Broad-Billed Hummingbird Madera Canyon, Near Green Valley, Arizona

A wise person once said, “Sometimes we have to get sick before we can feel better.” During these months of the pandemic my life has slowed down considerably, and I’ve stopped moving long enough to realize that I have been living with what I call the Hummingbird Syndrome.   At 5’1”, I move through life like a hummingbird, fast and ready to migrate from one thing to another, flying forward or backwards or hovering mid-air to make things happen.  Curious about the humming noise hummingbirds make, I learned that the hum is the sound of their wings beating so fast, while their heart pounds to keep up the pace. I don’t hum but I do fly backwards. I do know that my heart often races as I tried to keep up the pace to get things done and make things happen. 

As the reality of the pandemic took hold, I anticipated the impact it would have on life as I knew it. My first response was to mobilize quickly and get everything I needed done before my wings were clipped.   My reaction to the news of the pandemic was not so much about fearing the virus, which would have been a more typical response, but more about not being able to fly freely in a fast paced productive life I had become accustomed to.

I truly wasn’t afraid of the virus or getting sick.   I believe this rational response was mostly due to my work in health science.  I believed that if properly informed, I could make the right decisions for myself and for my family.  I soon learned that no one in healthcare or the government had accurate information to dispense about the virus. And I began to feel less safe and less secure in the absence of legitimate information.

Psychologists tell us that the natural response to a crisis or life changing event is fear.  Fear of something new and unknown, like the loss of a loved one or a job or a pandemic.   Our fear kicks our sympathetic nervous system, and the fight-or-flight response into overdrive. Our adrenal glands start pumping adrenaline to prepare our bodies to react more quickly.  

Although fear is often justified by an event, I have learned that we can manufacture fear with our thoughts.  In mindfulness, FEAR is an acronym for Future Events Already Real.  This illustrates how our brain can manipulate our physical response to unexpected and/or undesirable events.

The response to the pandemic has taught me that reacting quickly in a crisis is not always the right thing to do. Letting your heart race like a hummingbird and flying fast is not always the optimum way to navigate through life.  What if I could take things just as they are and slow the pace down?  Just be in the moment without thinking about what the future holds? And not defining our days by how much we can get done.

The pandemic has taught me how to pace myself, but also what I truly value in life.  What I should keep and connect with and what I should let go of.  I’m actually doing well for a hummingbird because I have slowed down, and stopped pushing to produce the way I am used to.   I’ve come to believe that productivity is a means to an end… not the end point. The desired end point is to stop being productive and enjoy the satisfaction of feeling accomplished.  Many of us churn in this perpetual cycle of non-stop doing which creates stress and pressure that dials up our nervous system in unhealthy ways. The life changing events of the pandemic has given me an opportunity to live in the moment with nothing to chase after or keep up with.  Life has slowed down.  In effect it has cured me of my Hummingbird Syndrome … at least for now, because my wings really needed the rest.