Okay. Let’s talk Covid-19. The virus and the topic are both spreading fast and becoming impossible to ignore. I’m not going to address medical facts regarding the virus because I’m not a medical professional, but I have studied psychology around fear and I’d like to address that.
It’s normal and natural to feel scared. There’s currently no vaccine or preventative treatment, we don’t have a lot of information on how bad it is, and there’s a lot of hype in the media. That being said, while the spread of the virus is not fully in our control, we can control some of the anxiety surrounding the virus.
How To Deal with Fear in a Corona Virus World
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How to deal with your fear or anxiety
Even if you’re not someone who gravitates towards fear based thinking, all the hysteria we are surrounded by can create a general state of anxiety. Here are evidence based strategies that have been helpful for me when dealing with fear regarding Corona Virus.
1. Identify your fear trigger
Before you can deal with your fear, you first need to know what exactly you’re scared of. I know you’re probably thinking, “I’m scared of getting the virus, duh Lena!” but I have a feeling there’s a more nuanced reason than that. Take some time to really think about it and really identify what aspect is freaking you out the most.
Maybe Covid-19 is triggering your fear of losing a loved one? Maybe feeling powerless triggers a past trauma?
Having generalized health anxiety is not specific enough. It’s a valid anxiety to have, especially if you’ve struggled with health issues in the past or present. I just encourage you to get deeper.
You can’t deal with the symptoms of your fear until you know the source, which is why this is so important.
If you’re having a hard time identifying your specific fear trigger, here are two methods that may help:
Utilize an emotions wheel
Take a look at the emotions wheel below. The feelings in the very center of the wheel are basic emotions. There’s more there than meets the eye. Try identifying what your outer level emotion is. This is more detailed and specific.
Once you narrow that down, try asking yourself WHY you feel that way. It may be easier to answer once you’ve identified the more nuanced emotion.
Emotions Wheel from The Junto Institute
Try a journaling free write
Set a timer for 15 minutes and write nonstop answering this question “why am I so afraid of Corona Virus?”
Do not lift your pen until the timer goes off. Write continuously and write whatever comes to mind, even if that’s “this exercise is silly”. You may be surprised at what you might uncover by the end of the 15 minutes.
2. Practice thought replacements
You can’t tell yourself not to think fear or anxiety based thoughts. The brain just doesn’t work that way. The more you try not to think something, the more that thought will come up. Instead, try practicing thought replacement.
Keep in mind, the purpose of this is NOT to kick the negative thought out of your head. It can stay there, it’s just not going to control you because you’re going to gain control with the thoughts and actions you’ll consciously choose.
This is practice. It may feel difficult at first, but once you engage in this consistently, it’ll get easier and easier.
Here’s what this looks like:
- Anxious or fear based thought occurs
- Acknowledge it (“I’m worried my family will die”)
- Without pushing the fear based thought away, consciously ALSO choose a more positive thought that’s also true (“We are all currently healthy”)
- Engage in a positive action
- Action is the best way to redirect yourself from a negative thought spiral. Choose a QUICK action that you can take to move you closer to your value of being healthy. This could be taking a few deep breathes, taking a quick walk around the room, drinking some water, any positive action that helps you feel like you are getting closer to your value of being healthy and stop the spiral of anxious thoughts
3. Set consumption boundaries
There’s a lot of content surrounding the Corona Virus swirling around right now.
Take control of what types of content and how much of it you allow to enter your space.
First, set hard boundaries around what type of content you will not consume. For example, Facebook comment threads or articles from non experts.
Second, set a max time to engage. Even if the only content you are absorbing about the Corona Virus is from experts, an influx of it still causes stress and anxiety. Create a limit of how much you will consume and stick to it. You do not need constant updates. 1-3x a day is enough.
Finally, do not let others pull you into their hysteria. If it’s all your friends want to talk about, talk facts then redirect the conversation. If it’s getting to be too much for you, try saying nicely “do you mind if we talk about something else? I need a break from the Corona Virus!” This will help lessen other people’s anxiety too.
4. Let negativity be your prompt for positive change
You can’t control the negativity and fear that’s perpetuated by others, you can only control your reaction to them.
First of all, do not engage back. See the tips above for how to deal with this. If needed, remove yourself from the situation.
Second, use it as an excuse to create a positive new habit.
In the book Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything, behavior scientist BJ Fogg talks about creating new habits by linking it to a prompt. The prompt occurs and you do your habit. Rinse and repeat.
Why not use Corona Virus as your new habit prompt?
Pick any habit that you can do easily and immediately in response to hearing Corona Virus based fear. It should be something super simple. Here are a few ideas:
- 5 squats
- 2 wall pushups
- 3 deep breathes
- 3 pieces of gratitude
- 1 positive compliment about yourself
- Think a positive thought in your head (e.g. it’s such a beautiful day!)
Any time throughout your day that you hear anything anxiety or fear provoking about Corona Virus, engage in the new habit you chose. Congratulate yourself on sneakily using Corona Virus to make you better!
5. Stack your day with self care
One of the best ways to feel good is to stack our day with activities that boost mood and lessen feelings of anxiety.
Getting fresh air, movement, being outside, and taking deep breathes all have some really great studies behind how amazing they are for your mental well being. If you’re interested in this topic, check out this book.
Stack your day by adding one of these activities MORNING, NOON, and NIGHT. This way not only does your day start and end with something that helps you feel positive and reduce anxiety, you also sneak it in mid day when most people need it most!
Scheduling in positive activities into our day helps us to get on top of bad feelings. It’ll give you a positive high that will help crowd out some of the anxiety. Once a day isn’t enough, but spreading it out like this really helps.
I know 3 times a day sounds like a lot, but it doesn’t need to be anything crazy. Even just 5 minutes of engaging in one of these activities and do wonders for you! Sorry for the tough love, but if you can’t spare 15 minutes total of your day, it may be time to look into your time management.
Here are some ideas:
- Get some fresh air
- Take deep breathes
- Go for a walk
- Do an online yoga video (here’s a 5 minute flow)
- Stretch while listening to relaxing music
- Dance around to your fight song (Mine is The Sun is Rising by, Britt Nicole)
- Listen to a positive podcast
- Read an uplifting book (books like this can be absorbed in just few minute chunks)
6. Surround yourself with positive content
We all have more than enough negativity and hysteria surrounding us right now. Why add the negativity with content you choose to surround yourself with? Even if it’s something that you wouldn’t normal consider “negative content”, it may be too much right now.
I’ll give you an example, I was reading a new bestseller last night and I realized after I was feeling really anxious. The book was about a mystery of a young girl’s murder. While a book like that wouldn’t normally cause me anxiety, my emotions are on edge right now.
Be mindful that right now we are all already experiencing an overload of negativity. Try your best to stick to TV shows, books, music, conversation topics, etc that aren’t heavy on negativity or anxiety. For example, this is the time to watch a funny or sappy show, not Blacklist.
7. Focus on what you can control and let go of the rest
At the end of the day, there is only so much we can control.
Do what you can – this will help give you a sense of ease and power.
Then let the rest go.
You cannot control the world. You can’t always protect your loved ones from any danger that could exist.
All that we can do is our best and leave the rest be.
Have trust and faith that everything will work out and you will have the strength to overcome anything that comes your way.
Besides what I’ve listed above, here’s what I’ve personally decided I can control:
- Drinking an antioxidant and Vitamin C rich smoothie daily
- Eating nutrient dense meals as much as possible
- Prioritizing my self care with daily movement in the form of walking, yoga, and dancing
- Getting outside every day
- Washing my hands really well throughout the day
- Sanitizing my phone, computer, and steering wheel daily
The rest I leave be. I trust that we will make it through whatever happens. Worrying about it in advance won’t help me, it’ll only cause me stress and anxiety in this moment.
If you need to, consider just getting through one day at a time
8. Think values based rather than fear based
Sometimes it’s hard to separate the conversation of the precautions to take from the conversation of fear and panic.
When taking safety precautions, think of a why that’s values based, not fear based.
What are your values and how are your safety precautions in line with your values?
Rather than thinking: gotta practice social distancing so I don’t spread it!
Try thinking: I’m practicing social distancing because I value supporting my community.
You can also try this when companies shut down. Rather than worrying the disease has spread, think about how they are practicing their value of being a responsible community member.
It sounds like a small difference, but these small mindset shifts can take you from highly anxious to a calmer state.
PS. If none of these suggestions help you, please consider seeing a mental health specialist. These are hard and stressful times we are living in and seeing a professional can help give you individualized tools to deal with everything.
Why should we care about fear?
Now that you know how to deal with your fear, let’s talk about why you should care about being in fear.
1. Living in fear negatively affects your health
Ironic when we are scared of getting sick, isn’t it?
Fear is a helpful emotion that is triggered by a perceived threat. It helps us to act quickly, keeping us safe in dangerous situations.
Our bodies are not designed to live in a constant state of fear. Whether that fear is real or perceived, living in a constant state of fear diminishes our health.
When we feel fear, our bodies react by
- slowing down or shutting down organs that are not necessary for survival, such as the digestive system (that’s why anxiety can cause you to spend extra time in the bathroom!)
- sharpening functions that might help us survive, such as increased blood flow to muscles
When the body lives in that state for a prolonged period of time, it damages our physical health, memory, and brain processing.
2. Fear based thinking can lead decisions that negatively impact society
When we act out of fear, we might make decisions that aren’t rational and negatively impact others.
Consider how stores are sold out of toilet paper, medicines, masks, and other supplies. People who truly need them can’t get them.
It doesn’t stop there. Fear based thinking often leads to racism and discrimination.
A family I work with shared with me that people have started avoiding contact with them because they are Asian. Other kids at school have been told by their parents not to play with their kids because the family is Asian.
We don’t even have to go that far. At the most basic level, when we act in fear, we spread fear, overall contributing to the general state of anxiety everyone is feeling.
The pandemic happening is bad enough. Let’s not make it worse with fear based actions! We can spread positive change one action and thought at a time.
Sending you wishes for health, safety, and peacefulness during this trying time!
This is so amazing! Thank you!
I’m so glad you found it helpful!