Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Notes from a tiny spot in the world

This morning I got a note from a dear friend who advised me to hold off trying to sell the superb idea of a research hub on Mafia Island…for now. His comment, which is of course spot-on, is that the world is up in arms about corona, and there are a number of places that I might have contacted which are even considering shutting down.

This is the power of widespread fear.

Before you accuse me of being insensitive, please understand that I’ve been out of country, off the grid and largely out of touch with the rest of the world for five weeks. The last week I’ve been holed up a tiny corner of a tiny island off the coast of Tanzania. Internet has been spotty at best. No TV, which I don’t watch much anyway. When I left for Dar es Salaam in early February, things were just getting underway in China. Now that I have access to the Internet again, sometimes at least, there are 80,000 cases in China alone.

Big change. While certainly I am aware, the other piece of this has been the peace. I’ve been completely isolated from the hysteria, and as a result, largely spared the terror that people are fostering all over the world.

You could argue that isolation from hysterical news is one hell of a gift. It is, in fact. There’s plenty on my mind already, as it is with all of us. The last thing I need is a nasty earworm causing me to hijack a joyful trip. By the same token, undue worries can also hijack a joyful life. And they do.

I got castigated rather roundly about making a comment in an article some time back about not getting insanely fearful about the virus. My stance hasn’t changed. I still believe- and I may be wrong — that if you and I don’t spend precious time and energy obsessing about something over which we have no direct control other than our own basic hygiene habits, we’re probably better off than if we do obsess. Here is the original piece:

If You’re Terrified of the Coronavirus, You’re Already Sick
It may come to you, it may not. Let’s not ruin our lives in the meantime by being obsessed by it.

That said I don’t take lightly the concern people have about fragile kids, parents or grands, or for themselves. Still, we underestimate the impact of the flu, which has killed far more in the US. I fear that because the flu is familiar and somewhat everyday, we dismiss the seriousness of it because it’s not exotic. That’s a huge mistake.

We have become quite lax in our hygiene habits. Hand washing after the toilet, hand washing in general, taking care of our teeth, our bodies, being mindful that we keep ourselves generally clean seem to have all fallen by the wayside. My mother raised me to be pretty good about such things. I note that during time of high stress, those kinds of self-care habits suffer.

Which brings me to a larger question. How much of our susceptibility to a virus, any virus, is increased by virtue of the side effects of high stress?

My article was intended to invite people to be aware that the worry about the virus, or any sickness, was in some ways more likely to make us more likely to get it. That is borne out by this article:

How to Reduce Stress so You Don't Get Sick
Bills to pay? A break-up? A divorce? Moving house? Final exams? Are the kids going to college? A new baby? A new job…

The people- one woman mostly- who attacked me so angrily missed the entire point and accused me of being self-congratulatory because I’ve done my best to try to stay as stress-free as possible. Lashing out at someone indicates a very high level of stress, which is precisely what I was referring to in the first place.

The problem is that many of us don’t know the level of stress we’re managing. In so many cases, we’re so accustomed to living life with our feet pressed hard on the accelerator pedal that being calm, relaxed, and our bodies out of that perpetual state of fight or flight that we don’t even notice it.

We miss the signs: being overly-sensitive, in a high state of alert, being overly angry at things that are largely meaningless, easily threatened, a host of symptoms.

Having lived that way most of my life already, these are all very familiar to me. Anyone who has been sexually assaulted, and most women I know have, live on high alert already. That means we are already stressed out just walking into a public space. It would be a fair comment to say that it’s a sick society already that causes that kind of everyday stress to half its members, but we do.

Add to that the worries which, in one way or another, we all carry about bills, kids, college debt and the like, then long hours, bad food and not enough exercise, then it would be fair to say we’re all a bit compromised.

That’s more of what I was saying. My comments about corona weren’t so much about hakuna matata (no worries) than they were to suggest that worrying obsessively about getting this virus was yet another layer of stress on top of everything else. That burden is very real, and the body doesn’t like it. And it can get sick not only from the stress itself, but being exhausted makes us far more vulnerable to the bad boys that are present everywhere, all the time.

Including the flu, pneumonia and problems that are possibly far more immediate than corona.

Am I mindful? Yes. However, until something fundamental changes, until I happen to contract it myself, which I might well, until there are massive shutdowns and travel bans, the best I can do is what we’ve all been asked to do: very good hygiene habits. Those offer a modicum of peace of mind.

In situations like this, even small steps towards calm, serenity and internal quiet can make a huge difference.

I am simply offering this up as well: cultivating a bit more calm in a very busy life has vast health benefits. Taking time to have faith that this too shall pass is part of good hygiene, if you will. I’m no fatalist. I do believe that we can do much to improve our lives, and this is one thing we can all do. Beyond that, life really does just go on.

Photo by Javardh on Unsplash

Finally, if you are in doubt, please see this smart and helpful article from Elemental regarding symptoms and what to do:

How to Tell If You Have the Flu, Coronavirus, or Something Else
This symptom chart will help you determine which virus ails you