You already know about the coronavirus pandemic.
Now there is second pandemic – an unwelcome accomplice to Covid-19.
Fear and Loathing – this condition is spreading rapidly and infecting even more people than coronavirus itself.
We have the biological version of a smoke detector in our heads. And the alarms are blaring for many of us. The amygdala is a small area in the brain responsible for our survival instincts. Coronavirus – or Covid-19 – is a genuine worldwide threat.
We are worried and anxious, and those feelings are normal – even healthy – given the precarious nature of this virus. Along with the real, potentially disastrous economic impact. But the fear can get out of hand. When we endlessly obsess about this pandemic, when we resort to panic buying (does anyone have any extra toilet paper?), when we become paralyzed by the fear, we are the victims of our own survival instincts. We call this “amygdala hijacking”.
You’ve heard of fight and flight – our instinctive response to danger. You can add freeze to that list – a type of emotional and behavioral paralysis like a deer caught in the headlights. Some of us are in denial, and we may avoid the kind of safety measures recommended by health experts.
These reactions are fueled and intensified by the media. Is there any doubt that the 24-hour news cycle, social media, and endless news feeds are contributing a kind of national panic?
And we’re not just fearful and worried. We’re angry. We’re angry about empty store shelves, long lines at the grocery store, layoffs and closures, and restrictions. And we’re angry at politicians arguing about what to do, who to blame, and the confusing, contradictory messages about this dreadful situation.
So, what’s to be done? How do we cope with this terrible situation?
5 Steps to Sanity and Serenity
Have you heard about frequent hand washing? (My hands are like prunes.) Obviously, we should all follow the safety precautions recommended by the CDC and other experts. How do we take care of ourselves emotionally and psychologically? These are some effective methods for taking care of our mental health:
- Get outside every day for no less than 10 minutes, preferably 2-3 times daily.
- Exercise – Walk at a good pace, run or jog, ride a bike, and workout at home every day.
- Stretching and yoga are recommended.
- Maintain proper nutrition – Eat a balanced diet and avoid excessive amounts of sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. Hydrate frequently.
- Limit media consumption. Five or ten minutes of news no more than 2-3 times daily is highly recommended to maintain your sanity. And only rely on trusted sources for news about this virus.
- Stay busy – Maintain a regular routine at home and at work. Keep your focus on anything manageable in the present.
2. Emotional Regulation
Use emotional intelligence to deal with the feelings of anxiety, fear, panic, and anger. Practice mind over matter (“If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.”)
- Accept your feelings. Don’t fight them or struggle with them. Allow them to come and go without judging the feelings.
- Feelings and thoughts aren’t facts. “I am not this feeling – this is not who I am.” The feelings won’t hurt you. Repeat this mantra: “I’m scared and I’m okay.”
- Schedule time for worry and fear. Set a time limit – 10 minutes is recommended. Then journal for about 5-10 minutes about the feelings. Then let it go.
- Cognitive corrections – How are your thoughts and feelings irrational? Are you practicing all or nothing thinking? Are you magnifying and catastrophizing? Do the feelings and thoughts fit with the facts? (Read about thought distortions and how to correct them in David Burn’s classic book “Feeling Good”.)
- Thought stop and refocus – When the negative, scary thoughts take over, use a thought stop (put a rubber band on your wrist and snap it as you say “Stop!”). Then refocus onto something you can manage in the present (work, clean a bathroom, do a puzzle). Repeat this often during the day when you obsess about your fears.
- Practice surrender – Use the serenity prayer and recognize that you are not in control. Manage the things you can manage and let go of the rest.
- Don’t react – When you’re angry, focus on your breathing, and call upon your highest self. Your functioning adult self or ego is responsible and loving. Practice forgiveness. After all, we are all in this together.
- The Breath – It all starts with the breath. Breathe deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth. Do this only once or twice, several times daily – and any time you’re feeling especially anxious or angry. Breathe in life and abundance – blow out stress, fear, and anger.
- Stay in the present moment – When we worry about the future, we’re creating problems in the present. These are problems that don’t exist here and now. We can manage the present. We cannot control the future. Plan and prepare when possible, but don’t obsess about what hasn’t happened yet.
- Use meditation and prayer. There are several highly rated and effective meditation apps available. Or simply sit, focus on your breath, notice the negative, fear-based thoughts that come up, and let them go – then refocus on the breath.
- Walking meditation – This is a great time to be outdoors (at a safe distance from others!). Walk around your neighborhood, your back yard, or a nearby park. As you walk, use all your senses to focus on your surroundings – especially the natural world. Listen to the sound of the birds. Feel the breeze and the air temperature on your skin. Smell the flowers, freshly mowed grass, the trees and bushes.
- Be aware of your thoughts and feelings. Your thoughts and feelings aren’t facts. Most of our beliefs, ideas, and opinions are programmed stories that we rarely question.
4. Social and Relational Health
- Do not practice social distancing! Practice physical distancing. We can and we must maintain social connectedness. We can do this while practicing safe physical distance from others. Today more than ever we are able to stay socially connected. And we need social connection now more than ever.
- Stay connected to family, friends, and colleagues – Use online or mobile video services such as Facetime and Skype. Check in with others on a regular basis throughout the day, every day.
- Relationship augmentation – We won’t be able to go out to dinner, nightclubs, or the movies, but we can and we must keep the love and the romance alive. Of course, this is good advice even when we’re not hunkered down with a pandemic. Have candlelight dinners with your spouse or significant other at home. Plan a picnic in your backyard, a park, or on your balcony or deck. Turn the TV off, leave your phone in the house, get outside, hold hands, take a walk together, and don’t forget regular hugs and other forms of affection. How about giving each other a massage?
- Children and family activities – Keep the kids busy (with more than just video games and movies). Create a structured, daily schedule for the kids. Provide home schooling, and help them with their homework. Give them ample breaks and get them outside for fresh air, and fun exercise (let’s play catch!). Play games together as a family. Reassure your children. They’re hearing some scary news, and they need your loving support. Let them know you will all get through this together.
5. Counseling and Therapy
All of us need support during this time of crisis. Those with anxiety disorders, depression, and other problems will probably experience increased and exaggerated levels of distress. Now is the time to reach out to a professional therapist. There are several options available.
- Our offices remain open for business for new and existing clients and patients. Live, face-to-face therapy is most effective.
- For those who are confined to their homes – and for others who prefer to remain at home due to the virus, we are available for video therapy (Doxy, Skype, Facetime, and other platforms). This is the next best option after face-to-face therapy at our offices.
- Teletherapy – We can also conduct therapy over the phone for those who need or prefer this option.
- Email services – We will gladly respond to emails when necessary. Check with your therapist to see what may be available. Some specific questions and concerns may be addressed effectively in this manner.
We are in this together. I’m reminded of the days following a destructive hurricane. In our community, neighbors helped neighbors. Let’s support one another emotionally as well as physically. We can keep a safe physical distance while communicating our friendship and support, and we can help our more vulnerable neighbors (such as elderly people with limited resources) by providing a cooked meal or needed supplies when we have extra.
For further information, or to schedule a session, please contact us today.
Thank you, and we wish you well. We will make it through this together with love and cooperation.