Today is a departure from my usual kind of video, because I want to give you some ways to deal with the anxiety and panic that comes from the pandemic spread of #Covid-19. I’ve been very busy in my office seeing patients remotely, and I’ve seen two kinds of fears.
The fear of getting sick or making someone vulnerable sick, and the fear of financial loss, and among the people that I’ve seen, that actually ends up being the bigger threat to them, but another huge impact that I’ve seen from the social distancing, is people feeling lonely, bored, and isolated.
We’re social people, and it’s hard to keep to ourselves and not want to be around people. It’s also hard to spend hours mentally unstimulated, so what do you do? You watch television, and if you keep the news on for hours at a time, it can really ramp up your anxiety to hear non-stop information on the rising death toll. So here’s some suggestions for what you can do about this.
First of all, realize that we’re all in this situation together. The virus doesn’t select certain segments of the population. Even doctors like me aren’t protected from the fear of getting this. Let me give you an example. I went to the grocery store at at time when it was crowded, and I was walking down the aisle, that’s not six feet wide, by the way, and there were other people in the aisle, so I had to walk to the side to make sure that there’s enough distance between us. As soon as I passed someone, I felt my chest tighten, and I thought, “Did I just get infected from someone?”
Now, I know full well that that’s not how it works. The virus doesn’t implant itself in you and then you have this immediate respiratory response. Intellectually, I know this, but that was still my knee-jerk thought, so I dismissed that thought and continued to get the items that I needed, but I felt myself holding my breath as I was shopping. By the time I got to the checkout line, I felt this heavy pain in my chest, and I thought, “Am I getting ready to have a heart attack?” Logic took over and I thought, “No, Tracey, “you’ve probably been holding your breath “and breathing very shallowly for the past 20 minutes.” Okay, but I still didn’t wanna breathe in deep at that point because the cashier wasn’t six feet from me, so as soon as I got outside, and I started breathing normally again, I felt better.
But this is just one example of how the hysteria of mass infection and death can affect you. So here’s a couple of things that I suggest. First, there’s a lot that we can’t control, so you have to accept that, so you focus on the things that you can control, and this may be something as simple as washing your hands and avoiding touching your face. These are not natural things for you to hyper-focus on, but now is the time to make that your daily project.
A few weeks ago, my son told me, “They tell us to wash our hands, “but there’s no soap in the bathroom.” Well, guess what? Now the schools are closed, and these kinds of mass shutdowns and closures allow you to have more control over keeping yourself and other safe.
Then there’s the issue of isolation. Find creative ways to connect with people. I think social media’s gonna play a big part in this, and maybe you could do a group livestream or group chat or online hangout with friends and family. With more people at home, it leaves a lot of downtime to fit in this kind of socialization.
Now, if you’re working from home, I’m not suggesting that you stop working and do chats, but if you previously had to commute to work, the time that you save not having to travel gives you some extra time to fit in this virtual socialization. The next suggestion is to keep a structured day. Some people have always worked from home and they thrive doing it, but for some, the lack of the separation between your work and your home life can just leave you feeling like, what’s the meaning of life? It can feel like you have no downtime.
It’s just all work and things to do. This can be especially true if you roll out of bed and work in your underwear, so I suggest that you go through the motions of putting on clothes and setting a start and a stop time for your work. You may even want to go to a separate room to do your work, so that you don’t turn your personal space, like your bedroom, into a workspace. What if you’re not working at all? Then do the same thing.
Get up, get dressed, go to a place in your home or outside, and sit and reflect on your skillsets and what else you can do to earn a living. Can any of your skills transfer to something that you can do remotely? Treat your search for new work just like you would treat your job, where you dedicate time to it. Jumping all in on this process keeps you forward-thinking. You keep looking ahead to what you can do, and what you can accomplish once this passes, and this will pass, so prepare yourself for what you can do with yourself once it passes.
The next suggestion is to limit the time that you spend watching the news. We have to strike a balance between keeping updated and keeping informed about what’s actually going on and being overloaded with death counts. Yes, we need to have an appreciation for how serious this is, but you don’t need continuous updates. Maybe you could just reduce your watching to a morning and an evening time. My last suggestion is to spend some time outside if you can.
This infection is transmitted through contact. Airborne infection still requires close enough proximity, thus the recommendation for keeping a six-foot distance, but it’s not as though there was a nuclear blast and we all have to stay inside to avoid radiation exposure. So if you have access to a yard, a deck, or a porch, spend some time outside in the fresh air and natural sunlight. Getting closer to nature is calming and can help distract you from focusing on every body sensation, and worrying if every tickle in your chest was the virus implanting itself.
So don’t go there. If you find yourself being over-focused on your body, watch this video that I did on health anxiety. It’s long, but about halfway through, I give you some tips on how to break the cycle of being triggered by body sensations. That’s it for now. I’ll try and have some updates on this. In the meantime, stay well, and I’ll see you next time.
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