Holding our Breath
As a child, I could never hold my breath very long. I grew up in Baltimore with three brothers and a sister, and to say we were competitive would be an understatement. During the hot summer months, my brothers and I would go to the city pool, and because we hadn't learned how to swim, we would compete at holding our breath in the shallow end of the pool. I don't recall who would typically win, but I doubt it was me. Fast forward several decades, and I find myself at a company retreat in India, hosted at a beautiful resort with an Olympic size pool. I, of course, was eager to challenge the team to a swim meet. And then someone said, "let's have a breath-holding contest." There were about 10 of us, and we all went under at the same time. I closed my eyes and listened as a few people came up before I surfaced. And then I watched, we all watched, about a minute later our CTO (one of the brightest and least athletic people I've ever known) surfaced to cheers.
Later that evening, I asked him how did you do it? He said he had never tried to hold his breath before, but he knew thinking about it wouldn't make it any easier. He said he focused on why his body needed oxygen and then methodically checked in with each system, his arms, legs, and other muscle groups. And then considered the role his blood played to carry the oxygen from his lungs to veins to his heart and brain, and when he couldn't think of anything else, he stood up.
Like most of you, I find myself once again holding my breath, waiting for this pandemic to end. I have been spending too much time thinking about what I can't do anymore, like visiting my family, going to the gym, seeing a show, or attending a sporting event.
I'm writing this week from my personal perspectives because I'm not a doctor or psychologist or trained in any way to advise on how best to deal with the stress, hardships, and uncertainties of this pandemic. I'm simply sharing a few things I'm practicing to make this time less stressful.
I imagine, like most of you, I desperately wish to see my family and dearest friends. A lot has changed in 9 months, from newborns to the loss of loved ones. It's challenging to stay confined to home, but risky to fly or drive long distances to connect with those we are closest to. This inability to be there in person has made it critically important for me to frequently call or Facetime with family. I also try to check in on social media every day or two to wish a happy birthday, congratulate on new arrivals, say hello, and ask how you are doing to friends?
Talent and expertise aren't something that this pandemic can stop. The world has accelerated the use of collaboration technologies, virtual and augmented reality, and innovative new apps that allow us to attend a concert or comedy act in New York. Take a yoga class with a world-class instructor in Costa Rica. Join a book club and engage with like-minded people from across the planet. With the colder weather upon us, I purchased a training device for my bike and took a pro's virtual ride (I also decided I should practice a bit more before trying that again). The point is there is so much content out there, as artists, clergy, teachers, professionals, athletes, and an endless list of talented people make the best of this situation available to us all.
I love cooking shows and cooking for guests. Preparing dishes, I've perfected over the years, but with COVID, I find myself only cooking for my vegan wife. After binge-watching several cooking shows, I had to find a new audience to try my emerging culinary skill. I found the perfect clients, my two Australian Shepherds. They are always eager to help harvest vegetables and fruit from the garden or admire me slicing and dicing, sautéing and roasting, and mixing different flavor profiles as I prepared their meals several times a week. I find tremendous joy in this when the youngest takes laps around the kitchen island when he believes it's almost time to eat.
It doesn't matter what you're creative about; explore it. There is likely a community online thinking and exploring a similar art form to learn from and share.
Recent studies suggest that vitamin D plays an essential role in protecting us during the cold and flu season and strengthening our immune system to fight against COVID. The best source of vitamin D is from the Sun. Getting outside for 15 to 20-minute walks three times per week with the Sun on your face and arms can provide the recommended dosage of weekly vitamin D and keep the blood flowing and mind stimulated. I live in the northern half of the country, so access to Sun's during the winter months is more limited. I augment my diet with oily fish, egg yolks, and fortified foods. Alternatively, there are beneficial supplemental Vitamin D products in the market. Beyond vitamins, I find just getting outside, walking, hiking, and moving around in a new environment helps with stress, energy level, and my state of mind.
What's most frustrating for all of us as citizens or business owners is that we can't go to a restaurant or other traditional public gathering places. We want to see these establishments survive this pandemic, we want to support them, but we all have different risk levels we are willing to take. My wife and I try to order take-out once or twice a week from various restaurants. We also try to buy things we need from businesses in our community, if available. Leveraging curb-side pickup or pickup in-store, donning a mask, rather than buy the same item from Amazon, even if it cost a bit more.
We all have to realize that this isn't a permanent moment, that the steps we take in the days and weeks ahead have a direct effect on whether we come up for air for good or go back up under.
I encourage you to think about the systems that support you and challenge your mind to look at the problem differently. Explore a new interest, make new contacts, even if they are only in the form of a YouTube video personality. Our ability to change our perspectives and develop new positive habits will make us stronger and better prepared for the next challenge in our personal and professional lives? I know for me, I'm not ready to give up, and I hope you feel the same way.