If you are not already in a region where the novel coronavirus has appeared, be rest assured it will; and no amount of counter information that if you are not very old or not a child, you are not susceptible; or that the hot months are coming to make life miserable for the virus – will comfort you because these are unverifiable facts. What is a fact is that as of now science has no cure for the novel coronavirus. The only civil thing you can do is to quarantine yourself at home, if you are infected, and save your family and community from being similarly infected.
But what if you are not infected? Well, you could practice extreme hygiene, washing your hands with soap or an alcohol-based sanitiser every time you come in contact with a surface, object or even a person in public, not touch your facial orifices… and hope for the best.
Is that all? No, there is more, something proven to work since ancient times. Something that goes beyond the realm of science and modern medicine.
The news is never-ending and increasingly worrisome about COVID-19, or the coronavirus. Just reading the word, coronavirus, notice how your body feels. Tight? Contracted? Is your breathing high up in your chest? Is your throat constricted? Are worst-case scenarios playing out in technicolour in your head? If your response is somewhere between vague uneasiness and full-fledged panic, you are not alone.
Anxiety about health is often present, and increasingly so in this moment in time. Our brains have an innate negativity bias, focused on and drawn to the negative over the positive, which kicks our brain’s safety radar, the amygdala, into high gear. We worry about the known, the statistics rising worldwide and in our communities, as well as about the unknown. Is this sniffle just allergy or is it the virus? How will I financially support my family if I can’t go to work? Will my elderly or physically vulnerable loved ones be ok? How will I cope emotionally with weeks of social distancing?
Clarify your fear. When it comes down to it, fear is often amorphous. We may feel fear in our bodies, without being certain of the specifics of that fear. When our amygdala, the part of our brain that responds to threat with a fight, flight, or freeze response, is activated by a sense of fear, we lose access to the prefrontal cortex, or the part of our brain that can think rationally.
In light of this, what is our particular fear around the coronavirus? Is it that we will get sick ourselves? Or our children will get sick? Or our parents? Is it that we are losing access to our school, work, faith communities, vacation plans, social support systems? Is it that we will run out of food or water?
Getting specific about what it is that we fear will allow us to move into the next step — reality testing.
Get good information. Not too much, not too often, from the right sources. (And not before bed!)
We are surrounded by a constant barrage of information. The news thrives on sensationalism and fear. And we often live with the irrational belief that being informed gives us more control over what is unfolding.
At the same time, we do need to find reliable information in order to make wise decisions for ourselves and our families. These are scary times, with many peoples’ lives at risk and systems and resources stretched thin.
There are plenty of reliable sources for information on COVID-19 that are updated regularly. The Washington Post, the New York Times, the CDC and WHO, and other reliable news media outlets are much wiser choices for information gathering than Facebook or other social media platforms. Find one or two that you trust, and use it as your touch point, rather than doing a deep dive.
Sometimes, it’s too hard to sift through information for ourselves; we may notice that reading one article leads us clicking our way through many others, drowning us in a pit of anxiety-producing information overload. We can use some tactics to support ourselves in getting the right amount of information by asking a trusted other to be our conduit of news, or even by setting a timer on our phone before we start reading for five minutes, after which we stop reading news, no matter what. Another tactic is to use social media only to connect and uplift, and not to click on news links. And being thoughtful about when we gather information can also support us in reducing anxiety — try to avoid reading the news right before bed or first thing in the morning. Try using those times of transition to practice gratitude or mindfulness instead.
When we have accurate information, we can sift through our fears to find what is true. While those of us who are parents have a constant level of concern activated for our children, the reality is that, thankfully, children seem minimally affected by this virus. If we can release that fear, we can free up some emotional energy to focus on the things that are true: caring for older or vulnerable adults in our communities, practicing good hygiene and social distancing, planning for enough food, medicine, supplies to weather this period of time in our homes.
—The writer is an undergraduate student