How to Question Stressful Thoughts About COVID-19
The Panic over COVID-19 Is an Epidemic Too
Our panic over the coronavirus could end up causing as much, or more, damage as the virus itself. I call it a mental virus. We’ve got a real physical virus going around the world. And we have a mental virus too, that is even more contagious.
For most of us, the mental virus has already reached us, and has infected our minds with all kinds of scary thoughts about the future, about our health, about our families, about our businesses, and our money.
The result is stress on a global level; fear levels are high everywhere, and many reactions based on that fear: at least we can all laugh at the idea of hoarding toilet paper. But as
“crazy” as it is, it’s a real panic that we’re witnessing.
Regardless of What Is Happening in the World, How Is Your Stress?
Stress is always a personal thing. The world may be freaking out. But I always have a choice to join in with the thinking of the world and get stressed myself, or to question the scary thoughts that everyone is believing and remain balanced.
When I remain balanced in the face of a crisis, I become a pillar of society. I can think clearly when others can’t. I can act effectively without panic. We need a society right now with more of these kind of people, people who are immune from the downward pull of stress and panic.
How Can You Immunize Your Thinking?
Immunity from stressful thinking comes from not being so caught up in the thinking. This means taking things with a grain of salt. People who meditate often have this kind of clarity in the midst of chaos. I have been practicing Transcendental Meditation since I was young and it has consistently given me more distance on stressful situations.
Another powerful way to immunize your thinking is to directly question the stressful thoughts themselves. For this, I have been using The Work of Byron Katie since 2007. I love how my stressful thinking falls away when I write it down and then question a thought thoroughly.
What I’m often left with after doing The Work is a natural state of clarity. Then, no matter how many times people try to scare me with the same thought I was believing, once I’ve seen through the story I can’t go back to it again. This is an immunity: I just don’t buy into it anymore.
How Can You Do The Work on COVID-19
Doing The Work of Byron Katie on COVID-19 is no different than doing The Work on any other stressful situation. The first step is to make a list on paper or all the stressful thoughts related to the situation.
You can do this in a brainstorm fashion using a blank sheet of paper or a computer. Just write down any thought that comes up related to the coronavirus. Make a list. This step helps to lighten the mind by getting it all out on paper. You may also want to use a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet to help identify your stressful thoughts.
Once you have your list, then pick one statement to question using the four questions and turnarounds of The Work. Take your time with this. It is meditation. Your answers will come up from inside—answers that you didn’t know were there, but which make sense to you. This takes time and listening. You can’t rush the process.
Let’s Look More Specifically at What You Can Question
Identifying which stressful thoughts to question is also meditation. It’s worth spending some time listening to what is really bothering you about COVID-19. Here are some ideas of where you could look to identify your stressful thoughts to write down and question.
1. Make a list of fears. Start with the prompt, “I am afraid of COVID-19 because…” and write as many sentences as you can think of. For example:
It will cripple the world’s food supply.
I will starve.
It is coming for me.
I won’t be able to handle it.
I will die.
My business will evaporate.
I will run out of money.
I won’t be able to survive.
2. Feel free to exaggerate your fears. What is the worst that could happen? Play it up so that you can see more clearly the thinking that you are buying into on a subtle level. For example:
It will decimate the world’s population.
My children will die.
My parents will die.
I will suffer miserably.
I will die.
There will be chaos on the streets.
There will be war.
These may be extreme thoughts that you “don’t believe” but if you look closely, you may find that on some level you are believing things like this. So it’s worth questioning them in order to deal with them consciously.
3. Write your list of proof. Your fears probably have a certain logic to them. What are your reference points? What holds them up? How do you build your case internally? To go a little deeper, write down your list of proof for any of the statements above using “because.” For example:
My father will die because…
He is older.
It affects older people more.
He is exposed to the public.
He is not careful.
He might not take precautions.
He doesn’t wash his hands enough.
He doesn’t like going to doctors.
He will refuse medical treatment.
All of these “proof” thoughts can be questioned one-by-one. Then, you can question the original thought, “My father will die.”
5. Write a list of what it means. So if my father dies what would it mean to me? Why would it be terrible? You can use the prompt, “…and it means that…” For example:
My father will die, and it means that…
I won’t be able to go to the funeral (I live in a different country and the border is closed).
He won’t get the religious rites I would give him.
I would not be able to do my duty as his son.
I will lose a friend.
My step-mom will be all alone.
When the borders open again, I’ll have to be there for some months.
Again, I could then question any of these secondary thoughts, each of which holds a part of what is stressing me. When I question a bunch of these over time, the anxiety tends to go down a lot.
Be Specific When You Write
It helps a lot when writing your stressful thoughts to land on a specific reference point. This keeps the mind from spinning into huge unknowns and generalities which are much harder to question.
Look to see if you can find a specific situation, maybe it was seeing a specific image on the news, maybe it was thinking of a specific imaginary future situation, or looking at a past image in your mind, or a moment looking at your daughter. The more you can nail a specific situation down, the more easy it is to do The Work because you know exactly what you’re talking about.
And Don’t Forget About Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheets
As you make these lists, you may find also that you’re blaming someone or something. Then it becomes a clearcut time to write a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet.
For example, maybe you’re blaming a political leader, or maybe you’re blaming another country that you believe started the virus, or maybe you are blaming God or the universe. All of these could become interesting Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheets.
And don’t forget that you can write a worksheet on the coronavirus itself.
Finally, there may be some self-judgments that come up. These are usually secondary but may need attention too.
When you follow the suggestions throughout this article and question your lists and Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet statements, you will probably lessen any self-blame without questioning the self-judgments themselves.
But in case you need extra work, don’t hesitate to question the self-attack thoughts too. For example:
I made a terrible mistake. (if I infected someone)
I should have bought extra food earlier.
I should be more calm.
I’m not handling this well.
And if you want to go more deeply into learning and practicing The Work of Byron Katie, you might enjoy my 9-week online course starting Apr 27, called The Work 101.
Have a great week
“Nothing terrible has ever happened except in our thinking. Reality is always good, even in situations that seem like nightmares. The story we tell is the only nightmare that we have lived. When I say that the worst that can happen is a belief, I am being literal. The worst that can happen to you is your uninvestigated belief system.” Byron Katie, Loving What Is.
Further reading: There’s a Want Behind Every Fear