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The choice is yours: By focusing, you can control how stressful the pandemic will be

The following was sent to The Odessa File by Meg Cabezas, who lives outside Odessa. It is her second column on this website.

Hello Friends! My name is Meg and I am a conscious parenting and teen girl’s counselor and certified life coach specializing in resilience. Today I put together a strategy to help access the driving thoughts that fuel your emotions. We are all affected by uncertainty, crisis and chaos all around us, yet that doesn’t mean your life experience must be disrupted too.

This COVID-19 crisis has radically changed our lives. Just a few months ago we had no idea our world would be confined to our homes. This crisis is a powerful reminder of how greatly we value our freedom and human connection. Remembering you are not alone, we are all in this together and that there is not one right way to move through this uncertainty is key. Everyone is impacted: Your neighbor, mom, boss, friends, children, and people all around the globe.

At no other time has it been more important to remember:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: The last of human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstance, to choose one's own way.”

The author of this quote, Viktor E. Frankel, was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor. He was held in concentration camps during World War II where he lost his entire family. He survived the horror and went on to inspire others, not despite of but because of pain and uncertainty. This is what I believe the challenge each one of us is being called to face during this great pause in our lives. We may not be able to control who gets sick, how swiftly a vaccine is created or whether we attend our child’s graduation, yet we are in control of whether we make this pandemic more or less stressful based on what we choose to focus on.

As a life coach and counselor for teen girls, women, and couples during these last few weeks, a common theme that surfaces is that no one is feeling comfortable nor in control of their moods and life experiences. Now is the time to offer you some help to feel better than you do currently and as you navigate this crisis. When we understand that our circumstances -- COVID-19, our health, the economy, stability, predictability, emotional comfort etc. -- influence us but have no control of how we think and feel, we are liberated to enter the present moment, one breath, step or choice at a time, and grow resilience.

Imagine you stopped blaming COVID-19 for your head in the fridge, temper flare-ups, or for feeling out of control and helpless. Imagine moving through any crisis -- partner cheating, job loss, new diagnosis, parenting out of control teens -- with a new mindset and clarity. Imagine your circumstances, whatever is happening in your life right now, no matter how dire, having no power over your life experience.

The truth is, as hard as we may try to avoid it, we cannot escape crisis. In fact, as human beings we have been steeped in crisis and uncertainty as there are no such things as certain times in the history of humanity. Months ago, we were certain we would be going to a graduation, election, or a dental appointment. We were not stressed about missing them because our thoughts were not focused on their uncertainty as a possibility. It’s like hiking a mountain trail blindfolded for miles. You are okay until suddenly your friend takes off the blindfold and you are terrified and shocked as you realize you have been traversing a cliff edge the whole time.

We are all unique and are experiencing this crisis in our own ways. For some of us we are in mourning of our loved ones, our disrupted schedules and life as we once knew it to be. For others, this pandemic is a relief from a life that was built on busyness, competition, and external validation. Yet, wherever we land on the spectrum, what we do have in common is that we are all human beings. And as human beings we were built for hard times. In 1882 only two percent of people living in New York had electricity. The average age expectancy was thirty or so years old. We may not be superheroes but if we have a superpower it’s our amazing ability to adapt and make choices. Yet we need to be careful when we mix up our thoughts and our circumstances, trying to control what we can’t and not controlling what we can.

No one has the power to change the past or future, but where we do find power is in choosing our thoughts. Thoughts are the sentences in your mind that fuel the feelings in your body. How you feel about something leads you to an action, inaction or reaction. The actions you take always create results that support the thoughts in your head.

Now, we are in a global pandemic and it is natural and “normal” for us to feel a certain level of stress and anxiety and not for one moment am I suggesting we degrade, distract, delude, deny, or depress our emotions. Quite the opposite. What I am suggesting is that we pause long enough to recognize that although there are many things out of our control -- our past, future, the weather, who the virus infects, what others say or do -- there are many things within our control: Our thoughts, feelings, values, responses. And this is where your choices become your "magic wand" when everything around you feels uncertain.

Choosing how you will manage this pandemic by choosing your thoughts and feelings purposefully is your superpower. In other words, the way you think about COVID-19 or any other crisis can cripple or expand you. What you focus on is your choice.

However helpful or not, the thoughts in your mind are important to examine. We cannot control what is happening globally, no matter how hard we try, and as humans we love control. What I have noticed while working with clients are those who try to control their circumstances are askew, suffering enormously while those focused on adapting to what they can control are moving through this pandemic healing what hurts, learning a new mindset and rising anew.

Everything everyone does is for a feeling. Feelings are caused by the thoughts in our head that we believe to be true.

As human beings, when we focus on love and abundance, we expand as love and abundance. Conversely, when we focus on fear and judgement, we hurt, reach for something to end the pain and to feel in control. Often what we reach for is not in our long-term best interest and we’re left feeling even more out of control. And so the cycle repeats itself, day after day, even generation after generation.

If you are like me and most of my clients, your pain shapeshifts into control cleverly disguised as denial, fighting, fixing, yelling, crumbling, blaming, buffering, numbing, or pointing a finger at anyone or anything deemed “enemy.” After all, surely there is someone or something outside of us that is causing our apocalyptic emotional pain. We think if we blame, complain, consume, and yell loud or long enough, we can control our inner landscape of pain and feel better once and for all. But alas, this is an illusion and delusion. No matter how often we attempt to control things outside of ourselves, the effects are never the long-term positive results we so desperately seek.

We can choose to make peace with what is. We can allow the nature of life itself, just as it is, make room for the vast range of human emotions, stress, and anxiety and create new neural pathways for awareness and helpful choices, even in a crisis. Because many of you have been reaching out to me asking what you can do with all your added worries and energy ...

Here’s Something You Can Do at Home That Offers a New Level of Release and Understanding of Your Inner Thoughts:

Step One:
Every day, choose one small space in your home: A drawer, desktop, under the sink etc.

Step Two:
Schedule a time on your calendar where you commit to worrying while you work. Depending on your level of anxiety, allot five minutes to one hour maximum for this activity.

Step Three:
For each space, remove every item, clean the space thoroughly, and before putting each item back, hold the object and ask yourself:

“Does this serve me today?”
“Do I like this object?”
“Would I choose this item today if it wasn’t already mine?”
Or as renowned organizing consultant Marie Kondo would say, “Does this spark joy?”

If it is a keeper, place it back in an organized way.If it does not make the cut, have two bags/bins ready, one for donation and the other for trash. Welcome what surfaces mentally without judgment or editing your thoughts and feelings that may be stuffed way back in the attic of your mind. Physically cleaning, decluttering, and creating order in your home’s nooks and crannies prepares you for the work of cleaning, decluttering, and creating order mentally.

Step Four:
After cleaning, organizing, and allowing your brain to buzz with worry, download all your worry thoughts on paper. Take your time, pour it all out without judgment or editing. This also may take five minutes or an hour. Once you have emptied your mind on paper, look at what you wrote and recognize what the thoughts are and what the circumstances are. In other words, what is in your control (thoughts) and what is not in your control (circumstances). Release the circumstances (those things you have no control over), for now, just as you released your old worn-out items that did not serve you when cleaning out the cupboard.

Review your thoughts with compassion and ask yourself:

“Are these thoughts helpful?”
“Are these thoughts useful?”
“Would I choose these thoughts for myself if I did not already have them?”
“How are these thoughts serving me today?”

You see, our brains are filled with about 60,000 thoughts a day. Some are super helpful, but others are not. Some are current, wanted and serve us well while others are outdated, running on default, and do not serve us. Just like in our homes, our minds get cluttered with outdated stuff that does not serve us any longer.

So, acquaint yourself with the thoughts in your head. In times of crisis we often forget that we have choices. Choosing which external house item stays or goes and choosing which internal thought stays or goes is a practice.

If there’s one thing you take from this reading it’s that you have one precious life made up of one sacred moment at a time. How you show up for it is determined by what you focus on. The Choice Is Yours.

If you are interested in a fresh perspective to help you get “unstuck” in an area of your life or with your teens, young adults or partners, contact Meg at 607-793-0708 or

I am here to serve and am offering free one-on-one online sessions (telephone, facetime, zoom ... your choice) during COVID-19 for the month of May 2020.

And stay tuned for my six-week online summer offering for teen girls looking to be Unstoppable! Where girls learn how to access their inner wisdom so they can transform their anxiety, build confidence to make empowered choices, pursue their passions and enjoy their extraordinary life!

Photo in text: Meg Cabezas (Photo provided)


To see Meg's first column, click here.


© The Odessa File 2020
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869