Welcome the the third post in my series WE CAN DO THIS: A Latina's Guide to Mindful Presence in Stressful Times. To hear this post as a podcast with extended commentary, and to access other exclusive content including new books and videos, please support me on Patreon.
Life as a Latina in the United States can be stressful under even the best of circumstances, as we navigate the perils of sexism, racism, marginalization, erasure, xenophobia, unjust pay and a host of other personal and societal traumas. Add to all of that the anxiety of a highly-contagious global disease pandemic, isolation from our friends and family (or overexposure to roommates and family members) dictated by shelter-in-place policies, and economic worries, and it is only natural that many of us feel under extreme stress.
We are not alone. According to a recent Washington Post/ABC New poll, 77 percent of women and 61 percent of men in the United States report an uptick in stress since the pandemic hit, with one-third of us worrying the virus will infect us or loved ones. Since March 15, the country has seen a 34 percent increase in the number of prescriptions being filled for anti-anxiety medications, plus a doubling of prescriptions for sleep-aids and antidepressants, according to a new report by Express Scripts.
I've got nothing against medication, if you truly need it, but it is important for us to use as many natural tools as we can to alleviate our anxiety and stress too. And one of our greatest tools, as human beings, is telling ourselves a story.
The story we tell ourselves around what is happening to us in life is far more influential on our state of mind than are the actual events transpiring around us. For instance, let's say you've just gone out to get your mail and you see your neighbor on her porch. You wave, but she doesn't wave back. What is the story you tell yourself about this? How does that story make you feel?
If you are habituated towards negative storylines, your heart might begin to race as your mind tells you the neighbor hates you. You might take it even further, and start to feel inadequate and loathsome. Of course she didn't wave. Everyone hates me. Or you might decide your neighbor's just an awful person, and vow to give her the evil eye from now on. Either of these types of stories will leave you feeling worse, and probably aren't even true.
Now, let's think about what might happen if you simply observed and described what happened, without judgment? I waved at my neighbor and she did not wave back; I don't know why. And the, you let it go. How does this story make you feel?
Truth is, you have no idea why she didn't wave back. Maybe she's nearsighted and lost her glasses. Maybe she's extremely high. Maybe she just got some bad news and is lost in thoughts. You simply don't know. All you know is that you waved, and she didn't wave back. Right? When you leave it at that, without concocting an additional story from the layers of negative self-talk and fear in your head, you free yourself to feel an open acceptance of, and curiosity about, what is happening, rather than an obsessive dread.
The same is true of this pandemic. There are the facts - there's a disease spreading; it's incurable; most survive it; many do not; we are sheltering at home and taking precautions; science is working to find a cure. While all of these facts are painful, we cross the line from pain to suffering when we begin to pile on additional storylines, like I'll never see my friends again, I'm going to die, this is the end of the world, I'll never stay safe, my career is over, I can't do this. You don't know those things for certain. They are stories.
Stick to what you know for sure, and let the rest remain unknown.
Tomorrow, we will talk about ways to become comfortable with letting things be unknown, as a path towards peace in everyday life.