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How to best deal with today’s continuing crises

A View from the Edge

It has been years now that we all seem to be lurching from one crisis to another. On the anniversary of 9/11 we have a painful look back at that calamity and, if you stop and think about it, those scars, feelings and dread are bubbling away in your everyday life — how many of us wonder if a similar event is just around the corner? Similarly, as we try and get on top of COVID and desperately want to return to work, normal life and family gatherings, the nagging fear that we’re still so vulnerable or the false bravado of being impervious to COVID — both these reactions carry a stressful anticipation: “What if I’m wrong?”

Mental security in life is all about not wanting events, planning, expectations to go horribly wrong. Yes, we all risk-manage daily situations, some are by habit like buckling that kid’s seatbelt or telling yourself “Don’t run with scissors.” But with COVID, divisions in the country, international strife and threats, what can you say to yourself to reduce the stress — the stress of events you cannot possibly risk manage?

In his waning years, I asked my father how he dealt with the WWII horrors he saw, how he dealt with the threats all around him? His response was, as I have since learned from many soldiers and survivors of major events, a road map for survival when the odds are beyond your control and beyond your estimation. His response was, typical of my father, to chose an event I had familiarity with and then bring the lesson home.

“When you were at school and they made you drill, ducking under your desk in case an atomic bomb was detonated… do you remember that?” 

I explained I did, it was frightening. 

“There was no reason for you to be frightened beyond that brief moment because what could happen would be sudden, unexpected and total.  You didn’t have any responsibility for what could happen. Your mother and I, and your teachers, made sure you knew it was not your responsibility, never a burden for you to carry because you didn’t make it happen. Be aware? Sure. Want it never to happen? Of course. But spend every day worrying? What purpose would that serve?

“In the war, I could only control my surroundings, my immediate dangers. I never once thought of the larger aspect of the war, winning or losing… just survival for me and those next to me. 

“I remember when we were told Germany surrendered — it was a surprise out of the blue but never changed my need to control my small surroundings — a jeep, the captain I was driving, guys loaded in the back. The war may have been over somewhere, for someone, maybe Ike, but the responsibility I had was local, not away somewhere else. 

“I never felt stress during those years by worrying about the war, I just kept my focus on what I had to do. Being a soldier is simpler than being a general, you don’t have to stress about the bigger picture — you have a goal, a target to achieve and you focus on that. The rest is beyond your control.”

Not stressing about the bigger picture is perhaps the best advice I can pass on to all who read this column. Maintain a target of the two or three things that are important to you and work toward that, forget about anything that you have no control over: events, threats, unpleasant stressful conversations or even the nation’s struggle with COVID. If you didn’t create those problems, you have little chance of changing the huge picture, so stop worrying and stressing about everything. Concentrate on living for those targets that you can affect and make better.

Want an example? Make your life and your family’s life better by getting the vaccine and wearing a mask. How hard a target is that to achieve? 

Unhappy with the political situation for democracy? Stop any fussing and make a mental note to absolutely, positively, vote in every election. 

Worried about flooding in the next deluge of rain? Budget, save, buy a great gas powered trash pump and be ready. 

Take small positive steps, be prepared for what is actually doable, and the stress will begin to fade away.

 

Writer Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now resides in New Mexico.

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