I’m going to level with you right away in this post. I’ve been really scared this week. The rapid spread of Coronavirus (Covid19), a pandemic disease that has the potential to kill, and the escalation of measures to control it has left me – and I imagine many of you – confused and fearful. It got so bad over the weekend that I couldn’t sleep, and bad enough yesterday that I drank more wine than usual, and woke up with middle of the night panic. So today I’ve decided enough is enough. There is no way I can respond safely and appropriately to the risk if inside my head I’m screaming “please let it be a film!” and “Do I need to panic buy water for when the zombies come?” (Don’t rush out and buy water now. The water is going to be fine.
10 Ways to Calm Coronavirus Panic
I can’t cope if I don’t have perspective, and that’s what’s lacking in this situation. Most of us have no idea what’s going to happen, because we’ve never been through this before. But I know from feedback on my mental health podcast that hearing from someone who has been through something similar to us is very cathartic, and helps us to view problems with a more rational eye. So this morning I spoke to a number of people who have been through things like SARS, and Swine Flu, to get their advice on how to stay calm and stop drinking all the wine.
Try not to follow the herd.
This morning I set my alarm for 5.30am so I could get to the biggest Sainsburys I know for 6am, when it opened. It was pointless. The shelves were still empty from the night before, and all I did was add to my melancholy over exactly how much panic-buying has been done in the UK. My advice is to stay local. Buy what you need, plus one more packet of everything every time you shop. Hoarding might make you feel more in control, but there’s only so much pasta a person can eat, and the empty shelves just add to the sense that the world is going to end. I will take bets that it absolutely won’t, and that a lot of people will be left with a lot of out of date food products.
Step up and help
Empowerment is a funny thing. It makes you feel like you’re in control, even when you’re not, and that all helps to create a peace of mind that will allow you to respond to unfolding events without anxiety. The happiest people I’m seeing right now are those who have set up groups to offer practical help to neighbours and friends who are struggling. Can you offer to do online shopping for elderly neighbours who don’t know a mouse from a usb port? Or Face-Time someone who is self-isolating and needs a virtual cuppa and a hug? I guarantee you’ll feel stronger and more able to cope if you’re at the centre of community action like this.
Don’t pretend it’s not real
Ignoring advice and assuming it’s a fuss over nothing is never a good plan. Aside from being potentially dangerous to you and others, it also does nothing to deal with your worries when they do eventually surface. Chat about coronavirus is unavoidable, so you will have worries under the surface. They will eat away at you when you least expect it – probably when you’re trying to sleep, because everything is worse at 3am, right? If you acknowledge what’s on your mind, you can look at the facts, and decide how to feel about them in a rational way, which helps you to feel prepared.
Think about what you can control, not what you can’t
It’s possibly one of the hardest facts to get your head around, but anything that’s beyond your control isn’t worth worrying about. If you can’t actually influence an outcome, there’s no point spending emotional energy visualising it and taking on the pain of it. I spoke with Luana, whose baby had Swine Flu when she was very young about how she was dealing with this new pandemic:
“How am I dealing with it? I’m calm. And I’m taking precautions. When my baby girl had swine flu, I was with her in quarantine and it was scary. She was so tiny and so incredibly sick. What she needed was an energy of strength and calmness around her. There was only so much I could do and panicking wouldn’t have changed a thing. Thankfully, after 14 days in quarantine, she was fighting fit!”
Luana says it’s the unknown that’s causing us to imagine the worst case scenario, when the truth is that for the majority, there is a way through, and we should keep that in mind as much as possible.
For now here are some small things I’m doing that make me feel like I have some control:
- Planning healthy meals – I figure if I have everyone at home I can influence what they eat, so I’m making sure there’s plenty of fruit and veg in their meals, and that they’re hydrating well
- Getting outside for exercise and including the kids. I’m doing Couch to 5k – it’s easier than I imagined, and the kids can get involved, learning a new sport that will keep them fit during this time, and maybe continue beyond
- Sticking to a routine. Okay so I feel like if the kids want to lie in for an hour that’s a perk of the situation. But my alarm is still set for 7, and I’m getting the kids up at 8. Otherwise we’ll skip breakfast, snack all day, and eat so many crisps in the afternoon that no one will fancy dinner. And then where would we be when illness hits?!
- Keeping the house clean and tidy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to start following cleaning Instagrammers, but keeping on top of the mayhem has always made me feel more in control. And whilst I hate housework, I feel much calmer once it’s done, so for me it’s worth the work.
- My work routines: I have specific days when I do particular things, like invoicing, or scheduling Facebook posts. So again, I’m sticking with that, because it makes me feel like there’s structure to my life, even when life is void of any framework right now!
Stay off social media
We need to stay up to date with the news, of course, but what I’m seeing in general is a complete obsession with news apps and Twitter feeds. This leads to a loss of perspective on other things that are happening in your life, and can make you feel like the only thing that matters is the effects of the pandemic. In fact, the opposite is true; right now is when everything in your life matters more than ever. I’ve seen families self-isolating saying that for them right now the most important thing is being with their kids and close family, spending time with people they love, and giving them reassurance that life goes on as normal as much as possible.
My advice is to pick a reliable news app and check it two or three times a day. Beyond that, if you’re challenged by anxiety, stay away from the news.
Put your anxiety to good use
Luana says that the anxiety we feel is simply heightened energy that we can put to good use by pulling together as a community and helping each other out. Sharon Lawton, a parenting and families coach, agrees. She told me on a recent podcast episode about exam stress that anxiety gives us the acuity we need to really focus and produce our best results during important exams. The same is true of any anxiety, and it’s no surprise to either Luana or Sharon that some incredible business ideas are coming out of this difficult situation. I’ve seen so many small businesses who are threatened by the economic disruption of the coronavirus diverting their usual practices to new ones that will sustain their business going forward – all because they’re being forced to think outside the box to stay afloat. I have no doubt that once the dust settles, schools and businesses will all have adopted new strategies that work better for them than the ones they had before!
Try not to judge others for their actions
It’s not easy when we’re on edge and angry about the effect on ourselves of other people’s actions, but getting caught up in complaining about what other people are doing doesn’t help us. It just fuels the stress in our minds, and makes us focus more on catastrophising the situation than on managing it. This is the one I’ve found hardest, and at one point I was actively seeking out images online of trashed supermarket aisles so that I could stare incredulous at my screen. It didn’t serve me at all. This is another example of where stepping away from social media will help. Some things you do need to know – others you’re better of being oblivious!
Practice techniques for calming stress
Inevitably there will be times when worry gets the better of us. It’s normal. But Sharon says that all of us have the capacity to reduce our emotional stress levels by focusing on our physical sensations. She posts regular stress management techniques in short videos on her Facebook Page, like this breath calming practice.
Stick to a routine
If your kids are off school, or you’re self-isolating, it can be tempting to relax into late starts and Netflix, especially if you’re not able to work. But this inevitably leads to a day without punctuation, which can make you feel despondent by the end of the day. Instead, set your alarm for a normal time, and make sure you have all the meals you normally would at your usual times. If you don’t normally watch Drag Race until the evening, leave it till then. Try to fill your day with productive pursuits, even if you have no actual work. There are plenty of online learning resources for kids and adults alike, or you could watch a documentary, do a jigsaw puzzle, or play a board game. Just try not to fall into the trap of roaming from screen to screen, and snacking on junk food, or you’ll feel worse than ever.
As well as a normal routine, find a way to do some exercise. Being outdoors isn’t problematic if you’re in a wide open space and avoid contact with others (unless you’re self-isolating with the virus). Or there are plenty of free exercise routines online you could try. If you have young children a trampoline challenge is a good way to get them to exercise, or have a kickaround in the garden. I’ve picked this particular pandemic to make my kids do the Couch to 5k programme with me. They groan, but everyone feels lots better once we’ve done it, and it fills a section of the day with something that feels productive.
All of these things have made me feel more able to cope after an initial panic. It’s true that life will look quite different for a while, but it’s also true that after every shocking event the world carries on, and so it will this time.
There are some more tips on managing anxiety during a health pandemic in this post on Young Minds.
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