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5 Tips to Stay Sane and Compassionate During the Age of Coronavirus

Stacee Reicherzer and the text Dr. Stacee Reicherzer, LPC-s, Clinical Faculty, Counseling, Southern New Hampshire University.

The COVID-19 scare is drastically reshaping how we live and engage each other. This is new territory for us, and we’re uncertain of where and how it will end. Uncertainty breeds fear, as the empty shelves at our neighborhood grocery store reveal.

Even as we pass through this period of uncertainty, here are 5 things that each of us can do to take care of our own mental health while being mindful of and compassionate toward the mental health needs of others.

1. Refuse to let fear and panic override rational decision-making.

As an emotion that evolved from our natural fight or flight instincts, fear is a normal response to the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus. Not only do we fear the virus itself, but we fear the actions of others which will place us in a situation of scarcity. In fact, with a virus for which the mortality rate appears at present to be quite low, the fear of scarcity is perhaps the greatest source of panic that we’re seeing at present.

To get your fear in check, it’s important to be aware of the oh-so-human tendency to worry over an uncertain future. This worry is the basis of anxiety, which we can easily recognize by all of the “shoulds” that pass through our thoughts on any given day, and especially in the middle of the night when “should” lists keep us awake.

When you begin to notice a cycle of disturbing thoughts and worry about the uncertain future of coronavirus, some mindfulness-based deep breathing can help you stay centered and present. I recommend:

  • At the first sense of your mind racing, three deep belly breaths, in through the nose, held for a few seconds, released through the mouth.
  • After your three breaths, notice the moment and allow yourself to re-center.
  • Throughout the day, whenever you experience panic, “should” lists, and other signs of anxiety, return to your breath. And as you do, simply ask yourself, “What is the one thing I need to do right now for the present situation?” And if nothing becomes apparent, this is a good indication that you’ve done all that you can.

2. Be kind, and remember that we’re all in this together.

Refuse those actions – hoarding, exploitation of scarcity – which shut out and deprive others in need.

In addition to surmounting our fear with rational decision-making, times such as this call upon us to exercise compassionate decision-making. There’s a personal choice that’s made to purchase “just in case” volumes of household supplies which exceed our own need and will do so for months if not years to come.

At a time when every single person in our community is being faced with the same health concerns and chances of being quarantined, if not greater concern due to age or preexisting health conditions, such purchases means deprivation to others who are also in need.

Just as the run on masks and sanitizer has wiped out supplies that are needed by healthcare providers and clinics, we’re now wiping out supplies of toilet paper and cleaning products. Most of us who are from the U.S. have spent our lives never having to worry about the ability to acquire basic resources. We purchase what we want, when we want it, in whatever quantity we want.

We’re now being challenged to think and act with responsibility to our fellow citizens. What do they need of us? Will the story that’s one day told about coronavirus in our community be about compassion, of neighbors taking only what they need and ensuring that resources are available for others?

This period presents us an opportunity to rise to compassion. We’re greater than our greed. Recognizing this, and responding to this situation with a steadfast commitment as stewards of our community is good mental health practice.

3. Change the settings for newsfeeds so that you’re not bombarded by terrifying information that leaves you feeling helpless.

No matter your news source, chances are that coronavirus is the top story. The news is unsettling, keeping fear and uncertainty stirred up. What’s more, we still have whatever daily issues and tasks are required of us for our work, school and family lives. We don’t really need constant notifications about coronavirus, which only perpetuate worry and a sense of helplessness.

To avoid being bombarded by information that you’re not prepared to absorb, change the settings on your newsfeeds so that they don’t show up on your desktop, tablet or smartphone at random times. If your social media circle includes a lot of doomsdayers- it’s perhaps a wise choice to unfollow them for the time being. You can check-in with them as you wish without being consumed by their fear.

Only take in news at your own pace, and don’t accept that it must be forced upon you when you’ve got other priorities in the moment. Follow the three breath strategy and ensure your readiness to learn what’s new in the world before you access information. This is actually a helpful strategy for general time management, as it allows you to monotask on what’s in front of you.

4. When you need information to guide your decisions, choose credible health information sources.

By now, we’ve all seen plenty of information, as well as outrageous disinformation about coronavirus. Whereas we curate much of the news we consume according to our preexisting beliefs and biases, these news sources should not be obscuring facts. Factual information about coronavirus is what’s needed in order for us to take proper health precautions.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) exist to provide the type of information we need. News sources which reference these organizations, as well as information provided by local health authorities, can provide useful updates to help us know what’s happening.

Avoid information that sounds too good to be true, or that comes from a dubious source. Check the resource to be sure that what you’re consuming as news isn’t an opinion piece.

5. Be aware of your own tendencies to worry and ruminate. Fill your free time with your built-in mental health antidotes: love, laughter, creativity, serenity. Surround yourself with these things.

Uncertainty can lead us down many paths. In the face of uncertainty, it’s of real value to notice the resources we have available in our lives and to honor these. In fact, a period of shared uncertainty can create a deeper appreciation of each other: “I’m scared right now, but I instead want to just enjoy our evening and laugh,” is a great lead-in for engaging relationships as not simply a source of distraction, but as a place of connection, growth and healing.

This is also a great spur for healing work, whether through art, baking, writing, gardening or another personal process that requires both creativity and concentration. Moving into our craft with an emphasis on detail and being present with what’s in front of us – again, mono-tasking – allows us to shift focus into an area of personal growth and aesthetics.

It’s important to once again acknowledge that we are all in this together. As a global community, we share the responsibility of good stewardship for our own health, that of our families, and that of others in the same situation we face; as well as ensuring the availability of resources for each person in need.

By recognizing that this will one day be in our rearview, we must ask ourselves what the story of coronavirus will be. Shall this be a story of us giving into our fear and greed, worrying about only ourselves and disregarding the needs of those around us?

Or will the story that’s told be about how we rose together to our potential as a people, the creativity we found, and the giving spirit that was fostered?

Dr. Stacee Reicherzer serves as clinical faculty in the SNHU Online master’s in counseling program. “Dr. Stacee,” as she is professionally known, is a licensed professional counselor-supervisor from Texas who now resides on the South Coast of Massachusetts. She writes and presents extensively on the topics of diversity, personal empowerment and fabulousness, and creativity as a source of healing. To see more of her work, visit her website at www.drstacee.com.

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