The coronavirus pandemic has put the world in uncharted waters—a world of total city shutdowns and toilet-paper scarcity. The uncertainty surrounding the virus, including daily headlines about the rising case count, can be alarming. But it’s never a good idea to panic. We asked the experts to give us 30 good reasons why. Read to the end and see if you don’t feel better—and share it with someone in need.
“Panic is never helpful, because our thinking brain is not online at that time—it’s just not working,” says Jud Brewer, MD, Ph.D., a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at Brown University. “It’s important to realize that when we’re panicking, we’re not thinking properly, and panic is just a form of facing an unfamiliar scenario.”
“When we panic, other people panic,” says Brewer, who is hosting a daily video podcast on coping with coronavirus anxiety. Think of the nationwide run on food and toilet paper—when we see people making decisions out of panic, we follow suit, copying behavior that isn’t logical, helpful or necessary.
“Panic causes an enormous amount of stress,” says Dr. Joyce Mikal-Flynn, who specializes in post-traumatic growth. “We have a stress hormone, cortisol, which is there to work in our defense—to help us fight or flee if there’s a real situation going on. But it’s not meant to be there all the time.”
Chronic stress can impair your immune system, making you more susceptible to disease.
Panicking won’t solve or eliminate the situation at hand—it will just make you more distressed.
“The first thing I tell people is to start with the facts,” says Mikal-Flynn. “The facts are, this is a real thing. People get COVID-19, and some people lose their life as a result of it. But the other facts are 80% of the people who get COVID-19 have minimal to no symptoms. Twenty percent of the people who have severe symptoms are cared for in the hospital, where there’s appropriate care for them, and they are typically higher-risk.”
“Think of other times in your life you’ve overcome challenges,” says Susanna Guarino, MS, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor in Rochester, New York. “How did you do it? Those inner resources are still within you. Even when the worst happens, we have a choice about how to respond. We can bring our best selves to this crisis.”
“The most important thing you can do is to continually and always focus on what you can control,” says Mikal-Flynn, who is hosting a podcast about how to get through this period of time. “And even though we’re stuck inside, there’s a lot of things people can control with regard to their daily life, that can make it meaningful, enjoyable, and fun—and can also keep you as healthy as you possibly can.”
“In any important situation in life, we want to making decisions out of logic and wisdom, not emotion, and that is the difference between being prepared with information vs. panicking,” says psychologist Kelsey M. Latimer, Ph.D., CEDS-S. “I highly recommend we limit the amount of time per day we are watching the news (that can heighten our fear), and including as much normalcy as possible in our daily routine to practice self-care.”
“Epidemiologists and immunologists are going to talk about worst-case scenarios because they want to have a preparation for that,” says Mikal-Flynn. “For the most part, the worst-case scenario doesn’t happen. If they’re thinking about it, they’re already planning for it. So if you start to hear that information and it’s making you anxious, stop.”
“It is absolutely essential to get out of doors,” says Mikal-Flynn. “We can’t go out in groups of 10, but you can still go out of doors, and being out of doors for certain periods of time during the day is a really important thing to do.”
“When you do any type of exercise, it releases endorphins and dopamine—neurotransmitters that will help calm you down,” says Mikal-Flynn. That can be as simple as walking in your yard or around the block.
Use this time to connect with friends and family through programs like FaceTime and Zoom.
During times of crisis, children and younger people look to relatives and older people for cues on how to react. The most important thing is to be a calming presence. Answer their questions succinctly, assure them that it’s OK to ask questions, and look up any answers you don’t know together.
“If you’re panicking, think, ‘That’s OK.’ It’s OK to lose it, but we don’t want you to stay there,” says Mikal-Flynn. “Use that as a trigger toward a productive and healthy response, so you focus on your response, not the problem.”
“When you can start to find some meaning in your anxieties, your suffering and your challenges, then the suffering and the challenges tend to go away,” says Mikal-Flynn. “You get some insight and think, ‘You know, interesting. I’ve learned a lot about myself through this whole thing.'”
You have the most effective anti-anxiety therapy inside your own body: Your breath. Brewer suggests that when you’re feeling anxious, breathe in for a count of four, then out for a count of four. Repeat. You’ll feel yourself relax quickly.
“Medical professionals are working their hardest,” says Danni Zhang, a psychologist with New Vision Psychology. “Politicians are finding ways to soften the financial and public health impact of the pandemic. And even the banks are doing their best. So it falls upon you to remind yourself that everyone is doing their best to resolve the current situation. When it comes to your own well-being, take charge and focus on positive things while maintaining a level of awareness of the situation.”
Although there is as of yet no cure for COVID-19, researchers are working around the clock to find a vaccine, and they’ve made strides toward potential antiviral therapies—even in the last week—which are going into clinical trials.
“We are all in this together,” says Lynne Goldberg, a certified meditation coach and founder of the meditation app Breethe. “Our interconnection to others has never been more apparent. Ensuring that we all do our part—by social distancing and self-quarantining so we can help protect the vulnerable—is vital right now.”
One effective, time-tested therapy for anxiety and depression is to keep a gratitude journal, in which you write down three things you’re grateful for each day. They can be as basic as your home, loved ones or the food in your kitchen. “Our brains create neural pathways based on our habits and ways of thinking,” says Goldberg. “A gratitude practice can help us to refocus our attention on what we appreciate rather than what we’re missing, so we can rewire our brains and have a more balanced perspective.”
Experts in the US and around the world say there is no need to hoard food or goods; the worldwide supply chains remain robust. And hoarding facemasks can keep them away from healthcare providers who need them. “The fear that there won’t be enough leads to stockpiling and actually becomes self-fulfilling,” says Goldberg. “We’ve all seen the empty supermarket aisles and the run on hand sanitizer and masks. Our healthcare professionals on the front lines need supplies to keep all of us safe.”
“The situation is very fluid right now,” says Goldberg. “Kids are home from school and jobs are uncertain. As humans, it’s normal to want to feel certain and have control. A meditation practice can help us practice being OK with the unknown.”
“This is the message I am spreading to my patients and friends and family: We all can take this time to do projects we never did, improve our businesses, learn a new skill, clean the house, organize,” says Rafael A. Lugo, MD, FACS, of Lugo Surgical Group in The Woodlands, Texas. “Spend time with family, self-help books, get fit. Take your attention from the TV and do something productive. Get close to your kids and significant other, talk and interact at home.”
“If you feel like you’re going to panic, just take a breath and know that you’re not alone,” says Christopher Zoumalan, MD, an oculoplastic surgeon based in Beverly Hills, California. “When I had to shut down my medical practice earlier this week and tell my eight employees that we’re not working and not sure when we’re coming back, panic set over me. It’s normal. But I was quick to realize that panic doesn’t get me anywhere. Keep your mind busy with positive things, such as things that make you look forward to what’s ahead.” For his part, Zoumalan is meditating daily and working on his business remotely.
You can donate protective equipment, money, blood or plasma to support healthcare systems in your area. Just Google to find out what’s needed near you.
“It’s okay to be afraid, and to sit with those feelings of fear. But try to notice—gently—when your thoughts become distorted,” said psychologist Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., in the Washington Post this week. “Ask yourself, is this thought realistic, or is it an unreliable narrator that comes from my heightened anxiety?”
Her advice: “You can train yourself to draw the line between the thoughts that give you insight and help you make a plan, versus the thoughts that are only depleting your strength and not giving you any reliable information.”
“Stress levels tend to lower when we increase our sense of predictability and controllability,” says Bonior. Keeping a daily routine can help: Get up at the same time each day, and shower, dress, work and exercise according to a regular schedule.
ETNT Health has gathered the latest expert information on coronavirus, such as 17 Coronavirus Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making and 20 Ways to Navigate the Hospital Faster.
Dr. Naval Asija, a physician and writer, worked as an epidemiologist in India during the 2009 H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic. “I saw that come, hit us, and finally subside,” he says. “That is the fate of every pandemic. COVID-19 is no exception. Humans have managed to survive every pandemic to date.”
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 50 Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.