You, reader. Lower your shoulders away from your ears. Unclench that jaw. Relax. Take a deep breath, and let it all out. Feels a bit better already, doesn’t it?
Self-isolation, fear of contamination/infection, extreme precautions, distrust, anxiety, fear ... All of us are going through similar feelings. We’re all holding onto the stress one way or another.
While most of us are desperately trying to protect our bodies from the coronavirus, washing our hands until they are raw and avoiding public spheres like the plague, one important point we might forget is taking care of our mental health.
No wonder we have all turned into walking tubes of anxiety, waiting to overflow any minute.
Day after day, we receive news about new cases of infection and deaths; we've been forced to abandon our daily routines; we've been told to stay away from our loved ones; we are trying to get by in small spaces with limited means.
Some of us are experiencing insomnia, recurring nightmares, introversion and malaise. Some of us have lost our appetites while some of us feel the need to eat more and more. It's hard – it's no walk in the park.
Expert psychologist, Selin Karabulut from Anadolu Health Center said these are all normal and understandable behaviors in such times.
“We are in a social isolation process, and we are living a different life, swaying from our usual routine. Naturally, our bodies will react to this. We may experience a rise in dissatisfaction and become more skeptical as our worries increase. This way of thinking and constant worrying starts to hurt our mental capacity and disrupt both our immune system and throw our mental health off the balance.”
In times of crisis, people tend to be more skeptical and accuse people, Karabulut said.
"People may start to experience intrusive thoughts such as 'they are hiding things from us, they are not telling us the real numbers, more have been infected but the tests are wrong.' We may adopt accusatory attitudes, behaviors or have such thoughts against people who are infected or with suspected illness. These are just some of the effects the crisis can have on us,” she added.
HARDWIRED FOR NEGATIVITY
The human brain is a funny thing. It treats all the positive experiences we have had like it is a non-stick Teflon pan, but when it comes to anything negative it holds onto it like velcro.
All the deaths and losses we experience or hear about, unfortunately, cause us pain. However, we live despite all the uncertainty surrounding life. But for humans, what is more painful than death itself is the fear of it, says psychologist Dilek Saltık.
"The human brain is deeply loyal to fear. It’s not a coincidence that we most often find ourselves in situations we fear the most. For some of us, experiencing the fear of dying, day after day is much more worrying and painful than actual death."
"While you try to protect your body from the coronavirus, you should also care about the psychological soundness of your mind," Saltık stressed, emphasizing that when the human brain is afraid of an event or situation, it turns all of its attention to possible signals about that fear.
The mind is constantly left to deal with that fear, she says. "In such situations, the person faces a disaster scenario. They begin to overthink and interpret events more violently than it is. This situation can become a harbinger of anxiety disorders. The widespread media coverage of the coronavirus also increases anxiety. Too frequent warnings make anxiety the focus and elevate levels of anxiety. I think the important point here is to get the right information and take the necessary precautions.”
Also, acknowledge anxious thoughts, rather than repressing them. But then move on quickly.
"Notice yourself starting to go there, and say, ‘I hear you, but I'm not gonna think about that right now,’” said Laura Dalheim, a New York City-based psychiatrist.
MONKEY SEE, MONKEY DO
If you have children at home, it can be especially hard to cope with such negative feelings. Even if you are doing fine, your children may be more impacted by what's going – and much more so than they let on. Saltık said the coronavirus should not be the main focus of your conversations at home.
Reminding that children take after their parents when it comes to such matters, Saltık said: “Children watch how their parents deal with anxiety and imitate their behavior. For children experiencing severe anxiety, making a speech similar to this could be helpful: ‘Yes, there is such a virus. We hear and know about the coronavirus, but it is not at the center of our lives. Events like this have happened before, like the bird flu and swine flu. These did not last forever; they came and passed. We are taking the necessary precautions, eating healthy and protecting ourselves; we are safe.'"
LET IT GO
Some of us are taking all the precautions we can while some of us, evidently, aren't making that much of a big deal out of this. Around us, there are panic-buyers, hoarders and those still socializing and traveling around the world just because they can, thinking they are invincible. But we can't control other people, so stop letting their actions get to you.
Stop letting your brain think over and over about other people’s motives and whether they are following the rules of social distancing. Stop playing worst-ever, what-if scenarios in your head or trying to predict what will happen. Don’t think about the amount of toilet paper at the store.
Let go of these. Focus on the things you can control.
Focus on practicing your own social distancing and following the advice of health care officials. Limit your use of social media if it makes you feel bad. Turn that TV off if it triggers anxiety. Just read the news once or twice a day if it helps. Practice gratitude, kindness and grace. Find fun activities to do at home; give a friend or family member a call. These are all things that are in your hands and you can change. Don't let the urge to control spiral you into a blind panic.
Here are a few other tips that psychologists recommend people follow to help them from succumbing to fear in the face of unpredictability:
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