Unless you have been living under a rock or a remote island (wouldn't that be nice!), you have probably been inundated by news about the coronavirus. Coronavirus (or Covid-19) is a new strain of an old virus, and unfortunately, we do not know as much as we would like to about the severity of this strand.
While uncertainty about the virus is naturally a source of anxiety for many, panic is not the answer.
Why are we feeling panicked?
Fear and anxiety are a natural and useful response. It lets us identify perceived threats and prepare ourselves for said threats. However, concern can often rule out level-headed logical thinking, and we go beyond reasonable caution and preparation. This flawed judgment takes over, leading to irrational thinking such as, "I have the virus"; "Everyone is going to be sick," "I am going to die." Three main reasons that many people are currently experiencing panic are the unknown, the barrage of the media, and lack of control.
The Unknown is Scary.
Often, when we think about the future, we can see a specific picture with a sense of certainty. The coronavirus is full of ambiguity. We do not have a clear picture or understanding of how it acts, how we will respond, and how it will impact our daily lives. Things keep changing day to day, minute to minute, and this can create additional anxiety. Because we do not have a clear picture of the future, we feel as though we cannot prepare ourselves and create a plan on how to handle things. When we have this uncertainty, we tend to create a worst-case scenario to fill the gap.
Media/social media is EVERYWHERE. Literally, everywhere. It's on TV. We get alerts for breaking news. We get texts from friends and coworkers. We mindlessly scroll through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat for hours. We are unable to escape it, and even if we do not feel noticeably overwhelmed by it now, we take in the information, and over time, it activates our fear. The conflicting statements, false information, and random opinions are also being thrown in with the facts, which is creating confusion for everyone.
Furthermore, the non-stop media cycle surrounding Covid-19 reinforces our availability bias (the human tendency to give more importance to events or examples that we can easily recall). Being able to recall information more quickly, especially about a concerning topic, creates a hyper-vigilant state that becomes self-perpetuating. The more people notice, read, and hear about the virus, the more they interpret the information as threatening.
Lack of Control
One of the most overwhelming aspects for many is the lack of control surrounding the virus. When we experience this lack of control, we feel like we have nothing to ground ourselves. At the moment, people feel uncertainty over their jobs, trips, school closures, and even potential quarantine, all of which are important to our daily lives.
People are also feeling a lack of control over their finances, mainly due to the volatile market and cancellations occurring around the nation. Money has several different meanings for people, but for a vast majority, it is attached to a sense of security. It can be a stressor for many people, so the lack of control surrounding your money feels overwhelming.
So, what can you do:
While it is important to be informed, be sure to take a break from the news and social media. Take time to watch a movie, read a book, or do anything that brings you joy. Also, consider practicing meditation and mindfulness through apps such as Headspace or Insight Timer. There is substantial evidence that meditation and mindfulness reduce stress and anxiety.
IF you do feel inclined to stay informed, be sure to follow reliable and fact-based media, or be up to date with information from the WHO or CDC. If you're taking the necessary steps to protect yourself and stay informed, that's enough.
Check your perspective
While your concerns can feel overwhelming, it is important to fact check through your thoughts. While not minimizing the severity of the virus, it is helpful to look at statistics, facts, and figures from a logical lens. When we can connect with our logic, we can start to counteract our anxious thoughts. For example, the WHO is reporting the fatality rate of the virus at 3.7% (WHO, March 3, 2020), which seems overwhelming. And while it is a substantial number, there is the flip side, which is there is a 96.3% chance of surviving!
Control what you can control
One of the main ways that we can feel less anxious about things that are out of our control is by focusing on what we do have power over.
The number one thing that we have control over is ourselves. We have a considerable amount of control over our mindset, thoughts, and attitudes. We also have control over how we respond to others, the media, and fear in general. Even in response to the economy, we can create a sense of control. According to Arthur Strauss, CFP and VP of Strauss Financial Group, "now is not the time to panic and make irrational decisions that could potentially alter your financial goals for years to come. Having the discipline and sound mindset about the long-term picture could prove to be beneficial for those that don't let the short term "fear" in the market get to them. Also, be sure to consult with your financial advisor before making quick decisions."
There is no right or wrong way to feel about the COVID-19 virus. There is a need to be cautious and prepared. However, for your mental health and the health of those around you, it is essential for you to manage your fear and not allow it to spiral out of control. Take time to practice gratitude for the things that you have, reach out to those that might need it, and remember that the dust will settle. It always does.
Brittany Harp, MA LPC