"Coronalone". It's like "Home Alone", but without Macaulay Culkin. And without the burglars (we hope). It's our ridiculous name for the surreal and strange circumstances in which we currently find ourselves.
And we currently find ourselves looking for distractions— anything that can give us even a brief respite from the troubling stories on the news, the constant need for vigilance, and the feeling that, right now, we are all just one cartoon piano away from catastrophe.
You remember the cartoon piano drop trope, right? Or maybe the anvil variant, frequently used in Looney Tunes cartoons involving Wile E. Coyote? For some reason, that image from those childhood cartoons just feels incredibly apt in light of everything going on in today’s world. Covid-19. Global climate change. The horrors of systemic racism reaching a boiling point. Zombie fires in the Arctic. Murder hornets. Heck, I even saw a news report recently about a Bubonic plague warning in Lake Tahoe after a human death was reported due to the virus. So many pianos and anvils, just waiting to drop.
You may already be aware of studies that show that our innate fight-or-flight response— which served our ancestors well in the face of, say, a saber-toothed tiger— has a hard time differentiating between a real physical threat, like the tiger, and one that is only perceived, like the stress preceding a business meeting or when stuck in a traffic jam. Now imagine what the existential threat of climate change and the constant fear of Coronavirus must be doing to us, since the sympathetic nervous system is likely to respond to the current climate of constant fear and worry just as if we were constantly faced with a saber-toothed tiger! Without a periodic respite from that heightened state of awareness and stress, our bodies cannot remain healthy. The fight-or-flight response is only meant to be a temporary response to a temporary danger. We’re just not built for constant vigilance.
Meditation— or mindfulness, in whatever form you like— is certainly one option for shutting off the stress response, but if you’re anything like me it’s not something you can sustain for too long, and the stress tends to return pretty quickly. Sometimes, I find that even if I can’t turn off my brain, I can at least trick it into thinking about something else for a little while. It may not be a permanent solution, but it’s better than nothing. Here are a few of the distractions we have been using lately:
BOARD GAMES: I spent a bit of last weekend, when Mike didn’t need my help with collar ties and insulation upstairs, going through and organizing all of our games. Now, we are trying to take a little time most evenings playing a game we haven’t played before— or at least not in a long time— and deciding which ones to keep and which ones to give away or sell. Focusing on learning the rules and strategy for each game, as well as a little healthy competition, seem to be great ways to focus our minds on something other than… well, pretty much everything on the news.
THE BOOB TUBE: This is a tricky one, because one really must be quite discerning about what one chooses to watch, or this option will completely backfire and increase stress rather than alleviating it. We no longer have cable TV, and we have chosen to carefully use the Haystack News app to make brief checks of the current state of affairs in the world, and it’s usually just in passing as we log on to watch a series or movie via one of the streaming services. The app can be customized for one’s location and by topics, which helps us drill down to just what we need to see and then move on. And once we have dutifully checked the day’s news, we try to choose programming that is uplifting, or at least takes us out of our own world and into another one. We recently finished a series called “Lark Rise to Candleford”, set in England in the 1880s (and featuring Brendan Coyle, of “Downton Abbey” fame), which we thoroughly enjoyed. And we are currently engrossed in an Australian family drama called “Packed to the Rafters”, which has had us both laughing and crying, sometimes all in the span of a single episode. Choose your programming wisely, and listen to your heart. If a show makes you as anxious as if you had just met up with a saber-toothed tiger, then it’s time to switch to something else!
BOOKS: I find this option extremely helpful for calming my inner caveman, and I always have. Even as a child I would happily choose reading over pretty much any other activity, and I was fortunate to have a best friend who didn’t find it weird or off-putting. Thank you, Kristin, for being my “reading buddy”. Sure, we had lots of fun when we interacted with the world around us, too, but it was pretty special to have a friend who understood that reading was my way of recharging, and who was perfectly comfortable with hanging out, each reading our own book, and quietly keeping each other company. Books can completely transport us to another world, and when the world feels as crazy as it does right now, that can be a beautiful thing. Brew yourself a lovely cup of tea, curl up in your favorite chair or reading nook, and give yourself permission to leave this world behind temporarily in favor of the one the author has created for you. I can almost guarantee that you will feel better for having done so (assuming you chose an uplifting book, of course.)
What are your favorite ways to convince your sympathetic nervous system that there really is no tiger in the room? We could all use as many suggestions as we can find right now, because this virus isn’t going away anytime soon, and neither is that nagging feeling that the piano could drop at any moment. So, what do you use to keep the tigers— and the pianos— at bay?