Ways to Deal with COVID-19
Panic versus extreme nonchalant attitudes are the modi operandi nowadays. Panic-stricken individuals fight for toilet paper while others who don’t comply with social distancing rules and recommendations downplay the dangers while going about their business as usual. Unfortunately, both attitudes could lead to further spread of the virus.
So what is the best approach to respond to the current situation? As a health professional, I propose the “Middle Way Path” as the wiser option. We should act in a methodical manner without reacting to imaginary scenarios that may shade our rationality.
First, we have to accept the fact that these times are indeed stressful, and even though some things are out of our control, others still are under our control.
We need to understand that even though fear and anxiety are normal reactions to stressful situations, they become problematic when they obstruct our judgement and interfere with daily functioning.
More specifically, fear is an intense emotional reaction that is short lived and serves as an alert mechanism to a threatening stimulus. This reaction is useful when there is an immediate danger in our environment and we need to act immediately (e.g. a snake or a bear). Anxiety, on the other hand, is a more subtle pervasive feeling that lasts longer and could be a response to an anxious threat or the possibility of a threat.
Anxiety usually results from the exchange of information between the cognitive brain and the emotional brain. The emotional brain is the primitive brain from where fear originates (amygdala and the cingulate cortex). The cognitive brain is the area that processes the information from the emotional brain and decides which is the best course of action (frontal cortex).
Individuals who are not able to properly mitigate the emotional brain response may panic and act in irrational ways. This outcome is what happened when people started fighting over toilet paper. At that moment, the fear of being left without supplies overcame the rational brain of keeping a safe distance from possibly infected individuals. On the other hand, the non-responders did not have enough fear or a big enough emotional response due to disbelief, a sense of invincibility, or thinking that the whole situation is a made up exaggeration resulting in under-recruitment of the cognitive brain leading to higher levels of human contact and consequently more infections.
So anxiety can be useful when it is a response to a real threat, and the person is able to set a mechanism to prepare for that threat or develop a plan for how to deal with it. The problem starts when that anxiety becomes too pervasive and interferes with daily functions or leads to rushed and impulsive decisions, which can prove catastrophic.
The best way to deal with anxiety, fear or any situation for that matter is to allow the cognitive brain to act in the most effective and rational manner.
Below are some ways that could counteract the emotional brain impulses:
- Try to keep a sense of normalcy in everyday life while you stay safe.
- Stick to a regular sleep-wake cycle (Circadian rhythm).
- Make sure you rest and eat healthy.
- Listen to music that elevates your mood.
- Develop a home exercise routine.
- Have a plan of action that will not endanger your safety or the safety of others.
- Look at your pantry and plan meals for that time period. Non-perishable goods and non-meat products are the best options. Use rationing rationally.
- Stay in the “here and now” and try not to project future catastrophic scenarios.
- Plan each day productively.
- If you work remotely, use a specified quiet area in your house as your home office. Let your children know that you are working so they allow you to concentrate and work productively.
- When you have free time, play games with your children.
- Avoid TV news. Read the news from credible sources only.
- Start projects that you never had time to dedicate time to.
- Connect with friends and family.
- Set a time to write down all your fears on one page and what you can do about them on the other page. If there is nothing you can do about a situation, try to accept it and let go.
Remember that this is a temporary situation that will eventually pass. Focus on the positive things in your life and try to stay calm.