Pandemic Panic? Try 6 “C”s for Coping During a Crisis
During a crisis, it is normal to feel sad, stressed, confused, scared or angry. Fear and anxiety can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. How you respond to the Coronavirus outbreak is extremely important. Each of us have social responsibility to try to give positive messages to everyone we meet. Studies have shown that people who are strong and happy, have robust immunity to fight all viral infections. Consequently people who are depressed, have lower immunity to fight against the viruses. Coping with stress will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger.
Kind and Helpful Tasks Help Ourselves and Others
Much of the anguish accompanying this pandemic stems from feeling powerless. Doing kind and helpful acts for others can help you regain a sense of control over your life—as well as adding meaning and purpose. Even when you’re self-isolating or maintaining social distance, there’s still plenty you can do to help yourself and others.
Six “C”s For Coping
Calm: Be a calming influence
Although we have no control over the national crisis, we must focus on where we do have control – our response to the crisis. Being a positive, uplifting influence can help you feel better about your own situation too. Start by focusing on being productive and new ways of enjoying life.
- Organize a messy room, paint a fence, clean the garage, edit the photos on your phone, clean a rusty bike and take it for a ride or play a board game — remember those?
- Learn a new skill, or start a new hobby from videos on YouTube or various apps and websites. Try genealogy, gardening, photography, knitting, drawing, cooking, woodworking, video editing, ballroom dancing, or chess, just to name a few. Put your attention on creating and accomplishing, not on the virus or the situation it has created.
- Do things that bring you joy and laughter. Read a good book, watch a comedy, play a fun board or video game, make something—whether it’s a new recipe, a craft, or a piece of art. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it takes you out of your worries.
- Practice coping techniques such as deep breathing, mindfulness, quiet time, visualizations, and muscle relaxation.
- Maintain your day-to-day normal activities and routine where possible. Maintain a healthy diet, exercise, avoid nicotine, alcohol and illegal drugs, cool your temper and try to get enough sleep.
Caring: Have a Helpful Nature
Having an upbeat attitude and helping nature is very beneficial for us and others. Crisis can bring out the best in us. We can get through this together! Focus on the things that matter most — helping ourselves and others.
- Relationships – This is an opportunity to strengthen bonds by spending time in shared family activities such as games, cooking, home projects, relaxing together and talking.
- Physical Activity – Staying active will help you release anxiety, relieve stress and manage your mood. Sunshine and fresh air also do you good. If possible, get outdoors (while practicing physical distancing). Go for a walk, ride a bicycle or play ball. Find creative ways to be physically active indoors. Look online for exercise videos you can follow and things you can do even without equipment, such as yoga and exercises that use your own bodyweight.
- Spirituality – Make time to reflect or connect with faith groups online to sustain a sense of community.
Consistency: Routines and Structure
Create a new routine and structure for yourself and your family. Kids may be happy there’s no school, but routines and a balance between work and play are important.
- Set expectations, rules and limits about school work, sleep and screen time.
- Ask each family member to be a helper with the family’s daily needs and activities.
- Even if you’re not in a high-risk group, staying at home, washing your hands frequently and avoiding contact with others can help save the lives of the most vulnerable in your community and prevent overburdening the health care system.
Containment: Controlling Overwhelming Emotions
Not just of the virus, but also anxiety. We are not panicking about the flu because it is familiar and the media does not give it attention, despite CDC estimates that the flu this season killed between 24,000 and 62,000 people in US. My patients who are the most anxious about the Coronavirus are those who are consuming the most news from social media, online and traditional outlets.
- Stick to trustworthy sources such as the CDC, the World Health Organization, and your local public health authorities.
- Limit how often you check for updates and discuss news to once or twice a day. Constant monitoring of news and social media feeds can quickly turn compulsive and counterproductive—fueling anxiety rather than easing it.
- Step away from media if you start feeling overwhelmed. If anxiety is an ongoing issue, consider limiting your media consumption to a specific time of day (e.g. 30 minutes each evening at 6 pm).
- If you’d feel better avoiding media entirely, ask someone you trust to pass along any major updates you need to know about.
- Be careful what you share. Do your best to verify information before passing it on. Snopes’ Coronavirus Collection is one place to start. We all need to do our part to avoid spreading rumors and creating unnecessary panic.
- Schedule one or two daily check-in times (or call it “question time” or “worry time”) for 10 to 15 minutes per day with your child. Start with “What’s your Feeling Temperature?” and open-ended questions, and provide matter-of-fact information suited to your child’s age.
Connect, Connect, Connect
Stress is reduced during a crisis when we connect with our friends and loved ones. Maintaining connections with supportive family and friends can bring a sense of comfort and stability. Talking through our concerns, thoughts and feelings with others can also help us deal with a stressful situation.
- Communicate through phone, email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Zoom, etc.
- Consider creating a disaster communication plan so that you can connect with loved ones and support services during a crisis.
- If you know people in your community who are isolated—particularly the elderly or disabled—you can still offer support. Perhaps an older neighbor needs help with groceries or fulfilling a prescription? You can always leave packages on their doorstep to avoid direct contact. Or maybe they just need to hear a friendly, reassuring voice over the phone. Many local social media groups can help put you in touch with vulnerable people in your area.
Compassion: Channel Anxiety to Helping Others
“Social distancing” is only physical; technology can actually bring us closer.
- Reach out to someone who’s alone or who you have lost touch with.
- Donate online or volunteer remotely to help those in need. Donate to food banks. Panic buying and hoarding leave grocery store shelves bare and drastically reduce supplies to food banks. You can help older adults, low-income families and others in need by donating food or cash.
- Practice gratitude. Take a few minutes a day to remember all the things we are grateful for — even the minor things. It is very helpful to maintain a gratitude diary.
- Be kind to others. An infectious disease is not connected to any racial or ethnic group, so speak up if you hear negative stereotypes that only promote prejudice. With the right outlook and intentions, we can all ensure that kindness and charity spread throughout our communities even faster than this virus.
The greatest joy for me as a physician is trying to help people. It’s no coincidence that those who focus on others in need and support their communities, especially during times of crises, tend to be happier and healthier than those who act selfishly. Helping others not only makes a difference to your community—and even to the wider world at this time—it can also support your own mental health and wellbeing. Always remember, “We’re standing far apart now so we can embrace each other later.”
Dr. Tadi is a neurologist at the CHI Health Neurological Institute. Dr. Tadi is a member of the American Academy of Neurology. He is an assistant Professor in Neurology at Creighton University School of Medicine. His special interest is stroke care.