The Current

Our adrenaline can't 'outpace' COVID-19, but Brené Brown offers 3 tips to better cope

Author and podcast host Brené Brown talks to Matt Galloway about coping in the COVID-19 pandemic, and how accepting our own vulnerability can make us stronger.

Recognizing novelty of situation is key, says author and podcast host

Brené Brown says accepting our own vulnerability in the COVID-19 pandemic can make us stronger. (Submitted by Brene Brown)

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Best-selling author Brené Brown says our bodies can't deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in the same way we weather other crises.

"Normally, in order to get through a crisis, our bodies are built to respond with a lot of adrenaline, a lot of energy … a super-coping surge," said Brown, a professor of social work at the University of Houston and host of a new podcast called Unlocking Us.

"And then the waters recede or the fires are out — the crisis ends, and we slog our way through kind of clean-up and trying to find our new normal," she told The Current's Matt Galloway.

But with the uncertain timeline of the pandemic, "we are not going to be able to depend on the adrenaline surge for this, because it's going to outpace us." 

"I think we are hitting that moment where we are weary in our bones, we are physically tired — anxiety, uncertainty take a lot out of us physically."

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The COVID-19 pandemic has upended lives on a global scale, with millions out of work, schools and businesses closed, and lockdowns and physical distancing measures forcing people to work from their kitchen tables while trying to homeschool their kids.

3 ways to cope

Brown says that acknowledging the novelty of the pandemic might help you to cope, and offered three pieces of advice.

First, recognize how new and unusual the situation is: "This is hard, this is new, this is why it feels awkward and terrible and vulnerable," she told Galloway.

Secondly, remind yourself the pandemic won't last forever, and try to keep that perspective. And third, Brown says to "reality-check our expectations: We're not going to do this well, we don't know what we're doing."

"I mean I'm in my 50s and I keep waiting for the grown-ups to show up and lead us through this thing, you know, like, where are the adults here? Ah, dang it, that's me."

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'Weary in our bones'

Brown thinks a lot of people are pushing themselves to control things at home as a way to cope with not being able to control world events, but she says many people — herself included — will be running out of steam soon. 

"I work a lot to begin with, but I feel like I'm on Zoom calls from six in the morning until midnight, you know?" she said.

"My adrenaline is just coming to an end and I'm like, 'I can't do all this extra stuff, I can't work the sixty hours I've been working since I've been in lockdown.'"

She thinks we are all "hitting that moment where we are weary in our bones, we are physically tired."

"And what I would say is you're not alone … and we all are struggling to find our footing." 

Vulnerability is 'not weakness'

Brown adds some people are struggling with "comparative suffering," or how their own personal circumstances fit into the wider narrative.

"[It's] this idea that I can't feel sad about my child's high school graduation or college commencement, because there are people dying," she explained.

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She said it is important to maintain perspective, but "pain is pain, it's all real."

"We're allowed to feel it. We're allowed to give ourselves permission to feel it."

If the pandemic leaves you feeling vulnerable, Brown says that's also not a feeling to shy away from.

"To be alive is to be vulnerable, to be in this pandemic is to be vulnerable every second of every minute of every day," she said.

"The thing about vulnerability is it is difficult, but it's not weakness. It's the foundation and the birthplace of courage; there is no courage without risk, uncertainty and exposure."

That means in the current crisis "we can be our best, bravest selves or we can be our worst selves," she said.

As well as dispelling the myths around vulnerability, she'd like people to rethink the childhood construct that to be brave means not being afraid.

"The truth is we can be brave and afraid at the exact same time," she said. 

"Most of us are in these moments today."

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Julie Crysler.

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