Between the worst-case projections and the failings of the people in charge, at this point feeling some anxiety about the coronavirus is probably more common than not. At the same time, there’s very little for each individual person to do right now, besides practicing social distancing and looking for ways to chill out.
Sure, there are a number of things to be anxious and stressed about, from a loved one getting sick to a job or financial loss (given that a global recession is becoming more likely by the day).
But Lori Gottlieb, psychotherapist and author of the New York Times bestseller Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, wants us to avoid obsessing over the news, stop worrying about what’s going to happen next, and focus on taking care of ourselves.
And, yes, she’s nervous about all this, too. Her son’s school is closed and he’s home doing remote learning, and she lost significant income when South by Southwest (which she was set to open) and her two-week book tour got cancelled. The trick, she says, is how you manage your anxiety.
“Humans don’t do well with uncertainty, so what they do is make up stories about the future, and usually what they do is they’re catastrophizing. They don’t make up happy stories,” says Gottlieb. While losing a gig is hard, maybe you’ll get one in a month that pays more. “It’s really important to stay present and not imagine something that hasn’t happened.”
Imagining worst-case-scenarios will just make you more stressed and anxious. Research shows that stress negatively affects the immune system, making stressed-out people more prone to illness. Instead of letting our brains take us to dark scary places, we need to try and focus on eating well, sleeping well, and taking care of our emotional health, says Gottlieb.
According to Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck, if you’re not anxious about all this then you’re not paying attention.
“The question is what you do with that anxiety. Fear is a powerful motivating force. If you use it intelligently, it can help you prepare for difficult situations like this. If you let it get the best of you, then you fall into panic and act like a crazy person,” says Manson. He’s stocked up on a month’s worth of food and supplies, cancelled upcoming in-person events, and had talks with his parents about staying home. He suggests staying informed about best practices, and keep in mind that our personal actions have an effect on the health and safety of many other people.
This isn’t about fear-mongering, but rather about using that fear productively. Do something, anything, rather than sitting around reading the latest coronavirus updates—especially if that’s what’s causing current distress. Consider limiting yourself to checking the news once a day. The constant obsession creates an “emotional overload,” says Gottlieb.
“I know we need to practice social distancing, but it’s really important that we use technology, or whatever we want to do, to make sure we’re not isolating ourselves emotionally,” she says.
Play a board game, watch a movie together, read a book in the same room, and try and take advantage of being home with people you love. If you live alone, call someone and get that voice-to-voice connection and move your body with an at-home workout. “We’re hunkered down at home, but it’s kind of nice. Seeing all the people who are ill and dying is very sad, but now we have this family time together and are reminded of what’s important. The circumstances aren’t nice, but the facts of it are. Both can coexist.”
Despite being worried about society, Manson says he feels calm. “I very much feel in control of my worry and fear,” he says. “Previous generations got through stuff like this without the world coming apart. We’ll get through it too.”