How to Protect Your Inner World During Coronavirus

by | Apr 12, 2020 | Anxiety | 25 comments

Transitions are ruptures, and through the fissure we’re given an opportunity to see ourselves more clearly. We see both our gifts and our challenges. We see where we shine and where we struggle. We see where we go when anxiety is high and the ground beneath our feet is more unstable than ever before. Whatever is needing attention along the pathways of our emotional and spiritual journeys is highlighted.

For many of my clients and course members, this means not only seeing how their lifetime of being acquainted with anxiety is serving them but it is also revealing the multiple offshoots of being on the sensitive-anxious spectrum, one of which is the tendency to absorb other people’s lives and stories during this particularly scary time when we’re all vulnerable to challenges around health, money, security, and stability.

The highly sensitive is always prone to taking on other people’s stories, for one of the great gifts of being highly sensitive is the high levels of compassion that are intrinsic to your nature. When the inner walls are more porous, it’s difficult to hear a story that taps into your own deepest fears and struggles and not take it on as your own.

We’re hearing a lot about how to create physical immunity during this pandemic, which is important. But for my clients and course members who struggle with anxiety and intrusive thoughts, it’s the mental immunity that also needs attention. The Dalai Lama speaks to mental immunity in The Book of Joy:

“This is how we develop mental immunity. Just as a healthy immune system and healthy constitution protects your body against potentially hazardous viruses and bacteria, mental immunity creates a healthy disposition of the mind so that it will be less susceptible to negative thoughts and feelings.

“Think about it this way. If your health is strong, when viruses come they will not make you sick. If your overall health is weak, even small viruses will be very dangerous for you. Similarly, if your mental health is sound, then when disturbances come, you will have some distress but quickly recover. If your mental health is not good, then small disturbances, small problems will cause you much pain and suffering. You will have much fear and worry, much sadness and despair, and much anger and aggression.”

Let’s break this down when it comes to intrusive thoughts, whether around the coronavirus or any other hook where you anxiety hangs its hat (relationship anxiety, money anxiety, health anxiety, sexuality, parenting, etc). The Dalai Lama is saying that the more you work with your mind and heart, which means committing to regular practices that grow your capacity to know yourself, love yourself and find your calm, wise center, the less rattled you’ll be when “disturbances” come in.

What Are Disturbances?

Disturbances are triggers that cause your anxiety to spike. For example:

You’re talking to a friend and she’s telling you about her father who was just diagnosed with the virus and is in the hospital hooked up to a ventilator. You feel a pang of fear hit your solar plexus, and before you know it you’re having visions of your father in the hospital hooked up to a ventilator.

Or you hear about someone your own age who contracted the virus and you think, “Oh god, that could be me.”

Or you hear about someone who has lost their job in a similar field and a pang of anxiety about your work security shoot through your system.

The examples are endless right now. We are all vulnerable to the virus itself and its ramifications, which is why it’s more important than ever to learn how to strengthen your mental immunity.

And of course absorbing other people’s stories doesn’t only apply to this pandemic. In my work around relationship anxiety, one of the most common anxiety spikes is hearing about a couple who broke up because “they fell out of love” or someone who left a relationship because “they just knew it wasn’t right and then they went on to find their true soulmate.” The list is endless here as well.

When you have mental immunity you’re strengthened from the inside-out and less permeable to every story and headline that crosses your path. Mental immunity means the waters of your inner well are so full that when you hear a story about someone else having a terrible case of the virus or you read a headline about the financial state of our world the flame of fear might enter but it is quickly doused by the waters of your inner well.

Let me be clear: This isn’t about not being rattled. We’re all going to be triggered by “disturbances.” But as the Dalai Lama writes, and as I’ve seen in my own life and in the life of my clients, when the waters of your inner well are full, you feel the trigger, you get knocked off center, but you quickly recover. A trigger doesn’t have to equate to days of suffering in the cesspool of an unfed and unattended well.


How Do You Fill the Inner Well and Create Mental Immunity?

Creating mental immunity hinges on learning how to turn inward. It means committing to practices morning and night that help you know yourself and love yourself so that you can trust yourself. This doesn’t happen through reading about inner work or talking about inner work. It happens when you embark on a journey that teaches you to excavate the root causes of your lack of self-trust, then offers you the roadmap and tools for repairing the crystal compass of clarity that is rightfully yours.

This is what I teach in my Trust Yourself: A 30-Day Course to Help You Overcome Your Fear of Failure, Caring What Others Think, Perfectionism, Difficulty Making Decisions, and Self-Doubt, a course that has guided thousands of people through the tricky terrain of the inner world and helped them to learn how fill the well of self. One of the extraordinary aspects of this challenging time is the number of people I’ve heard from who have gone through my work and come back to tell me that they’re managing these challenges with a fair amount of grace and equanimity because of the work we’ve done together, including the Trust Yourself Course.

We’re always being asked to turn inward. In a world that encourages us to track outward from the time we’re born, most people abdicate their sense of self early in life and look to others to fill their inner well. This never works, for the well that tracks outward is a bottomless bucket; it’s only when we learn to turn inward and trust ourselves that the need for external approval, perfectionism, and self-doubt fall away and the inner waters regenerate themselves.

If there was ever a time to turn inward, it’s now. Transitions burn away layers of distractions and defenses. What is left in the ashes are the glowing embers of what is ready to be healed. This might include grief from old losses, unfinished transitions, self-doubt, and the tendency to absorb other people’s lives. As Michael Singer recently said of this challenging time in his brilliant interview with Tami Simon of Sounds True: “It’s going to hit the stuff that’s left inside of you,” by which he means that this global transition is ripe with opportunity to see ourselves more clearly and address the glowing embers of wound that are left in the ashes.

This is what we’ll address together in the Trust Yourself course. The next live round starts on Saturday, April 25th, 2020, and I very much look forward to seeing you there.


Note: If you would like to take the course but the cost is prohibitive, please reach out to us using the contact tab at the top of this site and we’ll discuss options.



  1. Never has the tendency to absorb other people’s lives been more powerful for me. How I feel about my own health risk is very related to which news and stories I heard the latest. Thanks for giving this tendency a name. Lots of love,

    • Be sure to limit your news intake during this time and re-commit to your daily practices.

  2. Thank you for your soothing words Sheryl. I am incredibly grateful to have discovered you.

    I’m turning inwards daily but am still being swept away by my anxiety, particularly health anxiety.

    I know it’s incredibly subjective, but are there certain tools that are more effective? I usually journal how I’m feeling, what my dreams are and write what I’m grateful for. Am also reading Pema Chödrön and have started to meditate and do yoga daily.

    I just can’t seem to help but spin off, despite having read your book and taken two of your courses.

    • It sounds like you’re doing excellent practices, Rosie. Sometimes what’s needed is to turn to a trusted other and say, “I’m really struggling. Can you throw me a lifeline?” We can heal alone and then we need to reach to others to help fill in the gaps.

      • Thank you, Sheryl. I have a wonderfully supportive husband whom I can confide in.

        Love and thanks to you, Sheryl <3

  3. Thank you Sheryl , “It’s going to hit the stuff that’s left inside you” I can’t say enough about this. Being on lockdown for over a month now has brought up every grief experience i thought I’d dealt with . But clearly have not. The witching hour seems to be when these big feelings come and I find this 3 am hour to challenge every cell in me. Because of being in a half wake state I’m still walking the bride of my nights soul . The worlds pain and suffering seems to be too much for a 3am soul wake up call. The feelings are huge and mostly at that time it’s the scary inner stuff that left inside me to look inward and find grace and some peace. What a transitional time . I can almost say it feels like to much . Years ago I was struggling in a yoga pose and my guru notices my tears and gentle bent down and whispers in my ear. Practice practice all is coming … so I’ll keep practicing ..

    • This is beautifully expressed, Susannah. The witching hour is a most challenging time to be grabbed by big feelings, and I know it feels like too much to bear but bear we can and must. Yes, practice practice. That’s all that’s being asked.

  4. We’ve unfortunately experienced a job loss in this. It is as real as feared, but it’s just an extra component to the changes we’re experiencing. Others may have real health issues, family issues, or deeper financial issues. I do think this is a time to look at anxiety and what exactly it’s saying to you, how we react to fear and changes our of our control will never stop in life. They are only magnified right now. And there’s nowhere to run. So we have to sit with it, and hopefully it makes us better.

    • I’m so sorry you’re experiencing job loss. And everything you wrote here is such deep wisdom. Thank you for being here. x

  5. Sheryl,

    This post could not have been more timely and true. The pangs have been real lately and they’ve been all over the spectrum. I often feel like I feel everything! I’ve gotten better at bouncing back from the pangs, but I can’t help but feel like sometimes they linger a little bit (cue rapid heart beat and the nervous sweats). I always breathe into them, as you’ve taught, and then they get better and eventually stop, but then I find myself overthinking them. Do you have any additional suggestions on how to really let go and let myself know that I am here, I am present and I am safe (mini mantra I tell myself to snap myself out of it)?

    • The more you commit to your daily practices – journaling, meditation, yoga, healthy eating (as best you can) – the faster you’ll bounce back from the pangs. And of course at the very heart of working with obsessive thinking is the willingness to feel the emotions embedded inside the thoughts. The thoughts are protectors. When we grieve through our heartbreak, the thoughts quiet down.

  6. I didnt realise how much I did this until my mum said to me very recently “You simply cannot worry everyones worries for them.” It hit me then that it is what I have always done- not just empathising, but internalising the mental and emotional load and carrying it within me as if it were my own. And with a well almost perpetually flashing ’empty’, I’ve not been helping myself to heal my own hurts. Every sponsored ad on facebook about relationship problems (probably as a result of my google habits) completely freaked me out, hit me in the solar plexus and sent me spinning. Thank you for the reminder to build healthy habits.

    • I hear you Hangovergirluk. And what’s worse, I think these relationship problem adverts are popping up more often on social media at the moment anyway as companies know and understand that people are more likely to be spending more time with their significant others indoors at the moment – I’ve stopped Googling for relationship problems since taking Sheryl’s courses and I’m still being inundated with adverts on Facebook about “finding the perfect love” etc. And even 2 years into my most recent fear forest, they still blind side me too. So please don’t feel like you’re alone in this sweetheart. For every moment of fear, there is always a moment of clarity waiting for you behind the clouds and when that blue sky emerges you just feel…well…like a big bowl of oatmeal (I adore that description Sheryl!!) I’m really struggling at the moment, but I’m still putting the effort in to my daily yoga and journalling practice with that hope that I’ll come out of the other side. Just when you think you’ve figured it out, another layer peels away from the onion and you’re called to learn again…

    • Wow! this is great phrase!
      “You simply cannot worry everyones worries for them.”
      I’ll add it to my list of soothing quotes/texts that I read when I cannot bear the suffer in the world playing non stop in my head.
      Thank your mom for me and thank you for sharing!

  7. I know this is unrelated, but I’ve had high anxiety about sex since my fiance and I moved in together: how frequently we do it, who initiates, are we “normal.” It’s becoming a bit of an obsession for me. Is this common? I also find that I initiate sex most of the time, and as a woman, that taps into some deep insecurities (especially due to my anxious attachment).

    Your sacred sexuality course looks like it deals with women who are low desire, but I’m in the opposite boat–I have higher desire for sex than my man. Any thoughts would be appreciated!

    • A – I experienced EXACTLY what you are currently experiencing. You are completely normal. You are not alone.

      What I first did was check out some articles that Sheryl posted about sex and woman’s sexuality instead of scouring the internet for answers. Don’t do that. I basically went to Sheryl’s home page and searched: sex. This is one article that I found pretty helpful and then I watched a couple of TedTalks by the author of the book that Sheryl mentions in the article:

      A personal thing that I did was also meditate and journal about WHY I wanted sex and why I was initiating (also see the above-mentioned article for more on this). For me, it had something to do with loving myself. Your partner is not there to fulfill you, they are there to support you, and support you loving you. So with this, I leave my last point…

      I openly talked about it with my partner. Sex has been a topic of discussion quite a few times in the course of our almost four-year relationship so since we both established from the beginning that we would always be open and honest with each other about everything, we sat down and talked about it. I expressed to him again what sex meant to me and likewise, he affirmed what it meant for him (naturally, I did not prod him), I read aloud a couple of Sheryl’s articles and we watched one of the TedTalks together. After this (and some tears and snot blew tissues – completely normal), it does seem like things have turned around for the best. We are taking things one day at a time, but now he is way more mindful of the fact that sex is a beautiful act that we can do together and when a couple makes time for it (very important and healthy – I’m not saying schedule a time on the calendar – I did that, that won’t work lol), they are further creating a bond and a safe space for two people to touch skin and love each other deeply. There is not a benchmark that says you “should” do it X many times to be healthy and there never will be, but being on the same page about it is important.

      Also, since you are your man are now living together, he’s going through a transition and figuring things out, too! I really hope all of this helps you. You are in a safe place. Best of luck. 🙂

      • Thanks so much for your response – it feels so much better to know I’m not alone. As you know, there is a lot of shame surrounding this topic – especially since women are brainwashed that men always want sex and will lust after you constantly. So if he’s *not* lusting after me constantly, then certainly something must be wrong with *me*, right? That’s the wounded part of myself speaking.

        That is exactly what I need to stop doing – Googling! Because Google doesn’t have a healthy view of sex and only perpetuates societal norms. I also have felt like I can’t open up to my friends because they would judge my relationship, and I assume that everyone is having more sex than me (we are still having sex 1-2 times a week, but at my initiation) – so I live in shame about it.

        I think you’re totally right about meditating and journaling about it. I’ve been doing some of that, and I think in some cases, I use sex in an unhealthy way for validation (not always, but if I’m fearing rejection I do this, due to my attachment wounds).

        And yes, you’re exactly right. Sex is a bit of a sensitive topic still since he feels pressured by me, so I’ve been opening the discussion in more lighthearted ways. It is essential to be on the same page with what sex means for both of us (and they might not mean the same things). It’s a delicate balance of honoring the needs of both people, and both people giving a little. 🙂

  8. I signed up for the last round of Trust Yourself, but did not complete it yet out of fear. I keep reminding myself to finish it as I think it will really help me. I have been shutting down quite often with my boyfriend lately and feel almost like I’ve bee pushing him away. I know I avoid the work for fear of it hurting too much or it being too painful. I’ve been through a lot in my (nearly almost 30 years – April 25th) life so far and just don’t know if I can stand any more pain, but yet, I should trust myself and be my own best friend because at the end of the day, I am all that I am guaranteed to have. I find myself shutting down a lot more with my boyfriend and life lately. I am still quite busy and haven’t had much reflective time as I am quite a go-go-go person and am a health care worker, so I’m still working. On my downtime, I’m usually watching working out or watching Grey’s Anatomy but taking less time for my inner world. I need to make the time to do the TY course because my inner world matters just as much as my outer world.

    • Even 10 minutes a day of working with the material in Trust Yourself will help you find some center. We resist and resist and then we sit down to do the work and it’s the most important 10 minutes of our day.

      • Of course. You are so so right. Just printed off the worksheets and going to start it now. Thank you for the gentle nudge.

  9. beautiful, Sheryl. and right on time as usual. ❤️ thank you.

  10. Thank you for referencing this book! I recall that you quoted it in your book “The Wisdom of Anxiety” also. This is a life-changing book. I have been reading and re-reading this book for a couple of years now. It truly is a book that helps you find joy. The book was written by Douglas Abrams. In April 2015, Archbishop Tutu traveled to the Dalai Lama’s home in India to celebrate His Holiness’ 80th birthday and to create what they hoped would be a gift for others. They looked back on their lives to answer a question: How do we find joy in the face of suffering? The book is funny, inspiring and practical. Quoting the book “Joy as a way of being.. . is probably closest to shining contentment or spiritual radiance born from deep well-being and benevolence.” There are exercises in the back of the book for finding joy and dealing with life’s suffering. I cannot say enough about this book. It is phenomenal. Do yourself a favor and read it!!!

  11. Sheryl, your book “The Wisdom of Anxiety” is an amazing book also. It is beautiful. It has been very helpful to me. I am a mostly calm person, but I get anxious like anyone and the book has been so helpful. A lot of practical and wonderful advice. Thank you so much.


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