As a physician and proponent of introspection, inner work, and self-awareness as integral components of health, wellness, and spiritual development. I watched with intrigue the dramatic increase in the number of COVID-19 related articles, social media posts, and videos purporting to offer solutions for these troubled times. They professed to teach people how to fight fear, manage anxiety, cope with grief, and/or overcome unpleasant emotions. This onslaught reflected a pervasive perspective held by patients and physicians alike: that anxiety is something to be eliminated, controlled, suppressed, or otherwise gotten rid of as much as possible. The focus inside of this perspective is on being at odds with unpleasant emotions.
This is understandable. I have witnessed how debilitating and threatening anxiety can be to one’s entire being. Anxiety can cause chest pain, palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, numbness, tingling, and even a sense that one is dying.
One patient I saw recently described to me how she normally takes medications on a daily basis to help with her anxiety and that the COVID-19 pandemic situation has exacerbated this wildly. She expressed concerns about whether the groceries being delivered have been cleaned and sanitized appropriately, how her husband is saying more often that he wants to go to the store himself to do the grocery shopping (even if means an increased chance of being exposed to COVID-19), that her sister with dementia is in the nursing home and the patient is worried how she is doing and what would happen if someone were to be diagnosed with COVID-19 in the nursing home, and about her children, who live elsewhere and who have shared stories of their anxiety with her.
With all of that, it’s easy to empathize and understand how overwhelming all of this can be.
Medications, counseling, and some therapies often help people avoid being overwhelmed by these emotions and experiences; sometimes, they are even very necessary aides. While I support the appropriate use of interventions because of their ability to help people with their daily functioning, many people want to just completely remove these experiences. I have seen plenty of people who basically chose to medicate away all of their problems and worries, and this trend seems to have continued or even increased during COVID-19 times.
Striving only to get rid of unpleasant emotions every time they arise makes personal development and transformation as well as more profound health and wellness impossible. In so many ways, this is akin to never working out. Just as your exterior body and muscles need to be physically challenged and brought to the edge and even past the limit of yesterday in order to grow and transform, aspects of your inner life (your soul/psyche, emotions, mind, and thoughts) also need to be exposed to discomfort, increased strain, and uncertainty for growth and transformation to occur.
COVID-19 has given all of us the opportunity to live in extremely challenging times. We can choose to run away from this challenge or decide to acknowledge it as part of our journey to grow and transform. So, will you face your habitual reactions, biases, and unpleasant emotions and turn these COVID-19 related challenges into opportunities for personal development and growth?
It’s up to you.
Francis Yoo is a family physician and the author of Physician Freedom: Living Your Authentic Physician Life and COVID Contemplations for Self-Awareness and Personal Development. He can be reached at his self-titled site, Dr. Francis Yoo.
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