The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented challenge that is unlike anything most of us have ever faced. Health care workers and others in essential jobs find themselves on the front lines, facing stressful working conditions and potential exposure to the virus. Millions of people are unemployed. Financial uncertainties and fears about the economy are rampant. Shelter in place and social distancing requirements leave some people extremely isolated, while others deal with lack of privacy in crowded living conditions. At the same time that we are facing heightened uncertainty and anxiety, many of our previous ways of coping and sources of social support are unavailable to us.
For those of us who have chosen a vegan lifestyle, there may be additional challenges during this time, including lack of availability of cruelty-free products we have relied on, or impediments to activism on behalf of animals and the environment. We may also feel discouraged, knowing that a plant-based diet would help boost immunity, if only others would embrace it. Or we may be angry, knowing that this and previous pandemics are likely caused by our global practices of confining, exploiting, and eating animals. We may be frustrated by the lack of discussion about this in the mainstream media, and hope that if more people became aware of these connections, we could lessen the risk of future pandemics.
While it is understandable that we may feel overwhelmed or demoralized, the values that gave us the courage to take the vegan path are greatly needed during this time. These include speaking up for the powerless and voiceless in the face of cruelty, caring for our planet, choosing foods that create health and vitality, and honoring the interconnectedness of all life. The message of compassion is needed now more than ever. How can we focus our energy to inspire the changes we long to see in the world?
First, our own self-care is essential, especially during times of heightened stress. This includes bringing compassion to the emotions we are experiencing. Many of us are grieving, whether for our personal losses, the collective losses we all share, and/or the suffering of others. Whatever emotions we experience, whether grief, fear, or anger, it’s important to name and acknowledge them. This is a first step in coping effectively, and allows us to sort out what we most need, whether that means accepting things we can’t change, or taking courageous action to address what we do have control over. Meditation practices to help us mindfully and compassionately cope with difficult feelings are offered by Tara Brach, Ph.D. and Kristin Neff, Ph.D.
We can also embrace a positive mindset about the changes and challenges we face, and take time to reflect on what matters most to us. It’s a time to be grateful for the blessings we often take for granted. It’s a time to appreciate our loved ones, or perhaps to relish our solitude. It’s a time to be renewed by nature. It’s a time to cook nourishing plant-based meals and share them with family. It’s a time to have self-compassion if we are not able to accomplish as much as we would like. It’s a time to explore or deepen our spiritual faith and whatever beliefs we hold about our higher purpose.
Life-changing times such as these offer the opportunity to assess whether we are living in alignment with our highest priorities. Most of us value compassion and kindness, and would not choose to harm others. However, our cultural conditioning has taught us to suppress our natural compassion, particularly for animals that have been defined by society as “food animals.” We all pay the price for this disconnection, in a myriad ways. Awakening to the cruelty to animals in our food system and other industries may require actively exposing ourselves to videos or literature that can be painful. (My point of no return on the vegan path occurred after watching the documentary Earthlings.) Yet, moving in the direction of veganism offers a tangible, and often liberating, way to live in alignment with our deepest values. Now is the time to deepen our commitment to advocacy for animals, the planet, and sustainable, healthful food choices. May we all take this time of pause to evaluate what we hold most dear. May our choices reflect compassion for all beings.
Angela Crawford, Ph.D. has 22 years of experience as a licensed psychologist, providing psychotherapy to help individuals address stress, anxiety, and trauma, and achieve holistic well-being. In addition, she now offers vegan lifestyle coaching and education. She is passionate about helping individuals create healthy, vibrant lives aligned with their authentic purpose, highest values, and deepest compassion. She is an alumnus of the October 2019 Main Street Vegan Academy, and has a Plant-Based Nutrition certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies at eCornell. She lives with her husband in Vestal, New York. Her website is www.angelacrawfordphd.com.