Human beings are hardwired for negativity, so understandably right now we are very much on high alert in regard to potential danger — and probably 24/7. For our ancestors, to be cautious about everything in the environment kept them alive. For us, it keeps us stressed.
At one level, coronavirus satisfies our evolutionary tendencies to think everything will turn out badly, which can quickly bring on feelings of depression and anxiety. For example, you might have noticed yourself becoming increasingly on edge, irritated or angry.
Added to this can be fears about what is going to happen next, or a feeling of helplessness at your normal life suddenly feeling so out of control. The virus might also bring up memories of other times in your life you felt unsafe.
It’s important to remember that although we can’t control what happens to us, we can always choose our response. Here are four strategies to help:
1. Focus on what you CAN do to create a sense of safety for yourself and those you care about. Wash your hands, remind others to wash theirs, make your home a peaceful and positive place (it helps to limit your social media and consumption of the news). Choose your social gatherings carefully, and practice self-isolation if your immune system is compromised
2. Keep connected. Talk to your friends and family about how you are feeling and set up new ways of keeping in touch to keep everyone in the loop during upcoming periods of sickness or self-isolation. Get your neighbours or street involved by setting up a roster or swapping numbers in case help is needed
3. Put a daily reminder in your calendar to go outside, move and enjoy nature. The natural environment is a vast, self-regulated system and being in it has the effect of regulating ours. It quiets our nervous system in wonderful, gentle and life-affirming ways. You can enjoy being outdoors and still maintain social distance
4. Use mindfulness strategies to stay in the present moment. Our minds love to ruminate about the past and fret about the future. In times of crisis, it is critical to manage our thoughts and keep ourselves grounded in the now. When you find yourself feeling out of control or panicking about what is unfolding and what might happen, pause, take three deeper breaths, and gently bring yourself back to the present. There are plenty of great apps to help.
Together we are going to get through this. We’ll come out the other side stronger and with a host of new ways of living and working we otherwise may never have had the opportunity to create. Nothing is all bad.
Kathryn Brewer is a resilience coach based in Adelaide, South Australia