Peace of Mind in a Moment of Catastrophic Thoughts

If the political-pandemical moment has lit your hair on fire, I offer a suggestion. Get into the shower. But since I can’t personally help with this remedy, let me provide some calming words.

We must begin here: many people fear the worst outcome in the U.S. election come November.

Some ask me for my opinion, my prediction, my reassurance.

I tell them I have enough trust in the good sense of the majority of my fellow-citizens to save the democratic republic. Hope and experience sustain me. I do what a concerned citizen can do. I will vote and, until events are past, take modest political action via the phone, the mail, and contributions to candidates I support.

These thoughts and efforts, however, do not dominate my time or my life.

Yes, potential chaos and catastrophe loom, but few souls profit by submerging themselves in disastrous scenarios. They are instead immobilized if not drowned by the self-imposed punishment those imaginings bring.

The keyword is potential. A difficult or unmanageable result is not an accomplished fact. Better results, I believe, are likely.

My patients sometimes benefited when I asked them what challenges they’d survived in the past. By reviewing their personal history of hardship, they often recognized their capacity to endure and surmount misfortune.

We are the descendants of those who did so again and again for thousands of years.

Another question fashioned perspective: how many times did you dread an event that did not occur?

Most catastrophes are surprising. The legal arm of those desiring to preserve our democracy is as prepared as it can be. The citizenry makes itself ready to register and cast ballots.

Meanwhile, the best scientists and educators in the world are working to create vaccines, treatments, and policies to enable a return to a life we recognize.

All are challenged to find equanimity even in easy times. The religious do well to read their scripture.

I continue to meditate daily, enjoy classic fiction, and study Mahayana Buddhism, a recent interest. Distraction comes by watching comedy and baseball. Friends, children, and grandchildren give me joy. Loved ones touch my heart.

There is value in fact-based news sources, but not those I find redundant. Our front lawn features a sign encouraging the presidential preference my wife and I commend to our neighbors.

Pleasure exists in on-line art, including the gorgeous photos of Laura Hedien featured in this post. Early morning walks invigorate me. A short weight-lifting routine is an old discipline made new.

My evening dessert menu doesn’t include politics. Nightmares receive no invitation into my bedroom.

If catastrophe happens up ahead, that will be soon enough for me. Then we will react and work to improve what fate brings. But I emphasize, I expect a bumpy ride, not one into the abyss.

Seneca, the Stoic philosopher, offered these words 2000 years ago:

But those who forget the past, ignore the present, and fear for the future have a life that is brief and filled with anxiety. … Their very pleasures are fearful and troubled by alarms of different kinds; (even) at the moment of rejoicing, the anxious thought occurs to them: “How long will this last?”

Shakespeare wrote the following in Julius Caesar:

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard.
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.

I am no hero, but I take comfort in such wisdom.

And in you, dear reader.

———

The photos of Laura Hedien included here (with her permission) are The Chicago River as Seen in Downtown Chicago and Clouds Over a Mountain Range in Southern, Arizona (2020): Laura Hedien Official Website

13 thoughts on “Peace of Mind in a Moment of Catastrophic Thoughts

  1. So very true. It doesn’t do much good to meditate on what might be. I take comfort in the thought that if our ancestors before us could weather bad times, so can we.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed, Annie. As you say, our ancestors weather daily conditions far worse than most of us suffer today. Those fortunate among us (I include myself) can not only maintain ourselves and those closest to us, but do what we can for the folks who find it hard to feed themselves and their children. My wife and I have donated to food pantries and will do so again.

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  2. I find your sentiments reassuring, Dr. Stein. I often think about the “Greatest Generation” before us, who survived the Great Depression and fought in the Second World War. They saw and experienced atrocities yet came out ahead. The people who were blacklisted by McCarthy eventually were considered heroes for withstanding his cruelty. My hope is that our country will redeem itself and heal in the aftermath of the Trump presidency and that Congress will implement laws that will protect us from the next autocratic wannabe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well said, Nancy. I believe a great many people, you included, are doing their part as responsible citizens to improve the state of the world, including our contemporary political challenges.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. gb fragmented gumdrops

    Dr. S, I like how you cope with all that is going on: “I continue to meditate daily, enjoy classic fiction, and study Mahayana Buddhism, a recent interest. Distraction comes by watching comedy and baseball. Friends, children, and grandchildren give me joy. Loved ones touch my heart.” I distract through watching TV shows, watching movies, talking with friends online or on the phone, cleaning, decorating, organizing, reading, and sometimes playing music. I still worry about everything while distracting, but the worry becomes less. Parts of me are afraid of religion, so spirituality is difficult for me to use as a coping tool. I worry about not being accepted by God or into Heaven or even into a decent reincarnation, if any of those things exist. My fear of the afterlife coupled with my fear of being medically tortured in the present life motivate me to be fearful. So I lack that spiritual strength people have during tough times. I lack true social capital, too. By “true social capital” I mean the kind of close relationships that make you feel connected and belonged. I am alone and lonely, and it is tough to find solutions for loneliness during a pandemic. I therefore hope for political leaders and otherwise to try and end this pandemic as soon as they can or at least make policies that help to make this pandemic seem safe and bearable. It is hard ignore some inner need to worry and then to do something about , such as talking with others or voicing opinions online in order to spread awareness. The worry remains, and for some like me, nightmares enter my bed all the time – without warning. Distraction helps a little, but I wish my nightmares would go away. Sometimes nightmares dictate how my day will go, and affect my mood and thoughts. It is challenging to avoid rumination or even those news posts on Facebook when Facebook is the only social media platform for some of us lonely folk. There is only so much avoiding or ignoring the lonely can do when being faced with political news daily before finally giving in and being affected by it. Reactions and rumination soon follow. I like your thoughts on this. It is easier said than done. It is hard to believe in fate when your need for survival states that death is preventable, and that fate can change.

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    • Thank you, gb. I do not give my fate to fate, but we cannot control everything, so it is important to focus on what is in our hands. I do limit the amount of “news” I take in, though I’m quite well informed. I’m not on Facebook but have heard many speak of its dark side, both in terms of the amount of vitriol and attempts to pass propaganda for truth.

      Yes, you absolutely have more challenges than I do, but It can be worth your time talking back to whatever part of your worry that takes you into repeated worst case scenarios.

      Planning out the coming day the night before can be helpful, as is good sleep hygiene and use of the daytime to give you a sense of bringing your values into your actions.

      Be well, gb. I do think you will get through this. Remember, you are relatively young, and this improves your chance of survival. The time ahead still can be put to good use.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and actions in dealing with the anxieties these times bring. Like you, I hold on to hope and the knowledge born of experience that I have survived many a dark day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My example is one way of handling this, based in part of the treatment of anxiety and catastrophic thoughts. Some others, perhaps, can learn from it. But, as always, one size doesn’t fit all. I’m glad you share the same hope I do, Rosaliene.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on Three Worlds One Vision and commented:
    We can overcome the anxieties and fears that assail us daily during these uncertain times. As Dr. Gerald Stein, a retired psychotherapist from Chicago, reminds us: “We are the descendants of those who [have endured and surmounted misfortune] again and again for thousands of years.”

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I do many of the things you list as well—limiting news, meditating and daily walks are so helpful. But when, earlier this month, we added smoke and wildfires to the pandemic, reduced employment and political turmoil, that felt absolutely overwhelming. After the first couple days, we saw we probably weren’t at risk of losing our home to fire, but the air quality was so bad from smoke that we couldn’t go outside for 10 days (so no walks, no seeing friends or neighbors outdoors). I really felt I was unraveling. What helped most was reaching out to friends and seeing, no, it’s not just me; this is enormously difficult for all of us. And then, at the worst times, to just take it moment by moment and not think too far ahead.

    It’s very hard some days, but we are more resilient than we think. We can support one another and make it through this.

    Thanks for your uplifting post.

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    • Thank you, Q. I’m so sorry you must endure the wildfires and smoke, in addition to all the rest. I suspect your meditation practice might have prepared you to take the moments one at a time, at least in part. In any case, your resilience is more than admirable. Those who read what you have to say will benefit by your example. Be well.

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  7. Thank you for this wisdom. I will not let the catastrophic thoughts dominate. I will give at least as much time to thoughts of peace and harmony. That’s my goal anyway. It’s an uphill battle, but possible.

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    • You are welcome, JoAnna. We’ve all heard the message before airline flights to put the oxygen mask on ourselves before others. There is no other way to control as much as we can and do some good in the world. Take care.

      Liked by 1 person

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