During our 30+ years as psychotherapists we never had to address the fear and uncertainty the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic has created. The disruption to individual lives and society is surreal.
There are coping truths that we know are real:
- Everyone copes with horrible situations differently. Some use humor (even gallows humor), some become immobilized or depressed, for others anxiety explodes, some grasp at things that are seemingly frivolous but under their control (like hoarding toilet paper). I watch the news obsessively since I find comfort in information.
- We want our family & friends to cope in the same way we cope. “Why aren’t you acting more worried?”, “Don’t be so obsessive”. “Do something productive.” “Calm down and slow down.” There’s comfort in thinking we are connected and not alone in our own way of seeing and responding to threats, real or perceived. When other people don’t cope the way we cope it makes us nervous, as if something is wrong with them.
- The higher the stress the more the brain reverts to automatic, old, tried and true patterns and coping mechanisms that are basic to who we are and how we are in the world. Our mind-body stress response says this is NOT time to change our normal behaviors and natural tendencies because doing something new creates more stress.
- It’s normal to feel productive anxiety right now, and while we need to allow ourselves to feel these feelings. Some anxiety is productive—it’s what motivates us to wash our hands often and distance ourselves from others when there’s an important reason to do so. If we weren’t reasonably worried, no one would be taking these measure to help reduce the viral spread.
- Unproductive anxiety— unchecked rumination—makes our mind spin in frightening directions. Our anxiety is actually trying to keep us safe by focusing on potential threats preparing us for fight, flight or freeze. However, anxiety when constant elevates our stress response chronically which dampens the immune response which is the last thing we want during a pandemic.