How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Soulful Distance or “Health Consciousness in a Time of Epidemics”

Posted by Joel Bennett on

Learn a diamond attitude from a group of resilience and health consciousness facilitators 

By Joel Bennett, with Austina Reed, Bridget McMillion, Cathy Herndon, Cheryl Brown Merriwether, Cynthia Conigliaro, Desiree Reynolds, Felecia Johnson, Heidi Postupack, Janelle Baldwin, Janet Fouts, Jennifer Lange, Jocelyne Maurice, John Steakley, John Gaal, Laurie Krupski, Lisa Godenick, Lucy Hoblitzelle, Mary Lay, Michele Richardson, Michele Studer, Molly Sigman, Nancy Chabot, Rachel Kopke, Sandy Miller, Stephany Sherry, Trinity Faucett, Wendy Madson


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Sign reads: “God Bless America - Guns and Ammo”
         I'm not sure that's what it means;

Sign reads: “Repent! the end is near”
         I'm not sure that's what we need;

Get your heart beating in the right direction;
         That's when you make a real connection

-- Robbie Robertson (When the Night Was Young)



Here is a hypothesis. Epidemics of any kind – whether Obesity, Opioid, Climate Change, or Virus – portray the ultimate opportunity for a wake-up call to society, to humanity. There are clear differences between these types of epidemics. But bear with me for a moment while I ask you to participate in a thought experiment.

Imagine that any one of these epidemics were unstoppable. Imagine that science has reached its limit. It can no longer help people and social infrastructure to modify behaviors that give rise to and sustain these epidemics. Imagine that, no matter how much technology and strategy experts throw at a solution, people will continue to behave in ways that are not in their own (self and society) best interests. The government and health advisory bodies can only do so much.

As you imagine this scenario playing out, what are the outcomes? What eventually happens when human beings fail in their health consciousness? What happens when resilience no longer works? Different poets and spiritual teachers have actually talked about this for millennia. They generally describe two paths (although there are many variations).

In path 1, people cry “The end is near” and indulge in either hedonistic fervor or nationalist protectionism. They believe that since we are all going to die, we might as well exploit the chance to enjoy life to the fullest, maybe even to the point of ignoring social order and rules. It is really time to live out every fantasy or get what we have been waiting. Alternately, we make sure we keep others from taking what we need to survive.

In path 2, people go the spiritual or religious route. This means they can get fundamentalist, proselytize, quoting chapter and verse, and seek to convert others (i.e., cult mentality). Or they can get their moral affairs in order. They believe that it is important to meditate, pray, and prepare for the great transition to the next life – whatever that may be. It is really time to be a good human being and save one's soul before it is too late.

Now, these two paths are not mutually exclusive and have sensible variations. For example, in Path 1, we experience life in the moment and start to enjoy how precious life is. In Path 2, we recognize our limits and are humbled by how transitory life is.


In my work as a well-being scientist and consultant, I train others (facilitators and coaches) to use and provide skills and tools to help with stress. These facilitators hold positions in a variety of fields: wellness professionals, addiction counselors, health coaches, human resource specialists, health educators, prevention workers, community advocates, public health scientists, and social workers.

The stress they help with includes all kinds and levels: daily emotional triggers, hassles, challenges, adversity, trauma and – also – crisis. The tools they provide fall into two basic but related areas:

  • health consciousness (paying attention to our mind and body and using our mind and body with social responsibility and for health enhancing purposes) and
  • resilience-to-thriving (utilizing stress as a positive opportunity for resilience and thriving for self and others).

As a result of the recent COVID-19 or Corona Virus in the United States, I asked almost 300 of these trained facilitators to comment on the connection between the tools and skills they learned and public and social reactions to the virus.

Specifically. I asked them:

  • What are your thoughts on the relationship between empowered health consciousness and current reactions and strategies associated with COVID-19?
  • How does COVID-19 present a "silver lining" for society and social consciousness?
  • What are other potential benefits? How can training on tools within our Health Consciousness course be useful?


I received 30 responses from these facilitators, over 5,000 words across over 15 double-spaced pages. I have culled through these responses and have identified several basic themes which I outline below. But first, I love data visualization tools, word clouds, and wordles.  So, the first thing I did was run all of these comments through a wordle generator. You can see the image below.

I also took some time to examine some of the key semantic elements of the most frequently used words and phrases. As a result, here is my intuitive combination of the core meaning of these facilitator’s comments and insights:

People need, can, and will take the time with others now to use this as an opportunity to find ways and things for health (at home, with family, and community) – think, spend time, get together, etc.


To be clear, these themes overlap greatly and I did not use a full scientific analysis (text processing) here. Below you can find a list of specific comments for each of the themes and also a map of the various facilitators. If you would like to contact them, just send me an email. They would be happy to provide a training.

Below are the five themes. Below that are specific comments. As you read through them, note how helpful they are. My intention -- our intention -- in sharing these is to bring some light and healthy ways of looking at our current situation.

We hope that these thoughts spark helpful and mindful conversations.

THEME 1: CONNECTION. Pull together. Take the time with and for each other. Embrace the benefits of social distancing. Use this as a chance to really talk and listen to each other. Common humanity.

THEME 2: SILVER LINING (OPPORTUNITY). Use this as a time to reconnect. See it as a chance to start over for community, society, humanity. Use this as a chance to get perspective on life. An opportunity to transform society.

THEME 3: RESPONSIBLE & HEALTHFUL ACTION. There are many practical and responsible things to do now (e.g., tell others we love them; watch for triggers). Make the right choice. Practice respect, ingenuity, solitude. Renew, recharge, restore. Slow down.

THEME 4: HEALTH CONSCIOUSNESS. This is a wake-up call. It is time to practice health consciousness, stay level headed, watch for (emotional) triggers, practice intentionality, and use critical thinking,

THEME 5: SHIFT IN PUBLIC HEALTH & HR SERVICE. Because of how public health and work service (human resource, social worker) are learning to deal with the Corona virus, positive shifts in public health and human resources practices may emerge that can stick around. It is times to apply our understanding of population risks and strengths.


As we pull together as humanity around the world it may have a positive effect on the intense nationalism and divisiveness that we have seen in the last few years; we can realize that we are all human. 
– Janet Fouts
The current situation:
1. Allows people to slow down and spend time with family and tune into their own health and wellbeing.
2. Thinking of others instead of only yourself. Taking time to attend to your own health. Taking time out from our constant state of 'busyness'.
– Stephany Sherry
I think social distancing provides numerous benefits for society. People are so busy running from one place to the other the they rarely give themselves time to process or truly feel their emotions. Families are rushed in so many directions that parents & children have no idea which end is up. People don’t get enough sleep or exercise and constantly put themselves and their self-care last.
- Bridget McMillion
We are given a chance to talk about powerful topics such as how vulnerable we all are as a society collectively, and individually. We are all reminded of the importance of a healthy body and of thinking of others in the way of social distancing. We are reminded that some people are physically less able to handle this from an economic standpoint as well as from a physical standpoint (elderly, immune compromised, etc.) needed in order to help with feelings of safety during this time. Establishing proper sleep hygiene will be important for people as well so as to try to maintain some normalcy during this time.
- Cynthia Conigliaro



SILVER LINING (TIME TO RECONNECT) We have time to re-connect with our families and the people who mean something to us. We might actually put down some of our technology (but this could go the opposite direction, too). I might have the most amazing landscaping that I've had in years since I don't have to commute anywhere. Less toxic air due to a decrease in pollution from our cars. Decreased energy usage from those bigger places like colleges and schools. Sleep........ In 9 months, we'll have another baby boom. Maybe more violence since we have to stay home with each other all the time -- haha - I hope not! Opportunity to eat better since we aren't driving to every fast food restaurant. - Cathy Herndon
SILVER LINING (CHANCE TO START OVER) COVID-19 presents a "silver lining" because we can clearly see how hysteria plays out publicly--especially in grocery stores; when we remain so reactionary, we don't leave ourselves room to notice and sense what is actually present. We create stories about things that may not even be happening, and we start to trust fewer people and become suspicious of someone's motives. We tend to get tunnel vision and forget about things in our periphery, including positive ways to cope, or even more useful ways of being. this pandemic is giving society a chance to start over
-- Lisa Godenick
SILVER LINING (PERSPECTIVE) The "silver lining" includes many things, but some of the first that come to my mind are these: a) We are reminded we are not invincible, and that our general health is of utmost importance all the time, so that we remain in the best health possible when a threat arises. b) Like the Boy Scouts have taught for over 100 years, a great strategy for life is to "Be Prepared." We should all have a pantry or small store of long-shelf-life foods and basic household goods on hand, like our parents and grandparents did. It's not new, it's just a common sense attitude that went out of fashion in our "everything new is better" world. Wisdom and experience have been discounted in recent decades, and that has been a grave mistake. c) Our leaders are doing the best they can in a bad situation; it is NOT helpful to demean, criticize, denounce, and second-guess their efforts. Unless you are an infectious-disease expert who works at the CDC or NIH, we don't want your opinion on the disease. Leave that to the experts. Rather, share your coping strategies, your wisdom, your experience in getting through similar situations, or your hope and prayers. Negativity makes everyone more stressed!
-- Heidi Postupack
OPPORTUNITY Because the pandemic affects everyone across society, this gives a huge opportunity for people to learn how to wake up, level up, and tune up. After the virus dissipates, the training given now can become part of the everyday toolbox of those who went through it. Much as the hard lessons of the Depression affected not only the ones who went through it, but also their descendants two and three generations removed, the hard lesson of COVID-19 can transform society--for the better!  
- Barbara Wilson


1) Tell our loved ones that we love them
2) Journaling, gratitude journaling
3) Spread positive contagion - kind, caring words of affirmation and encouragement to everyone we encounter (especially grocery store clerks & others on the "front lines")
4) Watch for Major Triggers: Uncertainty & Anxiety, sense of existential threat, emotional pain and not sure how to know what we're feeling and how to cope well under the circumstances
5) Use Discernment: Responsibility lies at three levels. Self (do what we can to take care of ourselves, our families and community), Society (local governments, corporations, health care system, federal government), Workplace (taking care of our people on a new higher level).
-- Lucy Hoblitzelle
We need to stop and breathe so we can face whatever comes next and make sound decisions.
• When we are forced to stop and smell the roses, will we actually?  Will we take this time to our advantage-  to spend time with our children? spend time with our families? read helpful books? meditate? relax?
• OR will we make unhealthy choices and cope negatively?  We’ve learned that if we don’t choose to cope positively there will be a negative tension release.  Will we spend too much time on social media ?  Self-medicate? Panic and fight over toilet paper?                           
  • We can’t forget that stress makes us more even vulnerable to disease.  All the more reason to practice our stress management techniques. 
– Trinity Faucett
  1. Respect for our invisible elders and vulnerable.
  2. Ingenuity is magical
  3. Dial down anxiety, what are we consuming ie media, food, etc. Solitude can give one a break to level up
– Molly Sigman
We can actually come out of this better than we were before. More aware of the impact of our holistic health and wellness on that of others. We can become more compassionate and more empathetic. We can use this time of social distancing to reconnect with ourselves and our spiritual core, , etc.. We use this time to learn and to grow. To heal ourselves and to mend fences with others. Health Consciousness tools can be useful when people understand how to use them and in what contexts.
-- Michele Richardson
Slowing people down; our entire planet is healthier in a very short time; learning to take time to make decisions; enjoying simple pleasures
– Nancy Chabot



1. This challenge presents an opportunity for making a positive choice. I can choose to take personal control over my responses, physically, emotionally and mentally. The world is being presented with a chance to unify and connect in new and different ways.
2. This could be a wake-up call to one's awareness of their health and an opportunity to instill mindfulness.
- Laurie Krupski
Empowered health consciousness provided strategies to recognize triggers with anxiety, activities to promote health, and checking in with yourself that I found to be very helpful.
– Felecia Johnson
For those of us who are staying level headed it’s an opportunity to help others from spinning out and provide a different lens thru which to view things: saving money on gas because of working at home, more time in the day to do what you want because no commute. A change in environment. Cultivation of appreciation for when there isn’t a media induced mob mentality and you can readily buy toilet paper.
- Jennifer Lange
Notice what raises anxiety. Is too much information a trigger? Identify what sources of information are most helpful. identify what is your motivation for change. Be a part of a collective action.
- Mary Lay
1. We have the opportunity to be more intentional with our personal interactions and more conscious of how we affect others.
2. Intentional time spent with family, roommates, etc - we can sit on the couch and do nothing or we can go on a walk, play a game...
-- John Steakley
The more ways we can find to open up this space for (to, with, on behalf of) our neighbors in Miami and surrounding counties, the better the odds to model critical thinking and behavior change when it's most truly needed (yes, prevention works!). How do we take advantage of the idleness experienced because of COVID-19?
 - Austina Reed




Throughout my network, I'm seeing an increase in compassion, care, and concern for others. I am also seeing an increase in humility by those in power who previously portrayed hubris. I hope these shifts stick around - we need more of it.
Regarding resilience and health consciousness tools, people need them now.
– Michele Studer
How to establish workplace systems relating to policies "working from home" and communicating with employees. That will expand to things like 'how to pay' employees and 'how to get reimbursed' by the government once their systems have been established. 
- Cheryl Brown Merriwether
Social Workers and Community Health Workers in our schools are looking at creative ways to reach out and provide resources to our kids-food being delivered to students via bus stops, the adjustment being made by CMS to exercise enforcement discretion and waive penalties for HIPAA, for people that serve patients in good faith through technologies such as FaceTime, Skype etc. These are adjustments that serve our communities in a more realistic manner when a social isolation is now what is expected. It is an opportunity to empower those who serve to better empower those who receive, our messaging is important, our self-care, and care of our neighbors.
 -- Wendy Madson

1) Discuss high-risk groups and ways for them to stay healthy during this epidemic.
2) Discuss the strengths of Federal, State, and Local Government guidance and recommendations around COVID-19
– Sandy Miller




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