While the medical community MUST focus their immediate attention and response on treatment of physical symptoms and control of the spread of COVID-19 virus, the general public is also facing a short and long term emotional health challenge of epic magnitude. Shamanic practice has always been based in honoring the spiritual, mind, and body connections.
Even as it has evolved into modern forms, more scientific research backs up the use of our techniques for grounding, centering, connecting, and examining for emotional intelligence. Having options for coping in difficult times, otherwise known as adaptive capacity or resilience, helps with maintaining optimal physical health and resilience at the individual, family, and community level.
Some things to consider in the mind-body connection (just a few, there are many more, we encourage you to start or expand your own research in this area)
1. Ideas are contagious, just like pathogens: Dismissive and alarmist thinking are two extremes that are actively harming people. Dissemination of real-time, fact-based and verified information is what is needed most right now. Avoid speculation on an area you are not trained in- and look around. Many people in your network have some insight; ask them for clarification of what you are hearing/ reading.
Sadly, there is much deliberate disinformation being spread through Russian bots again on social media- your drunk uncle probably is not the best source of information right now. If you think about it, we are all alive today because our ancestors kept well in a multitude of epidemics, long enough to reproduce. Say no to conspiracy theories.
2. Soil Microbes and Connection to Nature: There is a lot of evidence that keeping connected to the earth is both restorative to the body/ mind/ soul, while also aiding the immune system. As long as you can get out in nature, do so. It’s also a good time to think about how to bring nature to you (bird feeders and waterers, planting appropriate native flowers and shrubs, helping struggling bee populations, etc.).
If you have land, garden! Even now in colder climates, you can build a cold frame and grow a lot of things like morning glories and avocados and ginger indoors. You can also replant celery, lettuce, onion bottoms, expiring garlic cloves, beet and carrot tops, and dozens more things you would normally throw away.
Don’t have pots? Buy a bag of potting soil and make these fun gallon jug ladies. There are lots of great ideas online from container gardening to feed your family to square foot traditional and organic gardening for larger scale consumption. With farmer’s markets closed and many farmers struggling to grow local, you may just be able to help local churches and food pantries keep up with the demands of the coming recession and the surging jobless market. Get the kids involved! I think I started gardening with my mom and birdwatching when I was 3. Mail order seeds and supplies- supporting nature and community are gifts that keep on giving.
Most of us are turning to social media and mass media right now for information, entertainment, connection, normalcy, work, etc. Be mindful in your consumption. Media can be active or passive. Active means you participate in some way (this includes reading thoughtfully composed content), passive that you simply watch. It is always recommended to turn passive consumption into active.
Instead of binge-watching yet another tv show by yourself, share it with a friend. Better yet, try YouTube for videos about things you want to learn about. I am currently learning more about overcoming narcissistic abuse, but there is content for almost anything you are interested in. TED Talks are a great place to explore mind-opening presentations by the world’s top thinkers.
Have a favorite zoo or aquarium, a museum or theater you love to visit? A national park you want to see? A sport you love? Many are giving virtual tours right now. Check their websites. Try to avoid just sitting kids in front of a screen and telling them to entertain themselves; watch with them and talk about what they are watching. If working from home, ask for a “what did you learn today?” update at dinner time.
4. Isolation and Depression: In shamanism, we explore social/ spiritual disconnection and isolation as one of the core triggers (alongside genetics, childhood/ adult traumas, emotional abuse, etc.) of chemical imbalances related to depression, especially for those who have one or more of the other risk factors. People who are depressed often do not reach out.
If you have people in your network right now who are high risk for triggering, it is a good idea to reach out to them. Who might they be? People who were brave enough to talk about living with any mental illness or mood disorder prior to the quarantine. People living with an abusive spouse/ romantic partner/ family. People who recently experienced/ are currently experiencing a major trauma or sudden change to their situation- such as job loss, a family member in the hospital, a serious health condition, etc. People living alone or otherwise physically separated from their support system.
Play games with them, send them messages, respond to their social media posts, like their content. Keep them connected. It is useful to learn Parker Palmer’s techniques for holding space and community building. Others who are particularly good here include Brene Brown, Richard Rohr, David Whyte, and Carolyn Myss. In short, any source that helps you create and define a strategy where you are actively reaching a personal, family, or professional goal, with inner guidance and focus to greater service, is a rewarding strategy that meets the highest human needs.
5. Avoid blame/ shame: It helps nobody to finger-point right now. The truth is, the world was unprepared for what is happening. 15 years of warnings from the world’s leading experts were ignored, vital pandemic services were cut, and many people in sudden charge of handling an epidemic are woefully unqualified to be in that position.
If you need to look for responsibility, place it where it belongs- at the top of your location’s preparedness plan. Do not blame your neighbor Bob for traveling abroad before there was a worldwide consolidated effort to control the virus spread. Most people were uninformed, misinformed, underinformed, or provided with conflicting information just weeks ago. If somebody still wants to go out now, stay away from them. Get what you need, take care of your health, help someone else in need- that is your responsibility right now. If somebody in your circle does not take your valid, informed concerns seriously, now is a good time to snooze them/ go minimal or no-contact/ tell them where to go if that helps.
Xenophobia can be stopped if we all refuse to participate in it: Its name is COVID-19 or novel coronavirus, not the “Chinese Virus.” The single saddest outcome of this health crisis is the sudden surge of xenophobia in places especially of poor to modest education, high inequality, and a prominent authoritarian or nationalist bent/ mindset. Call it out when you see it, refuse to participate in it. We are enriched when we interact with people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, sexualities, etc. Don’t participate in scapegoating, and make a strong stance to treat “others” in your midst, fairly. Many are stranded where they are, many are worried sick about loved ones in their home state or country, many had to relocate at some point in their life for work or professional reasons. Everybody deserves respect, dignity, and kindness all the time, especially right now. Best rule of thumb that exists: Talk TO people, not ABOUT them.
You will need to be mentally alert in these times; mind-altering substances (including alcohol and marijuana) should be used sparingly and with guided intent, i.e, not mindlessly as a distraction. Processed foods can increase inflammatio. The more that a healthy diet based in whole food ingredients can be adhered to, the stronger your immune system and mental health will be. Here is just one reliable reference for boosting your immune system through diet.
Rachael Shenyo is a US national living and working in Central America as a development specialist, scientist, writer, and life coach. In her coaching, she specializes in helping people find and hear their inner voice, and act upon their life goals. In her scientific work, she works with climate change. Her professional profile may be found on LinkedIn.