I’ve been in Manhattan a few times, and as a visitor who isn’t used to the vibrations of Manhattan, I am very aware of that underlying nervous vibrational hum that is ever-present. I imagine in my mind it’s caused by the subway system that runs the length and breadth of that island, but is so much a part of that space and the people living in Manhattan. So much so that it’s considered part of the Manhattan culture (quieted now because of what they’re suffering from the Covid-19 pandemic, and temporary).
Living in downtown Toronto – also high energy and constant – I was surprised to feel it. That heightened energy of the heart of New York City makes Toronto feel like a calm retreat.
Well, it used to feel that way. Here, even with the streets and sidewalks uncharacteristically quiet, that nervous vibration has come to town. I feel it whenever I pass someone as we jointly move to opposite sides of the walkway; when I notice my neighbor (who has seen and spoken to me for at least 5 years regularly) pass me fearfully by without recognition; even when I’m virtually with friends, clients and colleagues as they describe their fears.
People are beginning to want to stay home, to cloister themselves in their home cocoon and see no one. Preferring to spend hours reading, playing video games or watching Netflix rather than do anything creative – because they can’t think; because they don’t want to think … or feel.
This nervous vibration or “subway effect” is increasing. I think it’s because we don’t know how long our shut down will last, or how it will impact our lives going forward. As my husband put it when he discovered he wouldn’t be able cross the border to join me for at least 2 more weeks, “I’d be able to handle this a lot better if I knew it was only 2 more weeks. Or even 2 months. As long as I could see an end point.”
The good news is that many are beginning to look towards the future, which means that many communities are beginning to gain some control over the pandemic. Even so, it will likely be at least a month or 2 before we begin to have solid answers on next steps.
Meantime, it’s up to each of us to take steps to calm this nervous energy generated by the unknown ground we all find ourselves in. Here are some suggestions:
- Begin each day with something grounding and calming. I have my own way, involving clearing my sinuses using a netipot of sterilized salt water, washing my hands and face, taking my temperature, and meditating (It doesn’t have to make sense to the world, just to you). Then I take half an hour to plan my day, never neglecting to acknowledge what is good in my life (Andy and I are both safe and healthy, for instance). What routine or ritual would help set the ground for you?
- Set your focus on something hopeful. You may not be able to get out, but we all know this will end eventually; the and more we take good precautions, the sooner that will happen. Yes, it’s important to be realistic and understand possible difficulties, but there is no good reason to dwell on them if there is nothing to be done at this time.
- Do something that gives you either pleasure or mastery ever day. It could be something as simple a making a latte, or taking a hot bath; or filing papers that have been on your to do list for months (or years). It could be writing friends, even if you don’t feel like it. These activities always end up making us feel good, and therefore reinforce that focus over feeling bad.
- Then, at the end of the day, go to bed at your regular time. Since few of us need to get up and go somewhere daily, it’s tempting to stay up with a bowl of popcorn and watch endless movies – or whatever your favored means of blanking out is. But routine is part of mastery, and discipline helps you maintain routine.
Going to bed and getting up on time, beginning every day with something grounding and calming, setting your focus on something hopeful, and doing something daily that gives you either pleasure or mastery: this will definitely help you remove that “subway effect” in your own life, and even possibly help others do so too.
How we can face the future without fear together
Quote of the Week
“Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.
Don’t try to see through the distances.
That’s not for human beings. Move within,
but don’t move the way fear makes you move.”
― Rumi, The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy and Longing
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Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist. To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co