We are going through a period where our lives resemble a sci-fi movie. The Coronavirus outbreak has been changing our daily habits day by day. Whereas, a few months ago, the epidemic seemed like a distant matter in China, it now turned into a pandemic, causing schools and businesses to shot down, cancelling concerts and postponing gatherings.
During this time, the psychological pressure and anxiety of dealing with these immense life changes may feel much more exhausting than the virus itself. We need to remember that, our emotions are contagious as well; we are influenced by other people’s feelings much easier than we realize. Our visits to the supermarket, the tense atmosphere at the banks where each person is invited inside one by one by a masked security guard or social media posts showing the pictures of patients can cause feelings of stress and anxiety, which in turn can result in mass anxiety.
The reason causing us to stock-up on groceries, buy toilet paper and pasta in bulk are our instincts that are trying to save us against the life-threatening events. In his book ‘The Chimp Paradox’, Prof. Steve Peters mentions that we are equipped by two different brains; one is our primal brain controlled by instincts and impulses and the other is our analytical brain making rational decisions. At times like pandemics, outbreaks or natural disasters our primal brain is activated and we respond by fighting, running away or freezing.
So how does this affect our current situation?
In a world of consumerism and abundance of products, we are appalled by the thought of sudden scarcity and death. Hence, our primal brain activates our survival instincts to stay alive which also causes feelings of anxiety. On our social media accounts, we come across with people posting 24/7 about their opinions. There is an overwhelming information flow from the TV channels. We are receiving bad news about the economy and this just adds the fuel to this fire.
A research conducted by Dr. Cohen Silver (2020) states that, the lack of control in situations could cause feelings of worry, especially in unpredictable situations. Therefore, in times of uncertainty, when regular places like gyms are closing down, cafés and restaurants are no longer operating, the feeling of incompetence and helplessness might increase.
We all have certain ways to cope with our anxiety. However, sometimes these defence mechanisms can prevent us from managing our fears instead of helping you eliminate them. For instance, constantly scrolling though social media, suppressing our feelings of worry down and not talking about our emotions are unhealthy ways to overcome your problems. Garfin, Thompson & Holman (2018) state that, the earlier we deal with our issues the more it will develop our well-being, psychology and general health.
Another factor is the paradox of continuing relationships and being isolated. During the times of quarantine, when you are unable to leave home, it is at utmost importance to keep our social connections and have social support from our family and friends. Here, technology is a helpful way to stay in-touch with our loved ones via video calls, telephone calls or messages. This helps us feel connected, decreases feelings of loneliness and makes us feel as we are part of a group. This is especially important for the people who live alone. Lonely people are more prone to feel depressed and may especially suffer from being isolated from their outside environment. A research shows that, in the past with experiences like natural disasters, lonely people or those without social support lived shorter because they did not know where to ask for the necessary help.
Another way to cope with unpredictability is to set a routine. Despite all the uncertainty, having to set up a daily schedule can make us feel in control of ourselves. Having a routine will additionally lower you stress levels and help you organize your sleeping patterns (Dautovich et al., 2016 ; Brooks et al., 2016).
Here is a short list of the things we can do to cope with anxiety, stress, and unpredictability:
Create a daily routine: At times of uncertainty, gaining control of your day by creating a daily program, making a to-do list and having a morning routine can make you feel better and productive.
Social support and staying in touch: Keeping contact with your loved ones, friends and family is very important in terms of having a support system during these difficult times. After all, we are social animals at the end of the day and thus, want to belong to a certain group.
Find ways to let your emotions out: This can be writing down your feelings, thoughts or keeping a journal, making music, drawing, painting etc.
Exercise and get fresh air: Work out at least 20 minutes a day and make time to get fresh air even if you are just on the balcony or look outside from your window.
Meditation and breathing exercises: Just a few minutes of breathing exercises or daily meditations can make you feel more content and reduce your anxiety and stress level.
Limit your time on Social Media and watching TV: Allocate your time better to follow up on the news on trusted social media accounts and TV channels, to keep yourself away from the unnecessary stress sources and information overload.
Self-development: Reading, learning to play an instrument, starting an online course, watching movies. Try to learn a new thing which might keep you motivated.
Bring your creative side to the front: You can create in different ways such as writing, making music, trying to cook new recipes. Creating will make you happy and give you a sense of purpose.
Keep a regular sleeping schedule: Sleeping an average of eight hours a day and having a regular sleeping pattern will boost the immune system and increase happiness (Besedovsky, Lange & Born, 2011).
Stocking up on groceries and toiletries might be important but let us also not forget that in societal matters like this, emotions and feelings are contagious as well. When you feel that everything is getting a bit too much and you start to feel anxious, try taking a deep breath, focus on what you feel and what kind of thoughts go through your mind at that exact moment. Keeping calm and surrounding yourself with people who can remain calm during the hardship is very important. The most effective way is to accept that we cannot change the current situation, but we have the choice to help each other and take the necessary precautions seriously.
Besedovsky, L., Lange, T., & Born, J. (2012). Sleep and immune function. Pflugers Archive, 121–137.
Brooks, A. W., Schroeder, J., Risen, J. L., Gino, F., & Galinsky, A. D. (2016). Don’t stop believing: Rituals improve performance by decreasing anxiety. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 71-85.
Dautovich, N. D., Schreiber, D., Tighe, C., Imel, J., Shoji, K., & McCrae, C. (2016). MORNING ROUTINES AND SLEEP ONSET. The Gerontologist, 316.
Garfin, D. R., Thompson, R. R., & Holman, E. A. (2018). Acute Stress and Subsequent Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 107-113.
Weir, K. (2020). Seven Crucial Research Findings That Can Help People Deal with COVID-19. Retrieved from American Psychological Association: https://www.apa.org/news/apa/2020/03/covid-19-research-findings