To say that March 2020 has been an emotional rollercoaster would be an understatement. The escalating fears of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), are impacting our lives on an unprecedented level. Schools and colleges are closing, employers are implementing work-at-home policies, and stores are rolling out limited hours. It doesn’t help that the news quickly went from “Wash your hands. We’ll be fine,” to “Stay home, prepare for the worst and good luck finding toilet paper!”
Toilet paper? Really?
Art by: @sarashakeel
Yes, we’re starting to all get very scared. According to Steven Taylor, author of "The Psychology of Pandemics: Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease," what we’re seeing is panic-buying.1 It's scary, not only because people’s behaviors are irrational, but also due to the fact that we’re witnessing herd mentality: everyone else is panicking and buying extra toilet paper, I might as well, too.2
Fear is ugly. It has very real, very physical consequences on the sympathetic nervous system, our emotional health, and our ability to think and react clearly. That familiar fight-or-flight response when something jumps out and scares us is highly useful and functional. It’s meant to boost us into quick action, moving us out of harm’s way so that we can survive. However, long-term, indefinite fear of a perceived threat — or a threat that hasn’t arrived but is predicted to — sends our emotional and physical systems into overdrive.3
We need to hit the pause button — now. That panic-buying behavior mentioned earlier is irrational, but the reason people do it is simple. People are trying to stay in control of an unpredictable outcome.4 But, studies show that fear and anxiety can wreak havoc on the immune system: One study found that students who suffered from stress showed weakened immunity to the flu, even when vaccinated! Another found that people with weakened immune systems who were placed under long-term stress stopped producing their body’s natural defenses against oncoming threats. It’s not too late to slow the impact of fear on our personal and emotional wellbeing.5
Feeling fear-ridden? Here are five tips for fighting fear fatigue during the Coronavirus crisis.
Wake Up With Intention
Setting your intention when you first wake up is a powerful way to boost your mood for the day, build positivity, and even (according to scientists who study neuroplasticity) help develop healthier pathways in your brain.6 The news online and on television might not be great today, but you can choose to have a better day. Your mind is that powerful. Start the morning by setting your intention before you do anything else.7
Create a Safe Sanctuary
Find a space within your home and build a sanctuary space that belongs to you. If you live alone, make this space a special retreat for rebuilding your resilience against the outside world. Consider a spot with soft, natural light and include items that bring you comfort. This could be a window with your favorite chair, a corner with your yoga mat, maybe it’s simply an agreement in a busy and crowded home that individuals get to be alone for an hour at the end of the day to read. The goal is to find solace, or as the Danish call it, Hygge. If you’re unfamiliar: a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.8
Take a Media Fast Two Hours Before Bed
Our mobile phones and electronic devices are following us everywhere these days. The biggest transgression to date is that they are now interrupting our sleep. What could be more important to our health and immunity during a global pandemic than a healthy night’s rest? Studies show that leaving our phones outside of the bedroom is the ultimate mental health game-changer. Turning them off just two hours before bed can lead to better sleep. And better sleep leads to a better life.9
Thinking back to the fight-or-flight response we feel when we’re afraid, what exactly happens to us physically? Beyond the neurochemical rush of adrenaline, all sorts of things happen. Our digestive system shuts down, we may hold our breath, hands are clenched tight into fists (ready for a fight!), and, basically, all energy is blocked. Now, consider the body’s condition during a period of mindfulness. Open palms, tongue resting, deep breathing – there are actually amazing physical and chemical responses taking place in this condition that benefit our immunity and wellbeing. The stress hormone cortisone begins to lower, drastically, while the same brain waves experienced in deep sleep begin to flow. Our brains begin to build new grey matter helping us build resilience and balance our emotions.10
We began our day by setting our intentions. Now, before closing our eyes, let’s show gratitude for all that we have. In a world immersed in panic, scarcity mentality, and fear, making a list of the small things that make us happy can have very real, very positive impacts on our health. By listing five things that they were grateful every day, students who were studied were not only happier, they were physically healthier. According to health and happiness expert Neil Pascricha, “Happy people don’t have the best of everything, they make the best of everything.”11
"Every day, think as you wake up: Today I am fortunate to have woken up. I am alive, I have a precious human life. I am not going to waste it." – The Dalai Lama