This is a question that has never been more pertinent than it is today, when the whole world seems to be falling into chaos. It’s difficult not to become fearful in the current Covid-19 situation, given the constant bombardment of news bulletins, constant updates and commentary on social media, global panic buying and stockpiling of goods, countries in shutdown and instances of virus infection growing every day. While it is undoubtedly a very serious situation, and a certain amount of fear and anxiety is inevitable, I think the scaremongering, sensationalism and doomsday predictions are making a bad situation a lot worse. Fear has become a real problem all over the world, and we tend to feed off each other’s fears, exacerbating our own.
While I know that there are measures we can take to help prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus, I think it is equally important to tackle the spread of fear and panic in our communities. Many people already struggle with anxiety issues and the wave of panic spreading over the world is doing nothing to help the situation. While I claim to be a fairly positive person and work on keeping a positive outlook on a daily basis, I find that recently I have succumbed to the fear that surrounds me, the ‘What if…?’ questions. So rather than allow this way of thinking to take hold I have tried to work out ways to counteract fear for myself. There are probably lots of articles written in the same vein in recent days but these are the things that work for me.
1. Change your thinking
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is based on the belief that if we can change our thinking we can change our feelings and behaviours. If our thoughts are focused on worst case scenarios then we will feel afraid and behave accordingly, often becoming over-anxious or depressed. In reality, unless we are being physically threatened or are in a life threatening situation in this moment, fear is rarely a present moment thing. Fear is always about the future, about what might or could happen. It is not happening now. If we get back to living in the present, to being present in this moment, there is no fear present. Easier said than done, but I find that taking this approach can keep fear at bay.
2. Change the channel
If the radio or TV channel is broadcasting back to back 'Coronavirus' then do we need to switch off? It is obviously important for us to keep ourselves properly informed and to be aware of how to keep ourselves and others as safe as possible, but how much do we really need to hear? It seems that we have almost become obsessed with hearing every minor detail, over and over again. I am very aware that many people are facing their own personal difficulties at this time that will still be there, virus or no virus, and it is important not to feel that nothing else is important in our world. Also, there are those who become panicked by other people's panic, and those who become unduly anxious due to over-exposure to negative information.
While driving today I was delighted to be entertained with banter and small talk and fun. Well done to those DJs who are doing just that.
3. Distract yourself
I have found that my choice of reading material is important at this time. Normally, I like a serious read that I can discuss with other readers but right now I want a good old page-turner. This could also be a good time for me to learn something new, something to distract myself and change my thinking. Writing down my thoughts as I’m doing now, in particular writing solutions to negative thoughts, is also a good means of distraction.
4. Continue to have social contacts in whatever way possible for as long as possible
While a few weeks ago it would have seemed unthinkable that our social life could be disrupted to the extent that we would be forced to self-isolate, we have seen how that reality can come to pass in any country, so while we can still do so I think we need to talk to people - meet in open spaces, go for a walk or run, and find topics other than Coronavirus to talk about!
So much of our fear has arisen because of the technology at our fingertips but technology will also prove to be our friend if we are socially isolated, and we need to use it to make real contacts with real people, not to frighten ourselves more.
5. Take positive actions
Meditation, taking quiet time to focus on something positive, finding humour around us, are all things that help to direct our thoughts in a more positive direction. Taking part in a creative activity is often a good way to help absorb our attention and leave less time for negative thoughts. Author Neil Gaiman says,
'The world always seems brighter when you've just made something that wasn't there before'.
I have started a project called A Photo a Day for Thirty Days. Every day I am going to take a photograph of something positive, something beautiful, something colourful, something that speaks to me in a way that is affirming. I won’t worry whether I use a camera or phone, what will be important is the act of choosing a positive image, and doing so every day as a therapeutic action. Some days I may share my photo on Instagram (wildwillowways), sometimes not, but doing this project will give me a reason to think positive, look for the positive around me and share that positivity with others.