How to Find Emotional Strength & Resilience During COVID-19: Advice from Elizabeth Gilbert, Jack Kornfield, Susan David & Other Experts

There are many roads through the coronavirus crisis. One is denial, which only makes things worse. Another is service and self-sacrifice, a choice we honor in the medical professionals putting their lives at risk every day. For most of us, however, the best course of action is non-action—staying home and isolating ourselves from others. Days bleed into weeks, weeks into months. It can seem like life has come to a complete halt. It hasn’t, of course. All sorts of things are happening inside us. We don’t know how long this will last; current courses of action don’t bode well. What do we do with the fear, anger, loneliness, grief, and buzzing, ever-present anxiety?

Maybe the first thing to do is to accept that we have those feelings and feel them, instead of stuffing them down, covering them up, or pushing them onto someone else. Then we can recognize we aren't by any means alone. That’s easier said than done in quarantine, but psychologists and inspirational writers and speakers like Elizabeth Gilbert have come together under the auspices of the TED Connect series, hosted by the head of TED Chris Anderson, to help.




TED, known for showcasing “thinkers and doers [giving] the talk of their lives in 18 minutes (or less),” has wisely recognized the need to dig much deeper. Anderson and head of curation Helen Walters’ conversation with Gilbert, above, runs a little over an hour.

As for that ceaseless anxiety, Gilbert suggests we should all give ourselves “a measure of mercy and compassion.” We might feel like we need permission to do so in societies that demand we constantly justify our existence. But admitting vulnerability is the beginning of strength. Then we find constructive ways forward. The kind of resilience we can build in isolation is the kind that can outlast a crisis. Still, it is hard won. As Anderson says above, in addition to the external battle we must fight with the virus and our own governments, “there’s this other battle as well, that is probably equally as consequential. It’s a battle that’s going on right inside our minds.”

Rather than killing time waiting fitfully for some acceptable form of normal to return, we can build what psychologist Susan David calls “emotional courage.” In conversation with TED’s Whitney Pennington Rogers, above, David reveals that she herself has good reason to fear: her husband is a physician. She also understands the consequences of a collective denial of suffering and death. “The circumstance that we are in now is not something that we asked for, but life is calling on every single one of us to move into the place of wisdom in ourselves… into the space of wisdom and fortitude, solidarity, community, courage.” We move into that space by recognizing that “life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility.”

Themes of courage and connection come up again and again in other TED Connects interviews, such as that above with Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and below with author Priya Parker. Elsewhere on the internet, you’ll find similar kinds of advice.

On the Tim Ferris show, you can hear interviews with Jack Kornfield on finding peace in the pandemic, Esther Perel on navigating relationships in quarantine, and Ryan Holiday on using Stoicism to choose “alive time over dead time.”

Stoicism has gathered a particularly rich store of wisdom about how to live in crisis. In his own meditation on isolation, Michel de Montaigne drew on the Stoics in advising readers to “reserve a backshop, wholly our own and entirely free, wherein to settle our true liberty, our principle solitude and retreat…. We have a mind pliable in itself, that will be company; that has wherewithal to attack and to defend, to receive and to give: let us not then fear in this solitude to languish under an uncomfortable vacuity.” In other words, the road through isolation, though fraught with painful emotions and uncertainties, can be, if we choose, one of significant personal and collective growth.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Japanese Designer Creates Free Template for an Anti-Virus Face Shield: Download, and Then Use a Printer, Paper & Scissors

A few years ago we featured the Japanese art of chindōgu, or the invention of amusingly "useless" inventions. The chindōgu canon includes such simultaneously sensible and nonsensical objects as miniature toecap umbrellas (to keep one's shoes dry in the rain) and chopsticks fitted with miniature fans (to cool down ramen noodles before consumption). Today we present a Japanese invention that may at first glance look chindōgu-like, but would never qualify due to its simplicity and sheer usefulness: an anti-virus face shield that anyone can make in three easy steps. After you've downloaded the template, all you need is a printer, paper, scissors, and some kind of clear plastic sheet.

"Healthcare workers around the world are putting their lives on the line to fight COVID-19 but their battle continues to be fought uphill as a shortage of medical supplies threatens to disrupt an already overwhelmed system," writes Spoon & Tamago's Johnny Waldman. We've all read of the lack of necessities like face masks and ventilators in some of the most afflicted countries, and in such places having access to face shields could make a real difference in the number of lives saved.




"Face shields are typically made with multiple parts and would be difficult to create and assemble at home," Waldman notes. "But Tokujin Yoshioka’s brilliant idea simplifies the design greatly, allowing it to be held in place with ordinary eyewear." Best known as an artist and designer, Yoshioka has made his name creating striking sculptures, installations, works of architecture, and many other objects besides.

Yoshioka even designed the torch for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, shaped like a Japanese cherry blossom and made with the same aluminum extrusion technology used to manufacture the country's equally iconic bullet trains. Clearly the coronavirus-caused postponement of the games hasn't got Yoshioka too down to continue pursuing his calling. "I am grateful to the brave and dedicated healthcare workers for fighting the contagious disease," he writes in the note accompanying the video at the top of the post that shows you how to make and wear his face shield. As you can see, it's made to be worn with glasses, so the non-bespectacled will need to stick with other forms of protection against the virus — or take the opportunity to order some fashionable frames of the kind that all the best designers seem to be wearing these days.

via Spoon and Tamago

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The 10 Commandments of Chindōgu, the Japanese Art of Creating Unusually Useless Inventions

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Free Books About Pandemic & Contagion from Duke University Press

From Duke University Press comes free books on pandemics and contagion. They write: "Amid the worldwide spread of COVID-19, it’s a challenging time, and our thoughts are with those affected by this disease. In support and solidarity, we are providing free access to the following books and journal articles to help build knowledge and understanding of how we navigate the spread of communicable diseases. Listed books are free to read online until June 1, 2020, and journal articles are free until October 1." Titles include: Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative; Virulent Zones: Animal Disease and Global Health at China’s Pandemic Epicenter; Red State, Blue State, Flu State: Media Self-Selection and Partisan Gaps in Swine Flu Vaccinations; and more. Enter the collection here.

via Hyperallergic

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Simulating an Epidemic: Using Data to Show How Diseases Like COVID-19 Spread

Disease modeling as a science has come into its own lately, for heartbreakingly obvious reasons. What may not be so obvious to those of us who aren't scientists is just how critical data can be in changing the course of events in an outbreak. Virus outbreaks may be “acts of God” or acts of unregulated black markets and agribusinesses, but in either case, statistical models can show, concretely, how collective human activity can save lives—and show what happens when people don’t act together.

For example, epidemiologists and biostatisticians have shown in detail how social distancing led to a “decline in the proportion of influenza deaths,” one study concludes, during the 1918 flu pandemic. The same researchers also saw evidence in their models that showed “public risk perception could be lowered” when these practices worked effectively, leading people think they could resume business as usual. But “less social distancing could eventually induce another epidemic wave.”




To say that it’s a challenge to stay inside and wait out COVID-19 indefinitely may be a gross understatement, but hunkering down may save our lives. No one can say what will happen, but as for how and why it happens, well, “that is math, not prophecy,” writes Harry Stevens at The Washington Post. “The virus can be slowed,” if people continue “avoiding public spaces and generally limiting their movement.” Let’s take a look at how with the model above. We must note that the video above does not model COVID-19 specifically, but a offers a detailed look at how a hypothetical epidemic spreads.

Created by YouTuber 3Blue1Brown, the modeling in the top video draws from a variety of sources, including Stevens’ interactive models of a hypothetical disease he calls “simulitis.” Another simulator whose work contributed to the video, Kevin Simler, has also explained the spread of disease with interactive models that enable us to visualize difficult-to-grasp epidemiological concepts, since "exponential growth is really, really hard for our human brains to understand” in the abstract, says YouTube physics explainer Minute Physics in the short, animated video above.

Deaths multiply faster than the media can report, and whatever totals we come across are hopelessly outdated by the time we read them, an emotional and intellectual barrage. So how can we know if we’re “winning or losing” (to use the not-particularly-helpful war metaphor) the COVID-19 fight? Here too, the current data on its previous progress in other countries can help plot the course of the disease in the U.S. and elsewhere, and allow scientists and policy-makers to make reasonable inferences about how to stop exponential growth.

But none of these models show the kind of granularity that doctors, nurses, and public health professionals must deal with in a real pandemic. “Simulitis is not covid-19, and these simulations vastly oversimplify the complexity of real life,” Stevens admits. Super-complicating risk factors like age, race, disability, and access to insurance and resources aren’t represented here. And there may be no way to model whatever the government is doing.

But the data models show us what has worked and what hasn't, both in the past and in the recent present, and they have become very accessible thanks to the internet (and open source journals on platforms like PLOS). For a longer, in-depth explanation of the current pandemic's exponential spread, see the lecture by epidemiologist Nicholas Jewell above from the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI).

It may not sway people who actively ignore math, but disease modeling can guide the merely uninformed to a much better understanding of what’s happening, and better decisions about how to respond under the circumstances.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Spring Break vs. COVID-19: Mapping the Real Impact of Ignoring Social Distancing

Yesterday, the United States surpassed China, becoming the world leader in COVID-19 infections. It's not hard to understand why. Social distancing remains very uneven. Domestic travel continues unchecked. Asymptomatic carriers stay on the move. Starting on the coasts, COVID-19 is now moving inexorably across the nation, coming to a city or town near you.

If you want to get a glimpse of how COVID-19 can spread, watch this clip from Tectonix GEO. It uses data from anonymized mobile devices to trace the movement of Spring Break partiers who congregated at one single Ft. Lauderdale beach, then moved back across the United States, in each case potentially bringing the virus with them. It's a quick case study showing how an infectious disease can spread through a country that wants to remain mobile come hell, pandemic, or high water.

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What Happened to U.S. Cities That Practiced–and Didn’t Practice–Social Distancing During 1918’s “Spanish Flu”

Americans have long been accused of growing socially distant, bowling alone, as Robert Putnam wrote in 2000, or worse becoming radicalized as "lone wolves" and isolated trolls. But we are seeing how much we depend on each other as social distancing becomes the painful normal. Not quite quarantine, social distancing involves a semi-voluntary restriction of our movements. For many people, this is, as they say, a big ask. But no matter what certain world leaders tell us, if at all possible, we should stay home, and stay a safe distance away from people who don’t live with us.

People in the U.S. have done this before, of course, just a little over a hundred years ago during the influenza epidemic called the “Spanish Flu,” though the buzzy term "social distancing" wasn’t used then. As the short VOA News video above explains, during the spread of the disease, city officials in St. Louis did what cities all over the country are doing now: shut down schools, playgrounds, libraries, churches, public offices, and parks and banned gatherings of over 20 people. Philadelphia, on the other hand, refused to do the same. The city “allowed a major World War I support parade to take place that attracted 20,000 people.”




The refusal to shut down large gatherings cost thousands of lives. “Three days later, every bed in Philadelphia’s 31 hospitals was filled with sick and dying Spanish flu patients.” COVID-19 may be a far milder illness in children and most healthy people, but this is exactly what makes it so insidious. One person can infect dozens before showing any symptoms, if ever. During the “Spanish” flu pandemic, “the best approaches were layered,” writes German Lopez at Vox. “It wasn’t enough to just tell people to stay home, because they might feel the need to go to school or work, or they could just ignore guidance and go to events, bars, church or other big gatherings anyway.”

The comparison between St. Louis and Philadelphia stresses the need for city officials to intervene in order for social distancing strategies to work. However we might feel in ordinary circumstances about governments banning public gatherings, the global spread of a deadly virus seems to warrant a coordinated public response that best contains the spread. “In practical terms,” Lopez points out, “this meant advising against or prohibiting just about every aspect of public life, from schools to restaurants to entertainment venues (with some exceptions for grocery stores and drugstores).”

Lopez cites several academic studies of the 1918 influenza outbreak as evidence of the effectiveness of social distancing. For even more data on our current pandemic, see Tomas Pueyo’s extensive Medium essay compiling data and statistics on COVID-19’s spread and prevention. And if you’re still having a little trouble figuring out what exactly “social distancing” involves, see this excellent guide from Asaf Bitton, physician, public health researcher, and director of the Ariadne Labs at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

As Bitton tells Isaac Chotiner in a recent New Yorker interview, “social distancing isn’t some external concept that applies only to work and school. Social distancing is really extreme. It is a concept that disconnects us physically from each other. It profoundly reorients our daily life habits. And it is very hard.” No matter how polarized we become, or how glued to our various screens, we are “social creatures” who need connection and community. When we make the transition out of life at a distance, maybe the memory of that need will help us overcome some of our pre-virus social alienation.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch “Coronavirus Outbreak: What You Need to Know,” and the 24-Lecture Course “An Introduction to Infectious Diseases,” Both Free from The Great Courses

COVID-19 is a serious, highly communicable disease. It is not a hoax, and it will continue to spread until it is contained with widespread testing and a vaccine. At present, scientists seem to know little about all the forms of transmission or the possibility of reinfection. Older people and the immunocompromised are certainly more at risk than others, but the virus can kill the healthy and the sick. It doesn’t care where it starts or ends. It doesn’t care if someone is a U.S. Senator or someone a senator deems disposable. These plain facts should put us all on notice, but the response has not only been slow but nearly nonexistent in countries where leaders are daily making the situation worse.

In the U.S., hospitals and city and state governments cannot expect the kind of response from the federal government needed to meet the threat. We must all educate ourselves and do our part, both for ourselves and our neighbors—which seems, after all, to amount to the same thing.




To that end, we can thank The Great Courses company for offering their entire online lecture series, An Introduction to Infectious Diseases, for free, as well as the short video at the top from Dr. Roy Benaroch, who debunks rumors and explains the history and inevitability of COVID-19. “It’s no longer a question of if this virus is going to strike your community, but when.”

While most cases are mild, this should not lure us into a false sense of security. Infected people who appear healthy and present no symptoms are responsible for the spread of the disease, and if they continue to move around and infect others, the chances of it striking us or those we love increase exponentially. This is why social distancing is so important. “We’re past the time when containment can separate us from them, the contagious people from the rest of us.” Every time we go out, we risk exposing others or ourselves.

“Of course, you should seek medical attention if you experience shortness of breath or more severe symptoms,” but people with milder symptoms should stay away from doctors and hospitals. Dr. Benaroch gives us several other preventative measures we can employ to slow the spread and “flatten the curve.” COVID-19 is a viral infection, and as such, it makes sense for us to brush up on our virology via the third lecture in the Infectious Diseases course, above, “Viruses: Hijackers of Your Body’s Cells.” Catch the full 24-video course from Dr. Barry Fox here, and watch lecture six, “Six Decades of Infectious Disease Challenges,” below. Great Courses promises more “relevant content to help inform, enlighten, and understand the world around us and to counter mistruths and rumors.” We'll keep you posted.

Stay home, share the video at the top with your skeptical friends and family, and urge them to stay home too.

“An Introduction to Infectious Diseases” will be added to our list, 1,500 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Note: You can sign up for a free trial of Great Courses Plus and watch lectures for countless courses over the next 30 days.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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