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Alfred E. Neuman & COVID-19

MAD Magazine came out in 1952 and, for the next 57 years, successfully lampooned just about everyone and everything in the world. The magazine’s cartoon mascot, Alfred E. Neuman, often appeared on the cover, with his trademark question, “What, me worry?” The running joke was his indifference to the insane world we inhabit.

I doubt the editors at MAD ever envisioned just how insane our world would be today. In a few short weeks, our way of life has been turned on its head as the entire planet stumbles and bumbles in a lame attempt to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, let me ask you the same question. Are you worried? Why? Worry is nothing more than meditation on negative things that have not yet happened and may never happen. Why waste energy on that? Worrying doesn’t help, so why do we do it? Worry is a state of mind unique to human beings. Do cows worry? Probably not. Cats? Definitely not. Other than humans, most species live exclusively “in the moment.” No past, no future. Just now. Humans worry because we’ve created a fictitious construct known as time. We can remember the past and imagine the future. We’re conscious and self-aware. We try to make sense of our existence. We wonder, “why are we here?” Yet, none of us really know. To make sense of our world, we create our own reality. We all have a non-stop story going on inside our heads, 24 hours per day.

As explained so eloquently in Sapiens by Yuval Noah Hariri, our brains have evolved during the past 500,000 years into three distinct functional areas. The old brain structure, which we share with frogs and snakes, is hardwired for survival. That’s all it cares about: keeping us alive. This same brain structure can be found in fish, birds and mammals. We all use it for the same purpose: to stay alive.

Humans also have a mid-brain, called the limbic system. It’s the seat of all our emotions. Fear, love, disgust, envy and hate. It filters information coming in from our five senses and decides if there is any danger. If there is, it fires off a message to our old brain: RUN!

Humans also have a third brain structure, the cerebral cortex. This is our logical “thinking brain.” However, even though this is the most advanced brain structure on the planet, it isn’t in charge. Not even close. Our old brain is in charge. Our old brain is much faster than the new brain. It has to be to help us survive. Our old brain makes decisions before our thinking brain even gets off the starting blocks. Our old brain works in partnership with the limbic system to create fear. Then, it drags the cerebral cortex to the party to imagine a horrible future. This is the basis for anxiety and worry.

What can you do? First, remind yourself that the world is wonderful. Life is wonderful. At the same time, don’t forget the world is messed up and dangerous. You must accept that there is both good and bad around you that you cannot control. In other words, you must be willing to accept ambiguity, good and bad happening at the same time. Pandemic or not, that’s how life works.

We don’t know if COVID-19 will get better or worse. We don’t know how long this will last.

But we can still choose to be happy. No kidding, we always have a choice. No matter what’s going on around you, you alone can decide how you will react to it.

Here’s a breathing mechanism perfected by the US Navy Seals: box breathing. When your story turns to a possible negative future and you find yourself speeding on the worry highway, follow the box breathing technique:
  1. Take a deep breath in for four seconds
  2. Hold a full set of lungs for four seconds 
  3. And then exhale for four seconds.

Do it again. Do it again. In just three sets your cerebral cortex, which is the only part of your brain capable of counting, will seize control from your old brain. The counting is important. It drives out the story. You can’t count, purposely breathe and worry at the same time.

Now, shrug your shoulders, laugh out loud and remind yourself that you can’t control a pandemic. But you can control your own response. 

Think of COVID-19 as a pesky disruption. Pandemics have come and gone since the beginning of time. We’re all frustrated by the stay at home orders. We want to get back to the way things were.

At the same time, we’re all concerned about contracting this evil disease or passing it on to a loved one. It’s a quandary. There are no immediate solutions. However, worrying doesn’t help.

Please remember, worry is meditation on negative things that have not yet happened and may never happen. And, take another deep breath.

Invest in training your drivers during this time. Conduct remote safety meetings with these topic ideas:

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