Edith Eger: ‘This is an invitation to choose the life you want’

The Holocaust survivor and author of The Choice shares her advice on coping with isolation and anxiety, and finding opportunity in crisis.

Edith Eger
Tim Lane / Penguin

My favorite four-letter words are T-I-M-E and R-I-S-K. Time, because in choosing how to spend it, we have the opportunity to decide how we want to show up for others – and ourselves. And risk, because it's through taking risks that we grow. Hazards hurt and disempower us, but risks take us into discomfort where we are able to discover our strength. May this period of upheaval and uncertainty, when you may have time or risk or both in abundance, be a wake-up call – an invitation to embrace what is, to choose the life you want, and to become more congruent and connected.

For those of us spending unprecedented amounts of time alone, in our own company, we can choose to keep doing the same things we're used to doing to avoid the discomfort of being with ourselves – or we can choose to know, accept, and love ourselves more fully.

Start by taking your emotional temperature throughout the day. Do you feel warm and soft, or cold and stiff? Observing is the key. You don’t have to change anything or do anything about it. Just notice. It's a way to stop avoiding your feelings and be with what is.

'Even with a face mask covering our mouths, we can smile with our eyes'

This is a good time to think about your thinking, to pay attention to what you're paying attention to, because that's what you’ll reinforce. If you're full of guilt, worry, and fear, you're going to have more guilt, worry, and fear. And remember, guilt is in the past, worry is in the future. Our freedom lies in our power to choose what we do in the present. So listen to your self-talk. Is it full of always and never, should and have to? Can you find a kinder and gentler way to speak to yourself? Wake up in the morning, look at yourself in the mirror, and say, 'Love you'. Make sure your self-dialogue is full of, 'Yes I can, yes I am, yes I will!' Self-love is self-care. What's one kind thing you can say or do for yourself right now?

And what risk can you take today? What can you do that you previously avoided? Try a new kind of cuisine. Sign up with a dating app and go on a phone or video date. Read something by a new author. Watch a film you wouldn't normally watch. When you're out for some fresh air, smile at a stranger – even with a face mask covering our mouths, we can smile with our eyes. Turn your anxiety into excitement by exploring the wonderful variety of choices that are available to you now.

For couples and families cooped up at home, this is a wonderful opportunity to cultivate more open communication. Sit down with each other and ask, 'What now?' If you're a parent, remember that the mood at home is vital to our ability to thrive. Children don't do what we say, they do what we do. Be a good role model to young ones by becoming a kind, loving parent to yourself.

'For everyone, this is a time to discover our inner resources'

Couples, take this time-out period as an opportunity to face each other. To regroup and re-decide. Life is so much easier when you don't have to act! Get to know each other again – not the image, but the real person. Tell each other what you resent and what you appreciate (you might find that they're the same thing). And ask yourself, 'What am I holding on to? What am I willing to let go?' Then see what you can do to become willing to be willing.

For first responders and courageous souls on the front lines, let giving of yourself and your talents be a gift – to the world, certainly, but also to you. See how good it feels to be used up. To share your strength. To know your value.

For everyone, this is a time to discover our inner resources – our unique, one-of-a-kind powers.

The last time I was on an airplane there was a thunderstorm. I gripped the armrests through the turbulence as the captain guided us through thick clouds to the other side, to wide blue sky. Even in the thick of the storm, the blue sky was there all along. That's why I say there are no problems, only challenges. No crises, only transitions. This upheaval is temporary.

We're in a dark tunnel right now. Find an arrow to follow toward the good that can come. Together, let's stretch our comfort zones and move toward the light.

Perspectives is a series of essays from Penguin authors offering their response to the Covid-19 crisis. A donation of £10,000 towards booksellers affected by Covid-19 has been made on behalf of the participants. Read more of the essays here.

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