As of just a few days ago, the United States became the country with the most confirmed cases of the Coronavirus. More than China, more than Italy, yet somehow, not enough to even come close to the peak of this crisis.
And a crisis this is.
Whether it’s from the lack of personal protective equipment in our hospitals, the rising numbers of confirmed cases in our own backyards, the fact that we’re now confined to our homes for an indefinite period of time - or all of the above - tensions are at an all time high for everyone. In fact, our anxiety over this situation has jokingly become the “great equalizer” for all of us from sea to shining sea.
And while that may be true, it certainly isn’t funny.
Sure, there are things you can do to minimize your stress, like avoiding the news just before bedtime and agreeing to stop talking about the crisis at the dinner table. But just as you shut off that television or shut down a conversation, your mind will inevitably race with questions like,
What will happen next?
When will this end?
Will someone I know die?
Who will take care of my family if this happens to me?
Sounds familiar, right? Like I said, the great equalizer.
As I was lying awake in bed last night, heart racing from the news report I made the mistake of watching just before kissing my husband good night, I thought of the few faces I had seen on my grocery store run that day. The ones with the same blank expression, eyes filled with fear, and a furrowed brow, could sum up the “look” of March 2020 - and that’s when it hit me:
I realized that the ‘survival mode’ we’ve all been operating in does not just apply to our physical health. It’s our emotional health that will most definitely suffer the greatest toll, regardless of whether or not the Coronavirus enters your home. We must not lose sight of how emotionally well we must be in order to weather this storm.
This CDC article points out that fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Even stronger in those with preexisting mental illness (hello, anxiety), and poses a huge risk to those struggling with or overcoming substance abuse issues. Not to mention, domestic violence issues are rising as a result of the anxiety, and what’s worse is many of the victims have nowhere to go to be able to leave a potentially dangerous situation.
Renowned Psychotherapist and Author, Dr. Ilene Cohen Ph.D, writes in her new anxiety self-help book, Anxious for Answers, “When we’re anxious, we’re liable to make some very erratic and unhealthy choices. A school of fish beautifully synchronizes in swift movement away from a threat, but we aren’t so graceful. We tend to make things worse with our anxiously driven natural reactions.”
Some of these anxiously driven nervous reactions include:
Heightened reactivity to threat uncertainty
Catastrophizing situations or creating “what if” issues that have not happened
The fix? Well, in reality, everyone works through their negative emotions differently and there is no one way to fix anxiety and emotional distress in such a stressful time. Basically, none of us are safe from the emotional toll that this crisis takes on our lives, but all of us are able to find ways to cope. Here’s how:
It may sound cliche, but staying present and mindful really is the only way to make it through this without losing control of your emotions. Reminding yourself each morning that even though you may have bills you’re falling behind on/kids that need homeschooling/an ill parent whom you can’t visit/and a list of issues that could fill this page, you are, in other ways, lucky.
Take breaks from news and social media. Putting your phone down or powering off your laptop won’t cause you to miss anything, but will result in your brain’s ability to power off and shut out the ugly noise of the outside world for a bit. This is critical if you’re working towards not drowning in the facts or uncertainties of this crisis. Oh, and while you’re powered down…
Don’t shoot the messenger, but you must stay active. Remember that scene in Legally Blonde, where the bubbly, blonde Elle Woods boldly wins her first murder trial in court by announcing,
“Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don't kill their husbands, they just don't.” Well, she was right. Flooding your body with endorphins is critical right now, while remaining sedentary will only sink you deeper into your sadness or worry. A brisk walk, a virtual workout, or a run around the backyard with your kids is enough - so long as you make a point of doing this every day.
Do not isolate yourself. Yes, anxiety can very often feel like too many uninvited houseguests piled on your couch alongside you, and the thought of calling a friend or family member may exhaust you. But it’s important. Taking time to connect with others and share your frustrations or concerns can be therapeutic. Make it a point to check in with those you care about and you’ll find some of the burden lifted off your shoulders each and every time.
The bottom line is, you can’t pour from an empty cup. You can’t make it through this storm without emotionally protecting yourself. You can’t go into battle without the right tools to make it through.
When the going gets tough, remember, to take things one day at a time, and check out these helpful resources that will keep you centered, calm, and committed to making it out of this crisis with your head on straight: