By Jamie Criswell, MS, LMFT
It’s hard to avoid the headlines: “5 new cases reported in Wake county today”; “person with positive case traveled through RDU”. Everywhere you turn (even if you’re not looking), there is news of the widespread coronavirus COVID19. The fact that this particular strain of the virus is something the world has never seen, has led to a growing panic for most of us.
Facts not fear
Maybe you are hanging on every word of information, doing research and checking every news station for the next development.
It’s natural to want to gather all of the data, to learn as much as possible about something new; especially something that the human population has never dealt with. Anytime there is something new, there is a natural inclination to want to know more about it. When that new thing is something good (say the new iPhone or a movie) it creates excitement. However, when the new thing is something that can harm us it evokes a reaction of fear.
Flight or Fight
The initial response to a perceived threat against ourselves or our loved ones is a flight or fight response. We either decide (usually very quickly) to run and hide or to stay and prepare to fight or defend ourselves.
The response creates a surge of adrenaline and cortisone in our bodies to prepare us to respond quickly. Once we have responded and the threat is lessened or goes away, we begin to feel calmer.
What’s different about the flight or fight response that occurs from the coronavirus COVID 19 outbreak, is that it happens over and over again. Every time we see a notification on our phones, every new headline or news conference, every gif or meme reminding us that even entertainment serves as a reminder of a potential threat.
Even a trip down the toilet paper aisle can cause a flood of panic (“oh my gosh everyone’s out of toilet paper, I’m not prepared!”). The flight or fight response gets triggered repeatedly and sometimes the body can get stuck there and not return to baseline because the perceived threat hasn’t “gone away”.
This can cause intrusive thoughts, (“I’m going to catch coronavirus”), irrational fears (“I’m going to be stuck in my house for weeks and I’m going to run out of food, water, and toilet paper”), problems sleeping (waking up after falling asleep or difficulty falling asleep) and psychosomatic symptoms (headaches, GI trouble caused by anxiety and stress).
How to Manage the Fear
It’s important to be aware of the reality of what is going on in the world around us, especially if there are precautions and other things that we can take to protect ourselves and others. Trying to minimize anxiety or fear by avoiding it altogether is not helpful. But the other side of avoidance is panic, which is also not helpful.
So what can we do to deal with the fears and anxiety over the coronavirus, and still keep our sanity?
Here are a few tips that could help:
Tip 1: Stop Instructive thoughts
Recognize intrusive thoughts for what they are: your brain processing fear and exaggerating worst-case scenarios and stop them in their tracks. Then replace them with logical thoughts.
Intrusive thought: “I’m going to catch the coronavirus COVID 19”
Recognize the thought and acknowledge it: “I’m feeling fearful of the unknowns of this virus and am scared of what would happen if I or someone I care for were to get it”
Replace the thought: “I (or someone I care about) do not have any symptoms currently and have not traveled to a high-risk area. I am ok and will take precautions but will not panic”
Tip 2: Know the Facts:
Learn the facts about the virus, how it spreads, who is at highest risk and steps you can take to prevent it. If you are at low risk of either contracting COVID 19 or are at low risk of complications from it if you do contract it, this can help keep your thoughts grounded and your fear at a realistic level.
If your risk level (or a loved one’s risk level) is high due to age or pre-existing conditions, then your concerns about contracting the coronavirus are realistic and taking recommended steps to protect yourself and your loved ones can help to reduce your anxiety and prevent panic.
Knowledge can be good to help us understand something better and can help calm our fears because we gain a sense of being able to control the things that are in our control. This can be a positive step when that control is grounded in reality.
Tip 3: Be Prepared and Take Action
The problem is that the flight or fight response can make us go into overdrive thinking we need to prepare for the worst #coronapocalypse. And will leave us with enough pantry items and cleaning supplies to last a decade. Our attempt to gain control of something that feels out of control is a coping skill to reduce anxiety but is not a great one when taken to an extreme level. The problem with fear is that it’s often not grounded in reality and can quickly escalate to panic.
Instead of stockpiling all the things, take a deep breath and think through the items you truly need that can be helpful, and the things you can do to be prepared and protect yourself and others. These things are listed here by UNC and the CDC but to summarize; hand washing, avoiding close contact with people; no shaking hands; avoid traveling to places with high-risk levels.
Tip 4: Stay Grounded and Healthy
We know that the mind and body are interconnected. The flood of chemical responses your body gets when in flight or fight are meant to be temporary. When these are sustained over time it can make you feel bad; headaches, tiredness, agitation and put a strain on your immune system and overall well-being.
Taking steps to stay healthy both mentally and physically is always important but possibly even more so when faced with the current epidemic.
Ways to Stay Healthy During the Wake County Coronavirus Outbreak:
- Eat well: be mindful of your intake. Reduce sugar and too much caffeine(which increases anxiety). Lots of fruits and vegetables.
- Take care of your body and mind: exercise, go for a walk, spend time outdoors
- Connect with your people: talk to and engage with your friends, support groups, family, church, small groups
- Consider alternative treatments (we’ve linked some of our favorites in the Fuquay Varina and Raleigh areas): chiropractic care, massage therapy, counseling, acupuncture can all help your body and mind be at an optimal level of wellness
- Practice selfcare: yoga, volunteering, helping others, taking vitamins and supplements and using essential oils could also be helpful.
- Connecting to your Faith: Prayer and meditation help us stay grounded and put our faith in the God that is sovereign over it all.
Tip 5: Guard your mind from the continuous stream of information
Finally, after you have gathered the facts, prepared accordingly based on this knowledge and recommendations and are taking steps to prevent infection you might consider guarding your mind to help you stay calm. This may mean turning off notifications for breaking news stories, not watching certain programs or stations that are going to be reporting about the virus and being mindful about the material you are consuming. In his article Hysteria Drives Clicks, Joshua Becker over at Becoming minimalist breaks down the rationale behind the need to guard our minds and be intentional about the material that we consume.
Our Therapists Understand Fear and Foundations Family Therapy Is Here to Help!
We know the fear is real and can feel overwhelming, and we hope that some of the above tips will be helpful. If you find yourself unable to shake the fears or worries, we would be happy to talk with you. We want you to thrive in every season of life (even in one that contains the coronavirus COVID 19), so if you’re struggling with anxiety, fear or panic we’re here and ready to help. To begin counseling in Wake County, take these steps today:
- Contact our therapy practice
- Text or Call 919-285-4802
- Schedule Online Now
- Schedule an appointment with one of our Raleigh Therapists or Fuquay Varina Therapists.
- Work through your fears with a professional counselor and start thriving in the midst of the coronavirus chaos.
Other Counseling Services at Foundations Family Therapy
Our team of skilled counselors can support you with more than couples and marriage therapy. We also provide services for teen counseling, anxiety treatment, depression therapy, trauma and PTSD counseling, and christian counseling. We are here to help you and your family thrive in all areas of your life.