Our Brain and Covid-19
We are locked in a battle for our minds.
The world’s obsession with Coronavirus has pushed many of us into a downward mental spiral. We’re quickly becoming accustomed to receiving bad news every day. Make that worse news every day. Alarmist headlines, soaring death counts, exponential growth curves, and more.
Our brain is eating all of this up and is being reshaped by this constant barrage of negativity, even if it’s only temporary. We are unconsciously changing the way we think about our lives.
Neuroplasticity means that our brain is developing all the time, continuously forming new neural connections, and establishing new lines of thought, habits, and behaviors. This can be both a blessing and a curse.
When applied constructively, we can use this feature of our brain to recover from childhood trauma, overcome phobias, and learn new skills. Used destructively, on the other hand, it can lead us down dangerous rabbit holes, creating unhealthy dependencies and negative thought patterns.
The human brain also can’t tell the difference between real or imagined, and it interprets everything as if it is happening to us. Every negative news story about COVID-19 is unconsciously absorbed through this lens, creating more fearful reflexes in our behavior and neural pathways in our brains.
In other words, we are experiencing this virus over and over again in our minds and it’s making our lives seem bleaker by the day.
Negativity Breeds Negativity
We are becoming more negative about everything around us even if we don’t realize it. Negativity breeds negativity after all. The law of attraction drives life outcomes in lockstep with our mindset. As we become more conditioned to expect bad news, we will receive more bad news. This is inevitable. What is more concerning is when this happens on a global scale.
Don’t underestimate the power of millions of people all expecting negative outcomes at the same time. It becomes a case of ask and you shall receive. Self-fulfilling prophecies exist for a reason.
Through this unconscious expectation, we are unintentionally willing more bad things to happen — and they are.
The stock market is plummeting. People are losing their jobs. Companies of all shapes and sizes are going out of business. Our politicians have never looked more clueless. Our governments never more impotent.
A virus has effectively ripped off our emperors’ clothes. The rules have changed. Life will never be the same again. Everything is different now. And it has only just begun.
But breathe. There is hope.
Unintended Benefits of Covid-19
We can still reframe everything that is happening in a constructive way. We can embrace this new reality and find silver linings. We can put an end to this downward spiral by reminding ourselves that every negative event has a positive counterpoint. That there is no yin without yang. No darkness without light.
As much as it will do damage, this virus can also have a positive effect on our lives. It can prepare us for potentially worse pandemics in the future. It can remind us of the importance of investing in our healthcare infrastructure and personnel. It has already benefited the environment, reducing greenhouse gas emissions in China and potentially around the world. And it has uncovered flaws in our governments and supply chains, shedding light on areas requiring drastic improvement.
It can serve as a much needed wake up call that we have been asleep at the wheel: allowing politicians to run amuck — masquerading as leaders, when in reality they are no more than ordinary human beings playing make-believe like they did when they were kids — and enabling big corporate interests to drive public policy to the detriment of the public it’s meant to serve.
This virus can give us a newfound appreciation for home. It can remind us of the importance of being with family. Because nothing is worth losing the ones you care about most in this life. No amount of glory or money will ever justify being away from your people when they need you the most. That is how regret is built. And, thanks to COVID-19, we may realize this before it is too late.
More than ever before, we can develop a keener sense of what is important to us. Of what we want to do before we die. And of what actually matters versus the simple material distractions we thought meant something.
This virus can be used as a driver of positive action. It can be the spark that inspires the next wave of innovators and entrepreneurs. It can compel future leaders to pursue a path of politics for noble reasons.
It can narrow our focus and sharpen our edge. It can remind us that life is short. To live like we mean it. To do what we have always dreamed of doing. To spend time with those that mean the most to us. To eliminate distractions and trim the fat. To speak our truth and be ourselves.
Inspired By Pandemics
Consider the example of Sir Isaac Newton, who enjoyed his most productive years of discovery during the bubonic plague. When Cambridge University was forced to close, Newton went back home to quarantine in Woolsthorpe Manor. It was here that he made some of the most momentous breakthroughs of his life. They call it his annus mirabilis. His “year of wonders.”
During this period, he made major discoveries in the realms of optics, the laws of motion and gravity, and calculus. As he explained it: “All this was in the two plague years of 1665–1666. For in those days I was in the prime of my age for invention & minded Mathematicks & Philosophy more then than at any time since.”
Sir Isaac Newton embraced what seemed to be a dire situation and used it in a constructive way. In fact, we can legitimately ask whether he would have made all of these discoveries were it not for the plague.
That’s right, the plague — something so terrible that to claim otherwise would make you look like a psychopath — enabled one of the most pioneering minds in history to make a series of revolutionary scientific breakthroughs.
Sir Isaac Newton wasn’t the only one to flourish during a pandemic. William Shakespeare’s career was largely defined by his encounters with the plague throughout his life. From infancy until death, he bore witness to several waves of the plague, losing numerous family members in the process.
However, rather than live in fear from it, he used it to his advantage. The plague set the mood for much of his work and provided the backdrop for some of his most prolific bursts of creativity.
For example, sixty years before Newton’s annus mirabilis, from 1605 to the end of 1606, Shakespeare penned King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra. All spurred on by a furious epidemic.
Evidently good and bad can coexist. There is always a silver lining. You just have to look for it.
Embracing Our Fate
This is what the Stoics call “amor fati” or the love of fate. It means embracing whatever life throws at you, looking for the opportunities it provides, and making the most of the situation.
Nothing in life is good or bad. It’s our perception that makes it so.
If we choose to embrace the things that happen to us, even if they seem negative at first, we can draw a positive outcome from them. It’s an approach that puts us in control of our destiny, no matter the external factors, just as Sir Isaac Newton and William Shakespeare proved during their pandemic years. Theirs are timely examples of the possibilities afforded to us by COVID-19.
We all have dreams. We all have things we’re passionate about outside of work that we haven’t had the opportunity to pursue. Many of us have been forced to prioritize our careers at the expense of doing the things we love or spending time with the ones we love.
A Blessing in Disguise
If we adopt extreme social distancing or self-isolation, we may suddenly find ourselves afforded new opportunities. We may find that we have the time and space to focus on our passions. That book we wanted to read. That story we wanted to write. That language we wanted to learn. And so much more.
We may also find that we have the solitude needed to meditate on what we want to do next with our lives. Much needed “me time” to reflect on where we are today and what is important to us, and for charting a future that will make us feel fulfilled.
We can start writing a journal, documenting our innermost thoughts and life learnings in a cathartic medium. We can establish new habits that make us more psychologically resilient and internally congruent. We can set new goals and find greater clarity. All things that we may have felt we were too busy to do during the normal course of our everyday lives.
We may discover that we can suddenly spend more time with our loved ones. We can bond over these shared circumstances and discover things about one another that deepen our relationships.
We can rekindle our connection with our partner, remind ourselves of their importance to us, and reenergize our appreciation for their presence in our lives.
We can embrace the fact that we are embarking on a once-in-a-lifetime experience with them, creating memories to tell our future children or grandchildren, or if we have young children today, weaving stories of how we spent weeks together in isolation.
This pandemic and its consequences are opening doors for us to reassess the way we are living and rediscover what is truly important.
We have a unique opportunity to redesign our lives to minimize future regret and maximize long-term fulfillment. To express the love we feel for ourselves and others in all aspects of our lives. To experience every day as if it were our last. To make every moment count.
What a blessing this pandemic could yet prove to be, should we choose to make it so.