Supporting yourself against fear and anxiety around the Corona Virus
The Pandemic of Fear
We are living in interesting times. The initial outbreak of the Corona Virus has gone in a few months from a local virus outbreak in China to becoming a global pandemic, with thousands infected across the globe and as of writing, Europe now as the centre of the pandemic. It has been hard to keep up with the pace of events, I have had to rewrite this article several times for it to be relevant.
As the Corona virus has spread another unseen epidemic has also spread, one of anxiety and fear with just as much speed globally.
The anxiety and fear can be seen manifesting in the panic buying of food and toilet paper by many across the UK despite the assurances of government officials and industry that there is no need to stockpile. On global stock exchanges the markets have suffered the biggest losses since the Financial Crash of 2008 as a result of the fear from the virus and the impact measures to contain it will have on doing business.
Many people are clearly feeling very high levels of anxiety and concern about not only the virus but also about the measures or lack of that have been put in place to slow and delay it and from also seeing the behaviour of others such as panic buying food and other household items.
We are social animals, and fear and panic are particularly infectious emotions. This is because in the past they have served very well at keeping us alive. In particular they served a high survival function when we lived in earlier hunter-gatherer societies which has been the norm for most of human existence; “civilisation” is pretty new. We also learn and react to each other on a very deep and unconscious level based on what others are doing around us; if a large crowd of people came running and screaming in fear down a road we would be very likely to join in and run with them.
Now back in the 21st century, we are threatened not by beasts or other tribes of humans but by microscopic viruses and economic uncertainty that we cannot run, fight or freeze from. We still feel those emotions of anxiety, fear and panic but if we react blindly to them we often make decisions that usually are not good for us either as individuals or as a collective species.
You might be feeling anxious or concerned right now and looking for something to stop you feeling this way or assurance that everything will be fine. I think in these circumstances it is understandable why you would be feeling this way and it would be disingenuous for me to say that everything is going to be fine or that what you are feeling is wrong and you should just calm down. This situation is serious, and at least in the UK, unprecedented in living memory.
However, despite what we are feeling, we always have a responsibility to manage our emotions. We always have a choice about what we do in relation to our emotions; we have an ability to choose how to respond. We can feel our fear and still act in a manner that is of our choosing and not dictated to by fear. This is not easy to do and it can take courage but we always have that choice and I feel it is important for us to know and remember that in these times to avoid the danger of falling into panic.
How can we support ourselves through these times?
Part of my work as a counsellor is to help people learn how to deal with difficult feelings and emotions more successfully than they might be doing at present. We talk about this as self support. I think one of the things that is frightening about the current situation is the feeling that things are largely out of our direct control and that there is little we can do to affect things. In many respects especially in regards to the spread and state level actions being taken to counter the virus this is true but we still have some choices that can help us through this time:
Limit the amount of time you spend reading about the Corona virus and on social media and the news
It's important to keep up to date with what's going on and to not be oblivious to things. However after a certain point constantly reading about and/or listening to news or social media posts on Corona Virus will not serve any beneficial function to you and most likely just feed your anxiety. One way to deal with this would be to only check the news twice a day and set that for a fixed period of time.
Connect with your friends and family
Social connection, laughter and kindness are so important in these times for grounding ourselves. Self isolating poses a risk on its own to many people’s mental health. However unlike other eras we can still connect with one another via phone and via the internet so be sure to connect with others and to also think of those that might find it harder to reach out and ask for help.
Find creative ways to keep yourself occupied if you need to self isolate
Difficult emotions can be felt when spending a lot of time alone, this is normal. If you find it difficult sitting with them try distracting your mind through healthy outlets such as reading, doing some art, writing something or fixing things around your house. Remember all those things you have been putting off? This is a great time to start working through them.
Find ways you can help those in need
Paradoxically one of the ways we can help support ourselves through difficult times is also by realising that we are not alone in this. We are all in this together and by helping others it can help us find meaning and purpose in a world that is increasing catering to our desire for pleasure rather than giving us a source of meaning. Practically this may become difficult if we go into a state of complete lockdown but there are always ways we can help others such as sharing what we don't need, listening to people who need someone to talk to, supporting local businesses through these difficult times, not buying excessively at shops items that might be needed more by other people.
Notice and accept when you are feeling fearful or panicked
Part of the danger of fear and panic is that it can take a hold of us very quickly when we don't recognise it for what it is. Recognising what is going on for us emotionally helps us have more choice in how we respond to our emotions rather than reacting to them.
It can be difficult to recognise difficult emotions as much of the time we avoid feeling them through a variety of means such as deflecting away from them through humour, distracting ourselves through other means and even desensitising ourselves to them. These can all be helpful ways of managing our emotions at certain times but all come at the price of us not being fully aware of how we truly are.
If you are feeling anxious or fear, recognising the feeling in yourself will reduce your reactivity to it. Even just saying out loud or in your head, “right now I’m feeling anxious” or “right not I'm experiencing fear” will reduce its hold over you. Breathe deeply and slowly and connect to your body and any felt sensations such as the floor beneath you as a way to ground you. Remember that it is okay to feel any emotion and the emotion does not mean that you need to do anything or act in any way once you are aware of it. You always have a choice and it's okay to feel what you are feeling, even if it doesn't feel okay.
Trust in science
There is a lot of misinformation, conspiracy theories and general nonsense going around about the Corona Virus. Check the sources for statistics and facts. Make sure they are verifiable: avoid information and spreading information that is not scientifically based.
We will get through this
Earlier in this article I wrote that I don't want to say that everything is going to be alright and to give false hope. This pandemic is very serious and there will most likely be a significant loss of life. But equally I think part of being realistic rather than being pessimistic is recognising the risk we face and proportionately responding to it.
This is not the end of humanity. Humanity is incredibly resilient. Throughout our collective history we have been through worse trials and tribulations than the Corona Virus. We have as a species endured wars, famine, plagues and other man-made and natural disasters. We have more technology and scientific understanding of diseases, viruses, how they spread and how to fight them now than at any time in our history. This is not the Ebola virus, this is not the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 and this is not the Black Death of the 14th Century. The science on this is very clear.
We will get through this.
Currently I am offering counselling sessions face to face, over the phone and online using Zoom. If you are interested in finding out more about counselling or booking an initial counselling session email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call or text me on 07480 441993.