale - keep it natural, don't overdo it. After a few minutes, you'll find the breathing pace that is comfortable for you.
Now that your breath is calm and peaceful, keep your mind entirely present during every breath. Be aware of the air coming and leaving your body. Continue your mindful breathing practice for a few minutes.
Remember, only concentrate on your breath, and you'll be amazed at how quickly you'll calm down.
As Buddhists, meditation is part of our lives, and we know how beneficial for us. That's precisely why it's essential for us to continue to practice, especially during these times of uncertainty.
The Benefits of Meditation
There are numerous benefits of meditation in terms of mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. Here are some of the benefits that will help you in short terms.
Ease fear and anxiety
Meditation will help you ease fear and anxiety. It'll help you remain calm by supporting us to manage the stress and anxiety generated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Help You be More Compassionate
Meditation will help you manage your emotions so that you can better pay attention to other people and act more kindly and compassionately. Neuroscientists have shown that the practice of meditation activates brain networks associated with social affiliation, kindness, and compassion.
Clear & Positive Thoughts
Even after a meditation session of only 15 or 20 minutes, your mind will become more clear, and you'll think more positively. Some types of meditation, like loving-kindness meditation or Metta meditation, are aiming at increasing positive feelings toward yourself and others.
Improves the quality of your sleep
Although it's not the goal, meditation can help you relax your body and release your stress by putting you in a serene and tranquil state in which you're more likely to fall asleep. Maybe anxiety caused by the pandemic is causing you to sleep poorly, so meditation is a great way to naturally deal with sleeplessness.
Don't forget, meditation is something everyone can do to improve their mental and emotional well-being, not only Buddhists.
Impermanence - This too shall pass
Impermanence, called anitya in Sanskrit, is one of the core concepts of Buddhism. To understand anitya is to free yourself from a big piece of suffering.
Impermanence states that everything in the Universe, whether material or mental, are subject to change and transformation - nothing can resist it.
As Buddhists, we should live each day, fully aware of the fact that impermanence is always at work.
The coronavirus is also subject to this reality - it won't last forever. Sooner or later, it will come to an end. Business, restaurants, and shopping malls will reopen, children will go back to school, and elderly people will stop living in insecurity.
The only constant is change. Isn't that liberating?
PS: I hope this page will bring you a little bit comfort.
Next: What is Buddhism?