The COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on American life is unprecedented. It’s natural to feel anxious — and maybe a bit panicked. But keeping your emotions in check is more important than ever right now, says retired Navy SEAL Andy Stumpf, who was a member of the most elite counterterrorism unit in the military, SEAL Team Six.
“One thing that I have some experience in is surviving and thriving in high-risk situations that are high-stress, which is kind of what’s going on right now,” Stumpf told Joe Rogan on an episode of “The Joe Rogan Experience.”
After his 17-year SEAL career, he’s learned that, in stressful situations, “the most dangerous thing you can do is lose control of your emotions, or let your emotions take over your decision-making cycle.”
To combat the instinct to make decisions based on your emotions, like pulling out of the stock market or panic-buying toilet paper, focus your time and energy on what you can actually control.
“You have to surrender the emotional and mental horsepower on the things that you can’t control and only focus on the things that you can, which is specifically yourself,” said Stumpf. “You can’t control what happens to you but you can control how you receive what happens to you. Being scared, allowing that to affect the decision-making process for you, is what gets people in substantial trouble.”
Think about an archery target, said Stumpf: There’s a small circle (the bull’s-eye) and a big circle (the one around the bull’s-eye).
“The big circle is your circle of concern and the small circle is your circle of influence,” he explained. People tend to spend a lot of time in the big circle, worrying about things they don’t have control over, like what’s going on in the stock market or what’s happening in the news.
“The only thing that you should spend your time, energy and effort working on are the things directly inside of your circle of influence,” Stumpf told Rogan, which are “the things that come out of your mouth, how you behave … the way that you communicate.”
“If you focus on those things,” he said, “you’re going to get through stressful situations just fine.”
That’s easier said than done, but there are strategies to quell anxieties during these times and shift your focus away from the circle of concern. Try dialing down your exposure to the news, sticking to a routine and practicing mindfulness.
“Remain as objective as possible,” said Stumpf. Remember, ”[if] you see people freaking out, that doesn’t mean that you need to freak out.”