Irrespective of our political leanings, many (most? all?) of us seem to be feeling our world has spun out of control.
As I’ve written about recently in We Love Ann Arbor and on my blog, it is stunning to realize that the pandemic can be viewed as one of possibility—of many, many possibilities actually.
If we are wise and proactive, we have the chance to respond to it by redesigning a lot of our failing systems to serve everyone: economic, education, healthcare, labor; if we are reactive and look for the silver bullets and sparkly Band-aids, things will only get worse when (if?) the lockdown ends.
And wow, that feels heavy.
If you are an empath, or even a relatively sensitive individual, you may be feeling completely overwhelmed about what can be done in our country at the moment.
And if you’re a woman who has taken on new roles such as home-school facilitator, school nurse, and cafeteria lady in addition to working from home full time, you’re probably feeling that even the home front—possibly just passing as being well-ordered before—has now spun completely out of control.
Not only do women bear more of the mental load of running a household, the more full time they work, the more they bear. And now the pandemic has exacerbated that as well.
I’ve heard so many people talking about feeling out of control that I can’t help but replay John Malkovich’s devastating scene in Dangerous Liaisons in my head.
The illusion of control
I’ve been revisiting the work of Eckhart Tolle while self-isolating. In both The Power of Now and A New Earth, Tolle writes extensively about staying in the present moment.
All stress indicates an inability to do so: the past cannot be changed, the future cannot be predicted, and yet we spend so much of our time regretting what’s done and worrying about what’s to come.
Think about how many times a day you think, “If only I’d…” and “What if…?”
And a lot of what feels like angst in the present is really our dismay that we were not able to control how it looks by having foresight and taking action in the past—the present is the past’s future, after all, and we really thought we had it sorted this time!
We also tend to spend a lot of our energy trying to change others because, obviously, we know what’s best for them. (Yes, that’s sarcasm font if you missed it.)
So if we can’t control what happens and we can’t control others, what is within our control?
Ultimately, the only thing we have dominion over is ourselves—not just what we think, say, and do but how we respond to others, whether the other is a person, a place, a situation, an event.
Where does that leave us?
Despite numerous quibbles I have with this opinion piece by Courtland Milloy on the virus, I think Houston cardiologist Baxter Montgomery makes a very important point in it: when it comes to something as mundane yet important as our food choices, we have a choice at every moment.
Told that some people may not be buying fruits and vegetables because of rising costs, Montgomery suggested the next best option: cutting back on sugar, salt and processed foods. “It costs nothing not to go to a fast-food joint,” he said. “I never heard of anybody being charged for not ordering a cheeseburger and fries.”
I try not to read comments online because they just raise my blood pressure—and precisely because I do have some quibbles with the piece, I did read the comments on Milloy’s piece. Surprise! They were no different.
And yet I think that many people identified one of my issues with it: we can be in control of our food choices, and there are ways to save money on food—and sometimes, you’ll even get higher-quality, more nutritious food in the process.
And yes, kale pusher that I am, I did get a good laugh about the kale-bashing thread running throughout the comments.
A lack of comfort with ambiguity
Feeling out of control is uncomfortable for most of us. We have a deep discomfort with ambiguity and uncertainty.
And major crises like the pandemic always serve as a reminder that we are not in control of anything but our own decisions, actions, and responses, so why not start where we are and do what we can with what we have?
Many of my clients suffer from a case of “all or nothing” thinking. When there’s so much to deal with, so much to face, so much to change, it’s overwhelming. It’s easier to do nothing and complain than to take action.
Our food choices are within our control, and those food choices, as Milloy points out, can really make a difference in our health and our immunity.
The good news
The good news is that any action you take on behalf of your health is a step in the right direction, even if it’s a teeny, tiny baby step. And if you really want to make sustainable changes in your life, take that same baby step day after day after day.
It could be choosing to buy frozen vegetables in place of fresh if the fresh are too expensive—I’d even rather you ate canned vegetables (low-sodium, of course!) than fast food. Meat now out of your price range? There are lots of great recipes using dried beans.
It’s like turning a control knob just one notch right or left and recognizing you’ve made a difference.
Start by getting healthy yourself—and you may just find you have the bandwidth to help others, whether they are individuals, communities, nations, or the world. Just don’t take on too much too soon. Note I didn’t say, “make others conform to your plans,” because as we know, that’s beyond our control.
And if you’re looking for some tips on stretching your food dollar, you can read more about that in the introduction to my cookbook, which you can download for free.
WLAA health columnist Liza Baker is a health coach, cookbook author, blogger, podcaster, nonprofit consultant, and woefully underpaid COO of a busy family of four spread across the globe. Liza lives in a half-empty nest in Ann Arbor and is passionate about health and happiness, education and empowerment, SOLE/SOUL food and social justice.