To be quite honest, at first, I felt very little worry or fear concerning the most recent Coronavirus outbreak. As news continued to spread, I blamed the overreactive media and reminded myself that it was miles away and unlikely to affect me. But once it hit Mississippi soil, that changed things “real fast”.
If you struggle with anxiety, then you know what I mean—the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that leaves you compulsively searching for those “it’s all hype” articles to make you feel better. Last night, I found myself perusing the internet for several hours just to see what the different experts have to say on the matter. And along the way, I was also privy to the opinions of the non-experts along with a wide variety of extreme reactions.
Then the questions started coming. “Should I really go buy several cans of corn and green beans since that’s the only canned vegetables Silas will eat?” “What if we get stuck here without allergy-friendly food for him?” “Should we cancel planned parties?” All the way to “Should we buy our own oxygen machine in case the hospitals are full and Silas (who has asthma) gets sick and doesn’t have access to oxygen?” I even googled “How to make your own liquid soap out of bar soap” and in fact ordered a supply of re-usable “unpaper” toilet paper.
So it’s safe to say that as a normally calm and level-headed psychotherapist, I went a bit over the edge last night! Then I woke up thinking of my clients. “If I had a restless night of questions and concerns, they must be in torment!”
Anxiety is a disorder that is provoked by ongoing stress and the tendency to go into “fight or flight” mode at every perceived emergency—real or imagined. A person with anxiety and panic disorder can feel fine one minute and the next have a sudden rush of physical feelings of fear—heart racing, tightness in chest, upset stomach, etc. All of these feelings then snowball because they are fed by fear of the feelings themselves. “Why am I feeling this way?” “When will this feeling stop?” “Will this ever go away?” It’s like throwing fuel on a fire to get caught up in such bewilderment and worry. All that to say—anxiety and panic are very real and often triggered by an overactive sympathetic nervous system that perceives danger or an emergency— even when there is no real danger or emergency.
So whether you have diagnosable anxiety or panic disorder or you simply have been finding yourself with that rush of ANY “fight or flight” feelings (heart racing, stomach upset, shaking, sweating, heart sinking feeling, shortness of breath, etc.) every time you watch the news or see a friend post the latest Coronavirus update, take heart and heed this advice.
1. STOP WATCHING THE NEWS
Just turn it off. Call it a fast or call it self care- whatever you must do. Stop right now. “But what if I miss important information?” Or “What if I turn it back on and find that things are much worse than before and that scares me even more?” you may ask. This leads to tip number two…
2. PHONE A FRIEND
Find two or three trusted friends who know your tendency toward worry and fear and ask them to filter information for you and trust them to be your resources. Talk to each of them and explain that you’re taking a break from the news and ask them to tell you anything you absolutely MUST KNOW regarding Covid-19/Coronavirus.
3. TAKE A BREAK FROM SOCIAL MEDIA
I could get on a soapbox here about our over-exposure to everyone else’s trauma and how our neurotransmitters respond to each event as if it is our own. Our brains have difficulty deciphering between our own emergencies and the emergencies of others. As a generation, we’ve seen more live horrific events than any ever before because of technology and now social media. I watched on TV as an enemy-manned plane literally hit the second tower and then watched it crumble in real time. We all experience some level of trauma by not only simply hearing the news but by seeing it happen. Our brains and bodies were made to handle what WE encounter on our life journey— yet we scroll through social media voraciously taking in everyone else’s stuff. It’s a hotbed for trauma and emergencies. I’ve even had clients come in in tears over articles they’ve read about people suffering—people they don’t even know. This leads me to number four…
4. FOCUS ON YOUR PEOPLE AND YOUR WORLD
Of course, certainly pray for others. Be aware and mindful. Be willing to help when you’re gifted and equipped to help. But for now, hunker down with your crew and enjoy the calm and beauty you are experiencing right in front of you right now. If your friends and family and children are all ok right now, soak it in and weigh down these good times by naming them and resting in them right now. And speaking of right now…
5. TUNE IN TO “RIGHT NOW”
Fight hard to avoid the “what if’s”. We weren’t made to handle what “may happen” in the future—whether it’s two weeks or two years from now. But we have been given or will be given everything we need to handle today. The person you will be in three weeks is different from who you are today. “I can’t imagine what I would do if this or that happens…” The good news is that between now and that imaginary future event, you’ll be changing and growing and gathering resources. And you will have everything you need in that moment—difficult as it may be—to handle what you experience. But worrying about it now doesn’t do much to prepare you. Worry is a trickster. We think that worry can either A. Prevent the dreaded event from happening or B. Somehow prepare us for it if we mentally rehearse enough. These things just aren’t true. Worry steals our joy in the moment. Do not borrow trouble from tomorrow. Also don’t borrow it from other people…
6. DO NOT OVER-GENERALIZE OR TAKE ON THE EXPERIENCES OF OTHERS
When you hear of stories of people with Coronavirus, do not extrapolate and apply their situations to your own. Even if a healthy, fit 40 year old dies in Montana, it does not mean that if you catch it you will certainly face impending doom. We can not live in the realm of “it could happen”. We must choose to live in what is likely and rational. You can even tell yourself “it is not likely that I will die from this”. Fight to live in a settled and sober mind by dwelling on what is real, likely, rational and positive.
7. USE HEALTHY COPING SKILLS WHEN YOU DO FEEL ANXIOUS
I’m going to be completely honest with you. I think we have some God-given coping mechanisms that get a bad rap—one of which is denial. Denial can indeed be unhelpful and even dangerous at times. But it’s also a marvelous tool in other times such as public panic and hysteria. For example— a little bit of “that will never happen to me” can go a long way to helping you fall asleep at night and put your mind at rest. It’s just another way to choose to put off worrying about the “what if’s”. Another helpful tool is using a “wheel of awareness” to bring back all the thoughts and awareness of everything that is good and beautiful in your present life. Draw a wheel with points on the spokes of all the things happening in your life— making sure to note the positive things. It could also be helpful to journal or make a gratitude list. Choosing to think on things that are lovely and good and true while capturing and combatting negative thoughts and fears can be pretty powerful. Sometimes it may be helpful to tell yourself “nothing has changed in my personal living situation” to remind yourself this is a global issue and not currently a personal issue. Live in the present. Deal with what is real. Of course, take the advice of professionals to flatten this curve and protect yourself and others, but urgent actions do not have to be paired with an unsettled spirit. We can be urgent and intentional, serious and concerned, but anxiety and panic and fear don’t get to wreck and rule us.
8. BUILD A FOUNDATION FOR OVERALL HEALTH
Take care of your physical, mental and emotional health as always by exercising, eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, drinking lots of water, getting plenty of sleep, getting plenty of sleep, and getting plenty of sleep. Sleep and rest allow our brains to recover. Anxiety is a sleep-stealer. So set yourself up for a good night’s sleep by limiting caffeine later in the day, avoiding suspenseful or heart-stopping television shows or movies, setting the tone for bed-time by limiting overhead lights and blue-light exposure from screens, and doing some relaxation techniques like breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or imagery. If you find your mind going to the worry or fear of the current pandemic, try to picture yourself safe and relaxed on a sunset beach somewhere as you drift off to sleep. “Going to another place” may be a temporary but nonetheless useful tool to get your mind and body to relax. There are some handy relaxation apps like “Calm” available that lead you through guided relaxation. Don’t hesitate to use them if sleep evades you.
9. START SOMETHING NEW
The space you once filled with watching the news or scrolling social media will be vacant. Fill it with a new hobby or interest. For example, instead of reading yahoo news articles, get on Pinterest and research recipes or crafting or homesteading. Or learn how to play golf. Buy one club and a pack of balls and go to a driving range. If you’ve ever thought of learning how to play the guitar or the piano or to make preserves or raise honeybees, now is a good time to start! Get into that kind of research, and simply…
10. KEEP ON LIVING
Cook and eat good food and tell jokes and read good books and ride your motorcycle or your minivan with the windows down and music loud. Buy some fresh flowers, lift some weights, plant some bulbs, build a bookshelf if you’re handy, play board games with your kids or your friends, throw the ball in the yard. Light up the grill, breathe in fresh air, work hard, be kind and mindful of others, and keep on living. Keep a balance of discipline, joy, rest, and connection. We have not been promised ease or comfort in this life, but most of us have had an abundance of it. With God’s help, we can do hard things. We can make it through this. Let this make you all the more thankful for the ones you love, for good health you may have always had, and for your current life situation. And just keep on living.
Anxiety Related Scripture References
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
1 John 4:18
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life. 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
2 Corinthians 10:5
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:
3 Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;
4 Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;
In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.