Coping with our fears in times of the coronavirus

For anyone suffering from feelings of isolation, depression or panic attacks, this is a particularly challenging time. It’s important to overcome our natural tendency to hunker down in times of crisis and support each other.

A great paradox of modern communication is that the better informed we are, the more likely we are to feel we are going through a traumatic event. In the past we would never have seen the pictures, nor heard the voices, of people crying at the airport because they can’t get home. The ugly fights over toilet paper in the supermarkets would have remained stories and anecdotes.

Even if you haven’t personally been to a store and found it’s been emptied by people trying to “prepare for the worst”, pictures circulating on social media give us the feeling “we were there, and it was bad!”

Our natural reaction to this is to be defensive and scared. And that’s when the voices in our heads go into overdrive, asking scary questions like, “Will I get attacked in the stores because someone else wants what I am buying? Am I a bad person for wanting to do all I can to prepare for my family by stocking up on supplies? And why doesn’t “someone” have everything under control?”

These fears are not unfounded, and fear in general, is not always a bad thing. But the way we react to it can be.

Home-office and school closures have robbed us of our daily routines – and although we often complain about office life and the school run, they are one of the things that give our lives structure. A structured life can keep us sane when things get tough, and right now, things are tougher than most of us have ever experienced.

We don’t know when the virus will arrive at our door, and we don’t even know if we’ll recognize when it has arrived. What’s more, no one can say for sure when government shut-downs and home-isolations will end. For most of us, this uncertainty is scarier than anything else.

So what can we do?

Even if there is no one with you right now, it helps to remember you are not alone. We are in this together! So…

1). Reach out to others. Use all the great tools at our disposal and call, text, WhatsApp, Skype or write a blog. If you are in isolation, shout/sing out of the window to your neighbors. But don’t withdraw from the world!

2). Get moving! There are so many ways to move your body and kick-start your metabolism. They will strengthen your immune system and improve your general health. If you are stuck for ideas – just go online (warning – it’ll be next year by the time you finish trying out all the ideas on offer!)

3). Set a routine. Vegetating in bed in the morning sounds great when you normally get up at 6 am. But with home-office, many of us are being spared the dreaded commute and can loaf around at home in our pajamas. Get up, get dressed, put your face on (if that’s what you normally do) and make a list of what you are going to do today – and then do it!

4). Commit to routine contact with others. Whether you sign up for an online yoga class, agree to call a friend or family member every day at a certain time, or log in to a regular class on YouTube. Give yourself a structure – it will help!

5). If all else fails, reach out to a mental health advisor – because it’s not events or things themselves that make us unhappy, but the meaning we choose to give them.

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