Washing hands and working with fear

by Alice Dommert
March 9, 2020

It looks like with Covid-19’s arrival we’ll be getting a serious mindfulness workout about being with the unknown this week and maybe for the next few weeks. Fear may be coming up for you, as naturally happens when answers are not black and white, and the days ahead look uncertain. One thing we can count on, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. There will be unexpected “stuff.”

What are we to do? Wring our hands and wail with worry? Complain and imagine all the worst-case scenarios? Get caught in the stream of sensationalized news meant to keep us watching? Cancel everything in our lives?

We do have some facts, handwashing is good, and we do have some choices about how we react. The one thing that I have read that resonated for me was a post on March 5th from a Canadian Infectious Disease doctor, Abdu Sharkawy, and his fear not about Covid-19 but the message we are sending to our children. It feels like this also applies to the message we are sending each other.

“… I’m scared about what message we are telling our kids when faced with a threat. Instead of reason, rationality, open-mindedness and altruism, we are telling them to panic, be fearful, suspicious, reactionary and self-interested.”

This will be a time that will not quickly be forgotten. And our actions and mindsets right now matter. Dr. Sharkaway goes on to share.

“Covid-19 is nowhere near over. It will be coming to a city, a hospital, a friend, even a family member near you at some point. Expect it. Stop waiting to be surprised further. The fact is the virus itself will not likely do much harm when it arrives. But our own behaviors and “fight for yourself above all else” attitude could prove disastrous.

I implore you all. Temper fear with reason, panic with patience and uncertainty with education. We have an opportunity to learn a great deal about health hygiene and limiting the spread of innumerable transmissible diseases in our society. Let’s meet this challenge together in the best spirit of compassion for others, patience, and above all, an unfailing effort to seek truth, facts and knowledge as opposed to conjecture, speculation and catastrophizing.

Facts not fear. Clean hands. Open hearts. Our children will thank us for it.”

So what can we do?

Tiny Habits

Last week I presented our program, The HOW of Habits. My new favorite book, Tiny Habits, by BJ Fogg offers some valuable guidance about how we can use what is happening right to integrate some powerful new habits.

In Fogg’s approach, there are three components to the tiny habit approach.

    An existing routine in your life that will remind you to do your new tiny habit.

    The new habit you want, scaled to be tiny and super easy that you do immediately after the Anchor Moment. Super small means it take less than 30 seconds.

    Something you do to create positive emotions, such as saying “I did it!” to celebrate immediately after doing the new Tiny Habit to help imprint the habit.

Let’s talk about handwashing

Washing hands is one way each of us can make a difference. While we’re washing our hands we can also work with our fears, by creating some positive and calming energy to help balance out the fears. (Positive emotions are shown to help boost the immune system.)  I’m not going to give you a lesson in handwashing, there are plenty of other places to get those details but I am curious about how we can use that extra handwashing to cultivate some positive habits. Let’s see how that might work.

    Let’s use handwashing as the anchor moment and add to that task. In this case let’s add another wholebeing practice to help mitigate the negative fear and thoughts that might come up as you wash your hands related to the larger Covid-9 situation.

    Add the new habit AFTER the Anchor Habit but let’s try something slightly different. Let’s add a co-habit to the handwashing habit. Below we offer three options for how to hack the handwashing habit into something rich and positive.

    This is key to building a habit, is to immediately feel some positive reinforcement to help imprint your new habit. So saying I did it!, or YES! , or I am awesome!, or whatever you like right after the habit really matters.

So here are three handwashing tiny habits ideas.

3 breath hand washing to calm the nervous system and get out of the fear zone

So many you have a lot of fear coming up around the news. It is triggering your nervous systems, putting you into the fight or flight mode of your nervous system and not the best place when you want your immune systems to be working at its best right now.

So, deep breathing can be an option instead of singing happy birthday while washing your hands. (Unless of course, it’s your birthday!)  With long deep inhales, through the nose, you are calming your system to help support immune function. Make the inhales smooth and even and as long as you can (slowly count to 4) then open your mouth and exhale long and slow, also counting slowly to 4.

Gratitude handwashing

As you wash your hands think of three different things you can be grateful for at that moment. I like to do this as a person, place, and thing. Think of a person I am grateful for, a place I am grateful for and then a thing, I am grateful for.

Balance handwashing

Here’s where we really have some fun…handwashing where you balance on one foot and sing happy birthday, or do either of the practices above and then change to the other foot.

If none of these appeals to you, get creative. Let’s take Dr. Sharkaway’s advice. “ Facts not fear. Clean hands. Open hearts. Our children will thank us for it.”

Our children are worth it. And they are watching.

Alice Dommert

Alice Dommert

Founder, Wholebeing Architect

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