Corona is frightening – here’s how to avoid freaking out

Yeah, I can’t lie, I’ve been stressed about Corona too. As I type this on Saturday morning, 103,739 people have the disease and 3,522 have died. By the time you read this, sadly, both of those numbers will have increased.

Corona is obviously having major ramifications on the world economy, and economists have noted that the potential for this disease to harm our wallets is extremely high. The federal government isn’t exactly doing a bang-up job of instilling confidence in their ability to fight back against this disease, with the President and his staff regularly boasting that the disease is contained when we know that just isn’t true.

An objective look at the facts makes it very likely that the disease is only going to get worse. And, if you have a mental illness, this is likely enough to cause no shortage of panic or anxiety. I had a regularly scheduled appointment with my therapist the other day and asked him if Corona was coming up more often in sessions; he said yes, absolutely.

I certainly can’t blame anyone for being stressed about a potential worldwide pandemic. It is frightening, and even more so if you have a health condition that may make you more prone to becoming ill. That being said, I think that it is important that we keep the coronavirus in perspective and avoid treating it like a death sentence. There are some things we can do to maintain our mental health during this outbreak. Here’s a look.

Focus on what you CAN do

Anxiety – at least to me – is largely about control. I always feel most anxious in situations where I am somehow powerless or helpless, and I know that this is a relatively common theme. Corona is so frightening precisely because it seems as if you have so little control.

Look, that’s not exactly true. There are some things – many things – you can do right now. As noted by governmental officials, you should be:

  • Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands for 2 minutes and multiple times a day, avoid touching your face.
  • Don’t travel to areas with noted outbreaks.
  • Stock up on your emergency kits in the event that there is a disruption of day to day activities.
  • Make plans for you and your family or work in the event that someone gets sick.
  • Research the Coronavirus for symptoms. They appear to be flu-like symptoms.
  • Only get your news from reputable sources. Read something on Twitter? Don’t believe it unless you can confirm it.

And once you do that: Stop. You’re okay. If you are doing everything you can to prevent Corona…well, good! You got this.

Recognize that anxiety has a use

This Lifehacker article on the subject absolutely nails it: Anxiety serves an evolutionary purpose. Yes, anxiety disorders are clearly not helpful, but remember, the purpose of anxiety is to keep you on your toes for any perceived threat. A bit of anxiety over a global pandemic is not a bad thing! It helps ensure that you are keeping informed of developments about the virus and that you don’t take this disorder too lightly.

When you’re feeling anxious, don’t try to suppress it. Try to logic your way through it. Ask yourself:

  • What is the threat? Is there any immediate threat?
  • Are you doing what you can to prevent and prepare for Corona?
  • What do the authorities recommend that you do right now?
  • Do you have an emergency plan?

If you’ve answered these questions satisfactorily, then you’re probably more prepared than the vast majority of society to deal with Corona. Congrats!

Limit your news intake

Throw CNN and Foxnews out the window.

Okay, don’t do that. But remember, the purpose of many news stations isn’t just to keep you informed. It’s to panic you so you need to constantly be turning the news on. These guys profit off of your fear, and yes, they have their use, but don’t sit there, staring at CNN, waiting for the next BREAKING NEWS ALERT (“Wolf Blitzer is coughing, what does this mean!?!?!”). Watch the news at regular intervals, certainly. Stay informed. But at some point, turn the damn TV off.

Of course, there are more tips, and I’d love to hear whatever your recommendations are for staying calm during a viral outbreak. Any tips you want to share with us? Leave them in the comments below!


Depression, Parkland and its affect on us all

Like many of you – okay, probably all of you – the events of at Majority Stoneman Douglas High School earlier this month took my breath away.  There’s simply no other way to say it.  Watching those children weep, their parents weep, their families in anguish – you have to be born without an empathetic bone in your body not to feel their pain and be willing to do almost anything to ease the suffering of those affected.

I’d argue I spent a good two days feeling depressed, having struggle concentrating, and with an enhanced sense of anxiety.  I have a six and a five year old, and every time I drop them off at school, that thought is always in the back of my head.

Please understand, of course, that I don’t want discuss Parkland from the perspective of “Oh, poor little me, so sad.”  I’m using the recent tragedy in Florida to discuss a much broader issue and how it affects people with mental health challenges to begin with.  Again, I come back to The Lost Connections, the book that I read a few weeks ago and reviewed in a recent blog entry.

One of the central points of the book was this: We live in a sick world, where we are bombarded with threats on a daily basis.  And, watching Parkland, I was reminded of the accuracy of this theory.  As noted by Dr. Graham Davey in this Huffington post article:

“Negative news can significantly change an individual’s mood — especially if there is a tendency in the news broadcasts to emphasize suffering and also the emotional components of the story. In particular… negative news can affect your own personal worries. Viewing negative news means that you’re likely to see your own personal worries as more threatening and severe, and when you do start worrying about them, you’re more likely to find your worry difficult to control and more distressing than it would normally be.”

The article goes on to note that negative news DOES make us more depressed, leads to more negativity towards the environment in general, and in extreme cases, can lead to PTSD-like symptoms.

Sort of related observation here: Don’t you feel better when you put your phone down and pull away from the world?  And, is that the answer?

No, it can’t be.  Painful as this planet can be sometimes, pulling away from it cannot be the way that we cope with it, at least in the long-term.  I refuse to believe that, because if that’s what happens, this world will collapse.  But, limiting our exposure has to be a necessary thing sometimes.  And that leads me to my next observation: Sometimes, it’s okay to put your phone down, put the TV down, and read a book.  Play video games.  Stare out the damn window.  Honestly, what you do is irrelevant – but what IS relevant is that you do take time for yourself and away from the world.

I’d also say this: The world gets scary when we feel powerless.  So, don’t view world events from that perspective.  If you truly feel powerless, reassert your power. Find an issue you care about, and attack it.  Make the world a better place by pledging to make a difference on a small problem.  In the case of the tragedy at Parkland, it can be something small, like writing your legislator and asking for gun control, or something large, like organizing a group dedicated to making a difference.

Whatever you do, reassert your power; as a state legislator, that’s been part of how I cope with the world today.  We are not lemmings on this world.  We aren’t sheep to be lead to the slaughter.  This is our world, dammit, and the best way to make it a better place is to shape it to be the place you want it to be.