I’m writing this blog for anybody who is feeling nervous or anxious or down right scared about coronavirus. We can’t turn on any kind of electronic device (phone, TV, radio etc) without hearing the latest casualty numbers and more recently (in the UK at least) the people who have died from coronavirus. It’s the perfect situation to raise everyone’s anxiety and then for the constant media feed which just keeps fuelling that anxiety.
And let’s face it, it is scary. Thinking you or your loved ones might get sick from something which might kill you (although this is much more unlikely, it doesn’t mean that we don’t feel scared about it). Plus, there’s the lack of control. How can you know how is carrying it or what you can do to avoid contact when in the UK we are continuing to live our normal lives?
Let’s start with the basics. It’s normal to feel anxious about this, and it fact it’s your body and your brain behaving in exactly the way it’s designed to react. It’s supposed to respond to a threat (the virus) with a response which encourages you to avoid the threat and when you can’t, to feel uncomfortable about this.
Your brain has an in-built alarm system. Think of it like a smoke alarm. When there’s a threat, the alarm goes off. Sometimes in children, young people and families I work with at Headspace Guildford, this alarm has got over-sensitive. That’s like when a smoke alarm goes off when you cook sausages under the grill. In this case the focus of our work is to work to re-set the alarm so it’s not quite so sensitive.
In the case of coronavirus, your brain alarm is going off because the threat is real. You keep being told about how dangerous this virus is. Your alarm is going off because there is a threat, however small that threat is. So, in cases like this, de-sensitising the alarm might help, but we also need to use strategies to manage the anxiety we feel when the alarm goes off. I hope the posters here (scroll down beyond the videos of hand-washing to the bit on ‘how to cope with stress’) might help, because they give practical ideas for what you can do to look after yourself physically and emotionally. I think the danger with coronavirus is we spend so much time focusing on the fear of contracting the virus – the physical aspects, that we neglect to attend to our emotional and mental health.
So if I had to give a summary message, it would be wash your hands and bin your tissues, talk to friends, switch news alerts off your phone and do some things which help you to manage, think about other things and when you need to, actively change the focus of your attention (think about a happy memory, great holiday or a time you felt you managed something tough). We’ll get through this one step at a time.