Happiness and the Wuhan Virus
We humans have lost the wisdom of genuinely resting and relaxing. We worry too much. We don’t allow our bodies to heal, and we don’t allow our minds and hearts to heal. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
First off let me say that I feel badly for the families of those who have been sickened or killed by the illness caused by the Covid-19, commonly known as the Wuhan,virus after the epicenter of the infection. It’s a scary disease, particularly since there are a lot of unknowns and the epidemic will certainly have large economic impacts in addition to the lives that will be lost. But for most of us outside of China, the basic things we should always do to avoid getting ill should protect us. So wash your hands frequently, with soap, the soap part is really important. Avoid people who are obviously sick, and most of all touch your face less. Yes, touching your face less really can keep you healthy.
But this post really isn’t about the virus or the outbreak. Tonight I want to talk about anxiety and how to reduce it. It seems these days that we have an epidemic of worry. Worry is the enemy of happiness and one way to increase your happiness is to reduce the amount of worry in your life.
The 24 hour news cycle and social media
So in our modern world we deal with something previous generations never had to cope with, the 24 hour news cycle and social media. At any moment we can tap into what’s going on almost anywhere in the world. The simple fact is that the news stories that sell the most papers and get the most clicks are the ones about negative life events. By that I mean, disasters, murders and scandals. There is an old saying in the news business, if it bleeds it leads. So this means the more news you consume, the more negative things you’re going to read, hear and see about the world. The fact is that crime rates including murder have generally been decreasing for decades. You are likely living in the safest time in your life, but does it feel like it? No, because even though there is less crime, there’s far more access to every murder, every disaster or disease anywhere in the world. So it actually seems like there is more, when there isn’t.
We not only have 24 hour cable news in constant rotation constantly showing all of the horrors in the world. We also have internet access 24 hours a day to not just the news, but commentary and conspiracy theories. What’s even worse about social media are the algorithms they employ, if you click on the bad stuff, the bad stuff becomes a higher priority so you see more and more. It’s the worst nightmare version of falling into Alice’s Rabbit Hole.
This type of constant negativity takes a toll on you psychologically. It can enhance or possibly even create the types of anxiety orders many people experience these days. There are of course ways to combat this and this article gives some good advice. But the simplest advice I can give you, is that you need to learn to unplug.
Reducing stress and anxiety in your life
Look, bad things are going to happen to all of us. We will be unlucky, the tire goes flat, the belt in the engine breaks, some vital fluid leaks out of your car. You and those you love are going to get sick. I’m not talking about these things, they happen from no fault of your own and when they do, you persist. You try to be resilient, stay positive and push through until things get better. No I’m talking about the day to day sort of stress and anxiety we all experience.
Let’s talk about work
First let’s talk about work. Don’t work seven days in a row, because in fact, you can’t. The minute you work seven days you’re into the next five day week, so that immediately becomes twelve days in a row. I know, you’re busy, the work piles up, your boss is on your back, but take one day a week at least and JUST DON’T WORK! Making this decision almost fifteen years ago was one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made. There are lots of stresses at work and the hardest thing you will ever learn is how to wall off work from the rest of your life. Sure, you care about your job, you work hard and want to do a good job. But it really is true, on their death bed, no one ever says I wish I had worked more. Keep that life/work balance that we all need to be healthy. I’m linking to one of my previous blogs to help you out, tips on keeping work/life balance.
Do a little self care
Self care is a really popular word these days, it sounds really fancy and new age fabulous. The fact is it has a really simple meaning, it means do something nice for yourself, make sure that you get the things you need to be well. Because you can’t be there for everyone else, if you’re not doing well yourself. So find a little alone time, ask for help sometimes, get a massage or go for a walk. Have that ice cream sundae, if that will make you happy. Simply take good care of yourself, eat good, exercise or at least move and get enough sleep. These are easy ideas that are hard to implement sometimes, but the better you do with this, the better you’ll feel, the happier you will be.
The last thing I want to talk about tonight combines where this piece started with what we’ve just been talking about. I guess you could consider this a form of self-care.
Find time to unplug
So I started this piece by talking about the Wuhan Virus and all of the news that we see around it, as well as the the 24 hour news cycle and the constant bombardment of bad news, politics and conspiracy theory we see on our social media feeds. The simplest way to avoid this anchor on our happiness is to avoid it. We all need to take time to unplug. I know, our lives are intimately woven into our social media and that’s ok, it’s a part of how life works these days. But take some breaks from it. Please stay away from your phone while you’re driving. But set a time at night to stop looking at your media feeds, turn off the sound notifications so you’re not tempted to check in. Put your phones away during your meals. Limit the number of times a day you check your feeds. I know this doesn’t sound like a lot, but the less time you spend getting bombarded with the negativity the better you will feel and the easier it will be to increase that avoidance time.
The bigger piece though is the true breaks. You need to regularly, weekly would be ideal but likely not reasonable, monthly would be great. Take a day a month and fully unplug from your feeds. Do it by getting out in nature if at all possible, take a day at the beach or walk in the mountains. Take your family for a picnic someplace and then watch the sunset. Again, the more time away from those feeds, the more positive and then the happier you will feel. If you can do this, maybe you can take the big step, taking a real vacation.
Taking a real vacation
I’ve written about taking a real vacation before and my advice remains solid. You have to get out of your normal life and your normal life includes that social media feed you’re constantly on. Yes, that includes your email as well. So the next time you take a vacation, take a real vacation. Let the people you work with know that you’ll be inaccessible for at least a few days while you’re gone. I know this isn’t possible for everyone, but it’s far more possible than most people are willing to admit. Honestly, what’s the worst thing that will happen if no one can contact you for three days? If the answer to that question isn’t people might die, or your business will lose tens of thousands of dollars, or people won’t get paid or will lose their jobs, then fully unplug for a few days.
I’ll be heading to New Orleans later this week for Mardi Gras, you can see my 2016 Mardi Gras photos here. I’m really excited to be heading back to one of my favorite events in my favorite city in America. It will be a food and photography trip, filled with ghost walks, cemeteries, parades, amazing people watching, spectacular architecture, lot’s of unique photo opportunities and some of the best food you can find in America. There will be plenty of interesting people. What there will not be, are lots of email exchanges with work, or time on social media, beyond posting a few photos to help folks like you follow along with the journey. If you’re interested in the images I’ll be posting you can follow me on Instagram @reverendmichaelkane. This will be my first real vacation since I’ve returned to the working world and 8 months was far too long to wait, so I’m planning on making the most of it.
So take some time for self-care, don’t obsess over all the negativity in the news, take some time to unplug regularly and take a real vacation. Most of all, have a happy day my friends. ~ Rev Kane