Fear is a normal and necessary evolutionary response to threat – it helps us stay safe. A threat can be either emotional, physical or social, and the way we go about it really depends on a complex interaction between our “primitive” brain (the limbic system) and our “sophisticated” cognitive brain (the neo-cortex).
Once you perceive a threat, the fight-or-flight response can be triggered. In other words, in that moment the body becomes ready as a cascade of physiological reactions begin (e.g., being flooded with adrenaline, having intense palpitations and perspiration, breathing differently, etc.). In essence, all this is to make you prepared to respond to (fight or flee) a perceived harmful event, attack or threat to survival.
However, this system has a glitch. The keyword is “perceived” – so either a real or imagined – threat. At times we respond disproportionately to threats that aren’t that severe nor imminent. Hence, excessively worrying about the coronavirus can easily trigger a fight-or-flight response.
latter, our sophisticated cognitive brain, accounts for the rational and measured approach when dealing with danger, in this case the coronavirus, without the messy complications of fear (especially hysteria).
Therefore, with the novel coronavirus crisis generating so much stress, we also need to take extra precaution towards our mental health, and not let our anxiety get the better of us.
Coping with coronavirus anxiety
- Limit the amount of time you spend reading about coronavirus news. With just a click you can refresh headlines over and over again, up to the very last hour. We like to be informed because it gives us a sense of control, but while it is important to keep up with news, remember that every time you expose yourself to alarming information, you are feeding your own anxiety. Chose only one time per day to read about coronavirus news, once you feel you are updated, wait until the next day to check again. If you find that coronavirus news is all over your social media feeds and is the only topic discussed in your chats, consider tuning off there as well.
- Remember to choose reliable, impartial sources (national health websites, credible medical information), rather than alarmist news. Information can be reassuring if it is rooted in facts, while it is often uncertainty that perpetuates anxiety.
- Focus on what you can control to keep yourself healthy, and let go of what you can’t. Despite not being able to fully control whether or not you contract the coronavirus, you can significantly reduce the risk by following recommended guidelines from healthcare institutions. If you have not already, please review the recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO)
- Wash your hands often (or sanitize them with an alcohol-based sanitizer)
- Stay away from people who are sick
- Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze (ideally with a tissue that you can throw away)
- Avoid touching your face
- Avoid nonessential travel (locally, domestically and internationally)
- Keep your immune system strong by eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and managing stress
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects
- If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing seek medical care early
- Avoid catastrophizing. It is easy to assume the worst, but this only makes your anxiety worse. Remember that the vast majority of people who contract COVID-19 will still recover. If you go with the assumption that you will be okay, your anxiety will be lower, versus ruminating on all possible catastrophic outcomes. Also, keep in mind that your anxiety influences those around you, and emotion contagion is not helpful. Instead, practice calming rituals – controlled deep breathing, or any other relaxation technique until you find one that works best for you. This helps reset the fight or flight response and prevents the onset of panic and unpleasant physical symptoms associated with anxiety.
- Keep connected. Connect with loved ones and friends through video chats, phone calls, texting, and email. It helps to feel the strength of your connections even though you may not be with them in person. The worst we can do is bottle up our feelings, this does not make them fade away, and instead emotions become even more intense. Cultivating healthy social networks helps us maintain a sense of normality.
- Be mindful of your assumption about others. Someone who has a cough or a fever does not necessarily have the coronavirus.
- Seek additional help if you need it. Individuals who still feel overwhelmed with anxiety should consult with an experienced mental health professional. Psychologists can help people find constructive ways to manage this adversity.
MIUC students, please be reminded that you can seek additional professional support at the MIUC Counseling center, by calling +951290510 or contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, you can contact Life coaching services through email@example.com
Although we are not able to choose exactly how the coronavirus impacts communities, we can choose how we respond to it emotionally as individuals. Please take steps to care for your mental health as well as your physical health, and let’s strive to keep our emotional balance during this challenging time of heightened stress.
Eva Berkovic, MSc Psychology