By Heidi Scott
With global social distancing and self-quarantining, is it any wonder that a growing number of people are now having dreams of being imprisoned or locked away? The human mind is a funny thing. In difficult circumstances, our brains tend to want to fixate on negative topics. Particularly when those topics are as visible as a pandemic.
But through every crisis in history, humanity has shown that our brains also have an incredible ability to override the negative. POWs of the Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam, one of the most brutal environments in history, found ways to bear the harshness of their captivity by convincing themselves that they would only be there for six months. They used a tap code to communicate through the cement walls of their confinement. They offered support and concern for their fellow prisoners. They even passed lines of Shakespeare to lift each other’s spirits. When they were separated to the point where they could no longer hear the tapping, they found other ways to connect – sweeping with brooms, flashing lights, or even blinking their eyelids.
The Power of Optimism
In 2013, 40 years after their release, a study was published by the Robert E. Mitchell Center for Prisoner of War Studies detailing how these men had survived after the trauma. The study found that most of them went on to lead productive, happy lives due to a sense of optimism. They allowed their brains to dwell on hope, rather than the horrific isolation and brutality the faced every day. In fact, the study showed optimism to be the strongest predictor of resilience, regardless of the severity of trauma they experienced.
As we grapple with Covid-19, our brains continue to work overtime at processing the stream of information coming our way. In our homes, we are shut away from human interaction and so we turn to the Internet for connection. There, we find a constant stream of Covid-19 discussion, creating a feedback loop of fear. Dr. Lynn Fraley recently appeared on KHQ to discuss ways to mentally break free. Her mental health practices are seeing an uptick in people seeking relief from feelings of anxiety, depression, and helplessness due to virus-related changes in their lives. She advises people to “look but don’t stare.” Her advice is to keep our brains healthy by not making this pandemic the center point of our attention through the day.
She suggests trying to focus on those aspects of your life you can control and to look for the good things that are happening. Perhaps it is the chance to reconnect with family. Perhaps it is more rest. Or even the chance to finally dive into that passion project you’ve always wanted to do. Like the POWs in Hanoi, we can dig deep and find that innate human sense of optimism to help us be resilient.
Making The Best
In today’s unprecedented times, people continue making the best of their circumstances. The world is often unaware of these moments of hope because they are not loud. They are not forceful. But they are always there, shining light and finding ways to bring out the best in humanity. Amazing acts are taking place all over the world.
Great Britain took part in a national “Clap for Carers” tribute that rang through the skies on Friday, March 27. Museums like the Guggenheim in New York, the British Museum of London, and the Louvre in Paris are opening their virtual doors for free. Global efforts like the World Health Organization’s Global Citizen campaign #togetherathome is bringing concerts into the living rooms of the world for free via Instragram Live and YouTube, where megastars donate their time and talents to uplift our spirits. The Metropolitan Opera is streaming nightly HD presentations, and countless symphony orchestras are now streaming live for virtual audiences free of charge. Spontaneous expressions of encouragement are popping up throughout the world.
What’s Happening Locally
On a local scale, people are volunteering their time to sew masks for health care workers and JoAnnn Fabrics is giving away kits to make them. Spokane area school districts are giving away sack lunches to any child under 18, with no proof of residency requirement. Distilleries like Dry Fly are making and distributing free hand sanitizer. Starbucks is giving free coffee to health care workers. And the Women’s and Children’s Free Restaurant gave out 5,800 free meals in two days when they typically give out 2,000 in a week.
Individually, local acts of generosity and optimism are incalculable. A man was spotted walking outside of Holy Family Hospital with a sign that said, “Thank You Workers!” A Spokane resident set rolls of toilet paper on their doorstep for neighbors in need. A woman was seen teaching an elderly resident in an assisted living center how to knit through a window. One of the most heartwarming reminders of our human resiliency is that windows and driveways have been decorated with colorful words of encouragement by our local children declaring, “We Got This Spokane.”
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