A group people were lost in the woods. Mike and Rebecca went off to the side to have a conversation about the situation.
"Let me see the map," Rebecca asked Mike.
Mike reached into his pocket and handed her half of a ripped-up map. When Rebecca opened it, it revealed thousands of trails, obstacles and destinations on it.
"Where are we?" Rebecca asked.
"I don't know," Mike said.
"That's ok. Which trail do we want to take?"
"Don't know," Mike said.
"Well, what's our ultimate destination?" Rebecca looked more closely at the map for clues.
"Not sure, but we all agree we want to be somewhere safe." Mike scratched his head.
"How in the world are we going to know how to get where we need to go if we don't know where we are or where we are going?" Rebecca asked.
"That's a great question," Mike responded. "I don't mean to complicate things, but the group is not sure what we should do, either. Karen wants to wait for help, but Bob wants to get moving. John thinks we should seperate. Sarah thinks we need to stick together. You know Jarred, he is just a moron and a jerk. He just keeps yelling at everyone."
"What does Carol think?"
"No one will talk to Carol. She's hoarrding all the food and toilet paper."
"How about we just pick a trail and start walking?"
"We are afraid of what will happen if we start hiking in the wrong direction."
Being lost (physically or mentally) is one of the scariest things a human can experience. In groups, it can be even worse if there is a lack of leadership or unification. It becomes the ultimate stress inducer.
Even before this current pandemic caused all the feelings that bring the worst kind of fear and uncertainty, the modern world was already an extremely stressful place to live in. This is in large part due to chronic worry over whether we are in control, making the right choice, out of the countless choices in front of us, based on the infinite amount of information available to us, any second of the day. Though stress already lurked everywhere, it has been accelerated by our current unprecedented situation, invading our physical, mental, emotional, political, financial, work, family, community, recreational and independent lives (if I missed a category, it's lurking there too). It is a true challenge to humanity and a test to how we, as a society in a very complex world, will respond to a modern crisis unlike anything most of us have ever seen.
Like the group in the woods, we are lost--very lost. We want to make the right choice, but we don't exactly know what that looks like right now; Mike only brought half the map for crying out loud. The information out there is somehow both overwhelmingly too much and not enough. We don't feel in control because we don't have answers; some might act like they do, but they don't. We don't want to simply follow the herd, but we don't want to be left behind if the herd is right. Everyone has different ideas about what might be the best route, but is also scared of what lurks around the corner of whatever trail we choose. The forrest appears to be closing in on us, and whatever path we set out on seems long. We also have to deal with Jarred. And Carol.
But stress can be a good thing when we are able to recognize and understand what it is and why it is here. Stress genetically originates from all of us, as homo sapiens, in our neverending fight to survive. In a simple sense, stress means that we all care. When something unknown threatens our existence, it means we all care a lot. And for most of us, in the end it means we care about coming together to do what we believe is right. This is because we are smart enough to know that we stand a much better chance of surviving if we are together than if we set out alone into the dark unknown (i.e. you are wrong John, you are wrong).
This, of course, is a gift. Though it doesn't always feel that way--currently, it can feel downright terrifying--it is the reason we not only survive, but survive at the top. It is also a great comfort to know that while you are worrying, so am I, and so are all of us, genetically bound to stress out together, for the benefit of each other, when faced with something important. Awareness of this simple fact in and of itself brings some positivity and relief. Know that you are not alone--we are all worrying for community, for our family, and for each other so that we find the right path for all of us, even if we don't quite know what path that is yet.
Rebecca folded the map back up and gave it to Mike. "Well, these woods are too dangerous. We can't just sit around.. We have to pick a direction and keep moving. It will be alright, but we have to stay together."
Practice pointer to try in real life: Don't keep it all pent up inside.Share how you feel with your loved ones and let them share how they feel with you. The more thoughtful conversations you have, the more you will realize the bond we all share as humans. It's not only ok to worry, it's something we are all doing as a natural consequence of how our brains are wired. Taking it one step further, have these conversations with your parents, grandparents, or other older, more experienced people that have seen more than you have. You will learn about similar crisises that they have had to face before you were born or before you could remember. You will learn that though they also worried, society eventually picked a path and got out of it.