The constant flood of precautions and warnings, whether it’s from the medical authorities or recirculated, dubiously-sourced information on social media, can take a toll on our mental health.
The uncertainty of what a pandemic portends for our future, the drastic changes it means for the present can be unnerving.
It’s ok, it’s normal, to feel anxious and stressed when everything familiar has seemingly come to a halt in the entire world and when experts, whom we normally turn to, have no answers, no treatments and are impacted in the same way we are. We feel helpless and our fears are heightened when we can’t see or predict where the threat may strike.
Social Distancing for your Brain
Pare down your sources of information
- Continually tell yourself it’s ok not knowing every little thing because there will always be an update a click away.
- Don’t carry your phone around so you’re not tempted to check it.
- Leave your phone on a charging station, put it in “airplane mode” or turn off notifications
- Limit time on social media. Your friends and acquaintances filter what they share through their own fears and lenses.
- Unfriend those who are conspiracy theorists.
- Install social media apps or tools that limit access to content, or limit aimless scrolling.
- Schedule a set time, and no more, to get updates from reliable news or health organizations.
Hand-Washing for your Brain.
Don’t Chastise Yourself for Worrying
“You are allowed to worry or feel bad. When discussing how to talk to children about the coronavirus, health experts say people should acknowledge a child’s fear and let them know their feelings are valid.”
“Surely, you can afford yourself the same compassion. The key is to work toward understanding and contextualizing your fears so they don’t keep you from living your healthiest life.”
Name your Fears
A virus can’t be seen by the naked eye. It’s threat is abstract. Writing things down makes the worries concrete and stops your brain from going over and over the worries. Here’s what to write to reassure your brain that you’ll remember everything it’s been reminding you of. You may do all steps at once or over several days.
1. List what specific threats worry you. Do you think you will catch the coronavirus and die? (The fear of death taps into one of our core existential fears). Someone you love falls ill? Would you need treatment? What would happen if self quarantine was necessary? Not able to work? No access to support or childcare?
Keep writing small fears, big fears, rational and irrational, until you can’t think of anything else.
2. Mark the ones that are REALISTIC. Consider your personal risk and how likely it is that you will actually come in contact with the virus, lose work etc.
3. Write down what you are in CONTROL of – what you are currently doing and what you might consider doing.
4. Make a plan – Brainstorm options and write them down even if they seem out-of-reach or impractical. Being prepared for your fears will help keep them in scale.
5. Review and add, delete, rearrange, update all the steps frequently to keep your brain in the know.
Think Outside Yourself
Since action can allay our anxieties, also consider what you can do to help others who may be more affected by the outbreak than you. Service workers, medical workers, hourly workers and people in the restaurant or entertainment industries may have their livelihoods paralyzed or have to put themselves in disproportionate danger.
Talk to your brain: “Most of the precautions put in place to help stall the spread of the virus aren’t just for me. They’re intended to keep entire communities and vulnerable people safe.”
There are ways to reach out that don’t demand a lot of time or energy. Examples: Double the recipe you are making and give half to a neighbor, donate money, (if you have the means) to a reputable charity, write a letter or a note to someone in quarantine, e-mail friends who are isolated . . .
Seek Support Wisely
Talking to friends about the latest news, outbreak cluster or your family’s contingency plans is a good idea so you don’t feel alone. However, if you are overwhelmed, don’t seek out someone who also is overwhelmed. Find someone who does not support or inflame you on your anxiety and can provide some advice. Always consider professional help which can be short-term. Most psychotherapists and doctors are offering phone sessions. There are community agencies or religious clergy that are free or low fee.
Enforce or Create Healthy HABITS
Pay attention to your daily basic needs – healthy practices that affect your wellbeing.
If you haven’t practiced self-care, NOW is the time to create healthy habits that will last after this crisis is over.
- Get adequate sleep
- Have proper nutrition
- Go outside as much a possible
- Engage in regular physical activity
- Practicing mindfulness, prayer, meditation, yoga or other forms of self care can also help center you in routines and awareness, and keep your mind from wandering into worry and fear.
Remember! Fear and Anxiety is . . .
. . . overestimating the likelihood of something bad happening, and underestimating our capacity to deal with it.