Home of the BraveIt’s been almost three months since Coronavirus upended our lives.  Shuttered businesses.  Widespread illness.  Masks in public.  Stay-at-Home orders.  Arrests, violence, and worse.  In this short time, we’ve come to inhabit a surreal reality that feels like Outbreak meets the Great Depression.

We’re all experiencing some forceful emotions, too.  Shock.  Powerlessness.  Anger.  Fear.

Uncertainty has permeated every area of our lives.  We hear hospitalization rates are down, but are told to expect a second wave, much worse, in the fall.  We learn social distancing is keeping the virus at bay, but are also told that loneliness, isolation, and anxiety are pushing our nation to a mental health crisis.  Meanwhile, our national dysfunction is on display for all to consider: Why such a tremendous loss of life in America?  How could the economy go downhill so fast?  Why do we have a health care system that pushes sick people into bankruptcy?  Land of the Free?  Really?

It’s depressing.  Frightening.  Enraging, for some.

How to cope?

Last week, Dr. Amy Cuddy gave a live Zoom presentation to the Trial School on the topic of overcoming fear.  Her science-based advice is not just relevant to lawyers going to trial, but to anyone who is feeling emotionally challenged.  This is not an attempt to recreate her lecture, but to simply offer a few key points:

  • You’re not imagining it. We are now living in a system which creates feelings of powerlessness on every level: economically, politically, and physically.
  • Our feelings of power, or lack thereof, affect our feelings, thoughts, behavior, and health.
  • There are two types of power: power over others and power over self.
  • Power over others is borrowed, domineering, and arrogant. It is zero-sum.  If one person has power, it’s because they took it from someone else.
  • Power over self, however, is infinite. It’s the power to control your feelings, mental state, and behavior.  Recognizing your power over yourself means finding your strength.  It takes you out of fear.

Dr. Cuddy emphasized that she was not discounting the effects of systemic prejudice.  Far from it.

Freedom from fear

She was offering ways for people to get themselves out of fear– power poses, 4-7-8 breathing exercises, smiling, meditation.  Our minds affect our bodies, but our bodies also affect our minds.  Weirdly, research shows that if you hold a pencil in your teeth in a way that forces you to smile for two minutes, you will feel happier.  Breathe in to a count of 4, hold it for 7, and breathe out to a count of 8; you will feel more relaxed.  Stand with your feet apart and your hands on your hips for two minutes; you will feel stronger, more confident.  Your levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, will fall.  When that happens, you can think more clearly.  You become fully present, not regretting the past or fearing the future.  Free of fear, you are able to be your best self.  Then something wonderful happens; others can relax and be their best selves, too.

You can watch Dr. Cuddy’s famous TED talk here:

Find what helps you find strength

Now, smiling over a pencil might not be your thing, and that’s OK.  Cuddy made it clear that what works for one person may not work for another.  We all have to try different methods and figure out what help us find our strength.

Because America may not feel like the land of the free right now, but it can still be the home of the brave.  Not the arrogant or domineering, but the confident and strong.  We do have that bravery, that power.

We just have to find it.  It’s not out there; it’s within.

Article by Molly Fuscher

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