No Coronavirus Panic: Think Carefully, Act Responsibly & Take it Easy

By Sponsored, February 8, 2020

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This post was sponsored by SinoUnited Health and written by Dr. Timothy A. Kelly, Ph.D, Chief of the Behavioral Health Department & Clinical Psychologist at SinoUnited Health.

The recent outbreak of the 2019 CoronaVirus (CV) can be unnerving, especially if we obsessively follow the endless news, quasi-news and social media commentary.  If we do, we are likely to enter panic mode – plagued with “negative automatic thoughts” that are in fact not true, yet serve to traumatize us with fear.

What to do?  Learn to think carefully, act responsibly and then… take it easy!

Think Carefully

  • Limit your source of CV information to mainstream media and governmental sources that are known for being trustworthy and accurate.  Do NOT tune in to the endless “sky is falling” hype on social media, which only serves to unnerve you.

  • Limit time spent updating CV information to two or three times a day, no more than 10-15 minutes at a time.  That’s plenty of time to keep up with whatever may be important.  Resist the tendency to obsessively check all sources day and night, which only increases your stress level.

  • Be clear on the facts, and stick to that, which means ignoring all other opinions and comments that may come your way.  For instance, the facts so far include:

    • CV is NOT airborne, and is spread either by contact with an infected person, or by droplets (coughing, which is contagious within 1-2 meters but no more), or by touching an infected surface and then one’s face.

    • CV is NOT as deadly as SARS.  If you are in good health and seek care quickly (hospital if serious symptoms, home care if not), chances are very good that you will fully recover as you would from flu.  Those more at risk are people with prior medical vulnerabilities, or very elderly.

    • China is moving heaven and earth to defeat CV.  Together with other nations, China is doing all in her power to evaluate, contain, and overcome CV.  We can be confident that this amazing nation that completed a 1000-bed hospital for CV patients in 10 days will win the battle! It’s just a matter of time.  

  • Resist “negative automatic thoughts” that are generated by and contribute to your anxiety, and in fact are not true.  Thoughts such as “I dare not go out” or “I just know I’m going to catch this and die” (also known as catastrophic thinking) must be challenged on the basis of facts.  Remind yourself of what the truth is, speak to yourself, then turn your attention to other things.

  • Use a morning self-statement to align your thoughts with truth.  Write out a statement that is factual and encouraging, and put it on the bathroom mirror so that you read it first thing every morning.  (This is a technique that’s often used in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy – CBT.)  You should draft this in your own words, but here are two illustrative examples to consider as you do so.

    • “I may at times feel overwhelmed but the truth is CV is much less deadly than SARS, and it’s just a matter of time until it’s defeated. Until then I’ll do my part for hygiene, and be confident that this too shall pass!”

    • “I may at times feel doomed, but the truth is the chances of my catching CV are very small given my hygiene.  And even if that unlikely event did happen, the chances of my full recovery are very large.”

Act Responsibly

Take the necessary precautions for hygiene, which includes:

  • Wear a mask when in public, and avoid crowds

  • Do not touch objects or face more than is absolutely necessary

  • Wash hands very frequently with soap (20 seconds) or sanitizer

  • Avoid persons who are sick, to the extent possible

  • Seek medical help immediately if symptoms develop (typically high fever, dry cough, difficulty breathing)

Take It Easy

Having done all you can do (Act Responsibly) and holding to accurate thoughts (Think Carefully) you can now relax, take a deep breath, take it easy, and live your life in a balanced and healthy way despite CV.  Here are eight suggestions to consider:

  1. 1. Follow the tripartite rule of physical health.  Eat well (healthy food, not too much or too little), exercise or walk regularly, and get good sleep (8hrs +/- 1hr).  In other words, do that which is necessary to keep your body healthy and fit.  This reduces your stress level and strengthens your immune system.

  2. 2. Get out now and again.  It’s OK to get out for a walk or meet a friend for coffee at times, while wearing your mask and avoiding large crowds.  Too much isolation can lead to a lonely restlessness, or even a sense of hopelessness, that is psychologically costly.  There is a balance to be found between recklessness (e.g., no mask, crowded venues) and over-reaction (e.g., near-total isolation).  Find that balance, and encourage others to do so as well.

  3. 3. Spend time with family and friends.  Make time to be with family and friends, even if that means cutting back on work or other duties.  Enjoy their company, share life's interests and have fun together.  Remember that at a time like this they need you as much as you need them, and look for opportunities to help others out.  Take pleasure in meeting the needs of those you care for, as this is a great antidote to obsessive worrying. 

  4. 4. Talk about it. Find a kindred spirit among your family members, friends or colleagues – someone you can get together with or call regularly to discuss current events and how they impact you.  Learn to be a good listener as you share what's on your heart and mind.  Draw others out, and let others draw you out, remembering that conversation and common sense helps keep things in perspective.  Don't keep your negative automatic thoughts and catastrophic fears stuffed inside, unexamined, where they will eventually unnerve you.

  5. 5. Seek spiritual strength.  If you have a spiritual or faith tradition that is meaningful to you, now is a good time to exercise it.  This could mean doing yoga at home or with a friend, using those “Mindfulness” exercises you learned from a seminar, or exercising whatever approach to prayer / meditation works best for you.  Evening meditation and/or prayer, including thankfulness for the day’s life-giving events, is a great counter to negative automatic thoughts.

  6. 6. Read something positive and meaningful.  This is a good time to pick up or download that book you’ve been wanting to read for some time.  That’s a MUCH better use of your time – especially late at night – than checking in on the latest CV-related newscasts and WeChat groups.  Select a book that is positive, meaningful and enjoyable (my current pick is “Team of Rivals”).

  7. 7. Play beautiful music.  Beautiful music has healing qualities that reduces stress and touches us deeply, whether we are playing an instrument, listening to a playlist, or attending a concert.  If you used to play an instrument, consider picking it up again.  If alone at home for awhile, play your favorite songs and let the beautiful world of music wash away the day’s concerns.

  8. 8. If all else fails, seek professional help.  Many of us need a professional helping hand at times – whether for biological needs or psychological needs.  Professional psychological help is especially important if despite your best efforts you find yourself experiencing panic attacks or depression, both of which can be triggered by traumatic events such as the CV.  Treatment – including psychotherapy and perhaps medication – is typically very effective, often within a few weeks.

There is an ancient saying that many have used when facing tough challenges such as CV – “This too shall pass.”  This too shall indeed pass, but until it does think carefully, act responsibly, and by all means take it easy on yourself.  By so doing we’ll all get through this together!

Dr. Timothy A. Kelly Chief of the Behavioral Health Department & Clinical Psychologist at SinoUnited Health, Shanghai (400-186-2116)

[Cover image courtesy of SinoUnited Health]

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