How to Reduce Pandemic Unease, Fear and Sadness

Sitting in the soup of your own feelings brings healing

By Jim Wolfson

The second wave of this pandemic that is rolling in is bringing to most of us even deeper measures of fear, sadness or anger.  So many of us are continuously questioning how schools can operate, when will social and community events turn to normal, just what is going on nationally.  

The valuable process of simply sitting with how you feel, paying attention to your insides, with focus, brings integration and healing.

Looking outside ourselves for answers

With all that is happening in the world, the level of uncertainty is having a massive, sea-change effect on us all. Our levels of anxiety, sadness and fear are much higher than we even realize or are acknowledging.  

For example, the last time I hugged my son or my expecting daughter-in-law was in March.  This is disturbing to me in ways I’m not even sure I fathom.  

Many of us are feeling lots of loss and sadness.  Our lives are so deeply impacted, we can’t do the things we used to do, see our friends, go to the movies or our favorite restaurants. 

For most of us the antidote to all this uncertainty is to continually and obsessively follow the news, and to talk about the pandemic’s effects, a lot.  Every conversation inevitably leads, rather rapidly, to the pandemic and its effects on us.  Just reflect on the discussions you have had in the past few days with people you know, and see for yourself.  It’s tedious isn’t it?

Our efforts to relieve the uncertainty are generally directed outward and usually lead only to temporary or low-level relief.  A good walk in the woods, for example, can bring much grounding and centeredness, but its indirect and doesn’t get to your deep insides. A lasting reduction in your stress can only come by going inward.  We are not generally asking each other, or ourselves, “what is it like for you to feel afraid right now?  Tell me more about it.”

Looking inside ourselves

If you do choose to go inward, to look inside yourself, you are inevitably led to doing some kind of meditation, like sitting, focusing on the breath, or doing some kind of movement practice like tai chi. 

Meditation is crucial to begin dis-identifying with your thoughts.  To see them for what they are, as part of you, but not YOU.  Just like you have a body, but you are not your body.  Same with your mind.

Ironically, as useful as meditation is, there is a certain way that it allows you to bypass your own inner experience of life, your own feelings.

Hand in hand with meditation, there is another step, another process, that is very important.  This is having a simple awareness of what you are feeling.   Giving yourself a basic awareness.  A check-in to experience what your current state is.  Just feeling what you feel.  Taking the time to experience what is going on inside of yourself.  It’s generally quite a mess if we really look closely and honestly, and we often don’t like what we find, so we tend to avoid looking.  This is a habit most of us have developed since we were very young.

I have been practicing going inside myself for awhile, and especially in these pandemic times.   In my mind, I label it ‘just sitting in my own soup’.  It’s not easy but it is fruitful.  And it takes some courage, because often what I find is not all organized and pretty.   It takes some honesty with myself.  I’m so used to papering over what is going on, even to myself, never mind what I tell other people, that it’s like an automatic avoidance program that kicks in immediately, and deflects me back outward to my phone or a snack.

The process is not quite meditating.  I can do it with my eyes open, sitting or walking.  I simply feel what I’m feeling, and I give it some time.  It often takes me quite some time to get to the depths of what I’m experiencing. The absolute key is, I don’t try to explain it, fix it, categorize it, make it go away, or make it less. I see how my busy mind wants to do all of those things.  And I just sit with it.  I feel a kind of existential agony when I get to the core of my sadness or fear, but I know it is healing.  There is just something about being with the truth of myself that nothing ‘out there’ can provide. It gives me a feeling of aliveness that is powerful and resourceful.

It’s a simple exercise in awareness.   I become more aware of what is going on inside of me.  I let myself feel my fear and anxiety and sadness.  Eventually, I even find myself getting curious about what is going on inside me.  I have no words for it, and its generally not something people are talking about, so there is a kind of loneliness to it.  However, by slowing down and giving myself this experience, something shifts.  Somehow I am more integrated, more whole.  

This does not mean the feeling disappears.  I’m just more aware of my internal state and how I bring it to every situation I am in.  When I do this, I make different and more responsible choices.  There is a shift that occurs.  Maybe not immediately, but eventually there is.  

I encourage you to try this.  I expect you may find it to be quite challenging.  For example, let’s say you are feeling some kind of unease in life related to the pandemic.  Just feel inside yourself and give it your attention.  Your mind may be in overdrive.  So many thoughts crowding in.  That is fine.  Simply sit with it.  Just let yourself have the experience of having many thoughts and your own unease.  So simple.  Just be with your own mess.  It’s there anyway.  At least, by sitting with it, you are gaining a greater awareness of yourself and your own life.  Your unease will now have a seat at the table.  This is the beginning of integrating all parts of yourself.  A sense of wholeness and healing will come eventually.  

How quickly will wholeness and healing kick in?   Life is mysterious. Patience pays.

Want more? Read my blogs on The Five Primary Emotions and How to Feel Your Emotions.

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