Our personal reactions and responses to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic will not only impact on our wellbeing as individuals, but also on those around us.
How might we best respond to the challenge?
Initially, it helps to allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
It’s natural to have concerns and fears about how we could be affected by a pandemic. We can’t expect to feel fully in control at such times. But nor do we need to become stuck in feelings of fear or helplessness. Most importantly, we can appreciate that there are things we can do to at least improve the situation.
We can prepare for the worst without letting our imagination run wild to worst-case scenarios that simply trigger fight or flight reactions, including literal fighting in supermarket aisles over toilet paper! Let’s face it – we probably often imagine that things will turn out much worse than they do.
One of the most stressful things about any negative event is uncertainty.
At this stage uncertainty about the potential local impact of COVID-19 is very high. Within a few months, we will likely know much more about the extent of its impact and how we might best contain it, which in itself will have a settling impact.
When facing fears or worries it’s always best to do some practical things, however small or symbolic, to reduce the likelihood or extent of harm. This provides a helpful distraction from reactive worries, engages our brain’s frontal lobes in problem-solving activity, and reminds us that we are not completely helpless. Practical steps we can take individually and collectively involve reducing risks of exposure, such as taking extra care with hygiene, limiting travel, working from home, avoiding large crowds and seeking updated guidance from government information.
Engaging in physical activity and other healthy practices bolsters our mood and immune system at the same time.
Participating in other activities that give us a sense of achievement or pleasure allows for a helpful distraction from worries whilst also boosting our mood. Maintaining some social contact is worthwhile, albeit observing more careful hygiene than usual. Even if in self-isolation we can stay connected with others online. Practising a stress-reduction technique like mediation, yoga or a relaxation exercise is especially worthwhile. Maintaining a healthy diet and regular sleep patterns will also bolster our physical and mental health immunity, as will containing the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
Our stress reactions will tend to be less when we spend more time focusing on what we are doing in the present moment rather than being over-focused on concerns about the future.
We’d best not over-expose ourselves to news on social and other media, as extensive exposure at times of crisis can unnecessarily elevate our stress levels. We can gain further perspective by considering how things might likely improve in 12 months or five years time. In time, effective vaccines will likely be available and the economy will improve. Even after the most severely distressing events in our communities, such as after massive bushfires, recovery may gradual, but it will come.
Parents might best give their children simple clear messages about the threat of coronavirus and helpful responses to it, including observing careful hygiene to not spread germs.
You can reassure your child by explaining that it is normal to worry about getting sick, but that there are things you can do to reduce the risk, and you will be there to support them. It can be worth asking about their worries about coronavirus, including concerning things they’ve heard about it, to dispel misinformation or exaggerated fears. Children tend to take their parents’ lead in responding to a crisis situation. When parents manage their own concerns in a relatively calm and resourceful way, it helps children feel more settled. It is fair enough to acknowledge some anxiety and concerns, whilst modelling ways of coping with those worries. It’s also best to limit children’s exposure to news media, which might only amplify their worries, especially if you’re not with them to respond to their questions or concerns.
We might look for some silver linings during a time of crisis.
Families in quarantine might find some benefit in spending more time together at home, perhaps developing new rituals, such as playing board or card games. We’ll also likely get to spend more time with our pets.
Forced isolation would no doubt be a major disruption. But it might also provide us with the best opportunity in years to catch up with certain things we’ve not had time to do. This might include things that benefit our future such as online education activities or practising a musical instrument or other skill. We might consider medium or longer-term plans for our future work and leisure lives so we are more ready to capitalize when disruptions have settled. In the meantime, keeping basic routines going, including at home, can provide some sense of stability.
Small business owners might catch up on a range of tasks related to working on their businesses that they have rarely had time to do when serving customers.
This might include planning some future strategies including marketing strategies for when circumstances improve and there is increased pent-up demand for their goods and services.
As a community, challenging times provide us with an opportunity to show how we can pull together and demonstrate care for our fellows. Any acts of kindness to family members, friends and colleagues, and especially to strangers, can take on an extra positive significance during times of crisis.
Finally, as we recently showed such widespread gratitude to the selflessness and massive contribution of firefighters, let’s similarly acknowledge the wonderful competence, generosity and self-sacrifice of our frontline health workers.
This certainly includes our GPs, nursing and emergency department staff who bear more of the brunt of a pandemic than most of us whilst showing care and compassion for others in ways beyond what we can probably ever fully appreciate.
Next – See this short video on positively responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.