At this difficult time, it seems that all anyone hears on the news, reads online or talks about with friends and family is the corona virus: where it has spread, how many people are infected, what different countries are doing to deal with the situation, and whether or not friends and neighbours are isolating.
Too much talk and too many “news updates” about a distressing event has the unfortunate side effect of further increasing stress, anxiety and worry. Increased anxiety and worry results in increased fear, increased physical symptoms of stress, and reduced well-being.
Increased fear also decreases our ability to tolerate uncertainty, which further perpetuates the downward spiral of anxiety and eventually leads to panic.
But, despite what Facebook tells you, there is no need to panic. Panic shopping and hoarding is not necessary, and neither is living with symptoms of anxiety and stress related to the corona virus. Must we be somewhat cautious in these uncertain times? Yes. But must we panic? Absolutely not. Feelings of panic and anxiety can be minimized by following these simple steps:
As advised by Health Canada, make sure you do the following:
a) Wash your hands frequently with soap and water if at home, or by using hand sanitizer or alcohol-based gels if it is absolutely necessary that you leave the home
b) Stay home as much as possible and practice social distancing. Keep in touch with friends, family and neighbours, but do it from a distance (6 ft away) or do it by phone, text, video chat or email. (More on social distancing to come)
c) Self-isolate if you develop symptoms (especially fever, dry cough, difficulty breathing) and call your local health provider for further instructions
Step 2: Limit yourself to checking with one (1!) reputable and reliable news source per day for updates. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other forms of social media are not great sources of news because it can be hard to tell if what you are reading is indeed actual fact (and not fiction), and if it came from a credible source. The Health Canada website has great, up-to-date information that is easily accessible.
If you need to, break up with social media altogether – tell it that for the sake of your “relationship”, you need to have some time apart. Getting wrapped up in other people’s anxiety and panic will not help you.
If you must use social media, use it for spreading good news and positivity, posting thoughts and comments that inspire and uplift others, connect the community, and increase hope and well-being.
Step 3: Remember: Social distancing means physical distance, not loss of connections. People have shared with me that they have played games – chess, Uno, checkers, etc. – with others using Skype, Facetime and other online platforms. We can still be “together”, even if we’re not together. All it takes is a little bit of creativity to stay connected and have fun with others who cannot be with us physically.
Step 4: Decide how you want to respond to the current situation. Do you want to panic, or stay calm? Do you want to teach your children (if you have them) that when faced with distressing times we must act distressed and panic, or do you want to teach them resilience and how to remain calm during calamity? Remember – your children are watching your every move, and when this if all over, what will stick with them the most is how the family home felt during this time and how people acted. So – how do you want to act and react? While it is true we may not have much control over this virus or know what the future will bring, we do have control over our
reaction to it.
Remind yourself that this too shall pass.
Remind yourself that you have taken all the recommended and necessary steps to keep yourself and others as safe as possible (see Step 1), and make that your adaptive response:
“I am worried about the corona virus and that I or my loved ones could get sick. BUT, I have taken all recommended precautions to keep us safe and worrying about it will only make me sick and increase my
vulnerability to illness. “
What is an Adaptive Response?
An adaptive response is a balanced statement designed to refute an anxiety-inducing thought, known as an “automatic thought”. The adaptive response acknowledges the anxious thought and then balances it with a “but” statement – a statement that balances out the worry thought and reduces anxiety.
In the example given above, the automatic though (i.e., the anxiety-inducing thought) is “I am worried about the corona virus and that I or my loved ones could get sick”.
Add a BUT after the worry thought, and balance it out:
“But, I have taken all recommended precautions to keep us safe and worrying about it will only make me sick and increase my vulnerability to illness.”
This is a well-balanced adaptive response and if used when worrying about getting sick with the virus, it will be effective at reducing the anxiety.
Follow up an adaptive response with a coping statement after, if needed. Try something like:
Worrying won’t help, but relaxing will.
I am resilient. I will get through this.
Worry begets worry. Let’s keep calm and carry on.
Step 5: Create an action plan. Whether we like to admit it or not, we all crave structure to some degree. Even if you don’t have kids (but especially if you do!), create an activity list of things to do instead of stressing about a virus you can’t control and to ensure boredom stays away. A bored mind tends to wander, so have options ready at hand to stay engaged and limit worry. Maybe now is the time to focus more on learning how to play that new guitar you bought last year, or to learn a new hobby or skill such as knitting, painting, scrapbooking, or writing. Try journaling or sketching, or take time to explore new interests or hobbies. There are tons of options to learn new skills online.
As part of your action plan, don’t forget to stay active. If you have a back or front yard and can get outside for some fresh air and sunshine (think Vitamin D) your brain and body will thank you! Fresh air and activity paves the way for a good night’s sleep (which we all need right now to stay healthy), and sunshine helps keep our circadian rhythms in check, further promoting a good sleep come bedtime. Bike rides, going for a walk and other forms of outdoor activity are all great ways to stay active and healthy, provided you are practicing good social distancing. If you can’t get outside, try doing laps around the house or challenge yourself to the Great Stair Climb by climbing any flight of stairs available in the home at least 5 or 10 times. There are also tons of online yoga and exercise classes. Heck, even housework or chasing after the dog or kids counts as activity!
Lastly, it is okay to recognize and acknowledge that these are strange, confusing and downright trying times right now. But remember, we are all in this together (even if we are not “together”), and we will get through this.
Stay safe and keep well!