Studies show fear is contagious[1]. In this article we are going to examine the fear that is sweeping our nation, as well as steps we can take to protect ourselves from it.

As we scroll our newsfeeds and avidly read the papers and online news articles each day new information and increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases are overwhelming. While we need to be safe and learn all we can, the information and the reality can cause paralyzing fear.  The frightening stories in the news increase the anxieties we already have. At times, it’s difficult to even take a break from watching, so hooked are we by our own anxiety that we feel the compulsion to keep watching, even though we know it’s scaring us. With the current global situation, the news stations have been given the perfect fodder to fuel our already anxious minds.

The World Health Organization has officially described the huge influx of information as an ‘infodemic[2]’, with much of the content we read not being entirely accurate. This makes it harder for people to find trustworthy sources of information when we need it most – and this in turn can create panic.

In the past few weeks, we have been bombarded with scary statistics, images of empty shelves in our grocery stores, and Twitter feeds full of Covid-19 related content. While it’s vital we stay informed and play our part in protecting ourselves and others from coronavirus, it’s equally important we look after our mental health, too. It is vital that we are aware of the impact the news may be having on our mental health, how it may be triggering trauma, and what we can do to help ourselves. Finding therapists that are able to support us at distance using telehealth is one such way. At Heather R Hayes and Associates Inc, we are able to facilitate all of our services online over zoom. Below are a number of other ways that we can help reduce this sense of panic, and stop it from spreading.

1. Read trustworthy news sources

Read news sources such as WHO and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Make sure you get accurate facts. Some of the information circulating the internet is not correct and while it can be tempting to click on every new article we see pop up on our Facebook feed, it’s important we stick to reliable and credible sources. In Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT), developed by Marsha Linehan, one of the techniques used to manage emotions is Fact Checking. During this unprecedented time there is much we do not know, but one way to help manage emotions would be utilizing Fact Checking. This can help us to contain anxieties rather than feeding them. For example, one of Linehan’s fact checks on her check list is: Does my emotion and/or its intensity fit the actual facts? Right now, what are the facts?[3] Hopefully they will be that you are healthy and safe and you will be able to say to yourself: today I am safe, I am following all of the safety protocols and I am reaching out virtually for support.

2. Take regular breaks from the news and social media.

Why not enforce a new rule for yourself: only watch or read the news once in the morning and once in the evening. If you have news alerts switched on, turn them off – they can wait. Take control and allow yourself the time and space to live your life without the panic and fear of news taking over.

3. Don’t cut yourself off.

Social distancing and isolation is new to us all, and you won’t be the only one struggling, so take comfort in the fact that you, your neighbors, your colleagues, friends and family are all in the same boat. Don’t be afraid to speak out your feelings of panic, fear and anxiety to your friends and family; talk to the people who will express empathy and comfort, they may need the encouragement to do the same.

4. On the flipside, it’s important that we don’t let it consume our every thought.

Remember that old saying laughter is the best medicine? It’s not just an old wives’ tale – a good laugh can relax your whole body for up to 45 minutes[4], so watch an episode of your favorite comedy, call up your funniest friend – give yourself permission to laugh and feel the benefits.

5. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a practice from which we can all benefit, and is something worth looking into if you find yourself catastrophizing the future. We are so used to planning our days, weeks, even months ahead with events, meetings, dinners and holidays – we like to be in control, and anxiety and panic arise when we feel out of control. But despite the plans we make, we have never been in control – we only have the right here and right now, and mindfulness taps into that. There are plenty of apps, such as Headspace, that can give you an insight into how you can live more mindfully, but you can start with this simple exercise called STOP[5]:

S: Stop what you’re doing – pause whatever you are doing for a moment.

T: Take a breath. Focus your attention on your breathing.

O: Observe. Notice what is happening – how do you feel? What are you doing?

P: Proceed. Continue doing what you were doing. Or don’t: Use the information gained during this check-in to change course. Whatever you do, do it mindfully.

6. Meditation

Meditation is another powerful and positive way that has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety. With youtube videos, books and apps like Calm, meditation is an accessible way for anyone to take control of their fear and panic. According to a study recently published in the Behavioral Brain Research[6], just 8 weeks of daily meditation has the power to decrease low mood and anxiety and improve the attention and memory of non-experienced meditators[7]. Why not give it a go and see the effects for yourself?

7. Exercise.

We all know how beneficial exercise is for our mental wellbeing, and unless you are presenting symptoms of the coronavirus, there is no reason to stop your regular exercise regime. It may take a little adjustment, especially if you are used to working out at the gym, but there are plenty of ways to keep your fitness levels and morale up during quarantine. Make a space for your home workout – it could be in the kitchen, living room, your bedroom or even your garden! YouTube has thousands of videos of at-home workouts you can follow. Sydney Cummings is an upbeat and positive fitness trainer who posts free workouts on her youtube channel every day at 5am EST. She has an entire playlist of workout videos that require no equipment, ranging from 5 to 60 minutes.

8. Nutrition.

A well-balanced, healthy diet contributes to good physical health – that we all know, but it’s also worth noting that your mental health can benefit, too. ‘Like an expensive car, your brain functions best when it gets only premium fuel. Eating high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes the brain and protects it from oxidative stress — the “waste” (free radicals) produced when the body uses oxygen, which can damage cells.[8]’ While it is tempting to bury our heads in the sand and gorge on all our favorite junk food, the comforting effects are short lived, and could be damaging to your mental health. It’s important to allow yourself treats but why not introduce more fruits and vegetables into each meal? You could even use this time to practice new recipes – British food writer and entrepreneur, Ella Mills, is the founder of Deliciously Ella and we love her positive and simple approach to cooking. Her vegan and gluten-free Sri Lankan curry recipe is one to devour while reaping the health benefits of anti-inflammatory turmeric and nutrient-dense butternut squash, spinach and coconut milk.

This is a time of confusion and panic for everyone, but as human beings we have the power to choose to follow a path of calm. With these tips we hope you can bring yourself back to the present moment and adapt to life, not as we know it, but one which we are all pursuing together, wherever we are in the world.

Sources:

  1. https://news.northeastern.edu/2020/03/10/fear-can-be-contagious-here-are-some-ways-to-protect-yourself/ (accessed 23/3/2020)
  2. https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200202-sitrep-13-ncov-v3.pdf?mod=article_inline (accessed 23/3/2020)
  3. http://edencounseling.com/resources/dbt-emotional-regulation-group-4-handouts.pdf (accessed 23/3/2020)

  4. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/laughter-is-the-best-medicine.htm (accessed 23/3/2020)
  5. https://www.mindful.org/stressing-out-stop/ (accessed 23/3/2020)
  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S016643281830322X (accessed 23/3/2020)
  7. https://www.psypost.org/2020/03/daily-meditation-decreases-anxiety-and-improves-cognitive-functioning-in-new-meditators-after-8-weeks-56198 (accessed 23/3/2020)
  8. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626 (accessed 23/3/2020)