Staying Home and Facing Our Common Fears

Social distancing is the most effective way to flatten the curve.

Posted Mar 23, 2020

For the first time in almost everyone’s lifetime, we are being asked as global citizens to face a “common fear” and combat a common enemy: the novel COVID-19 virus, which is proving to be an extremely disruptive, traumatic, and transformative force that’s altering every aspect of our daily existence.

There are ample reasons that justify why the level of our common fear has reached critical levels worldwide. On December 31, 2019, China revealed the emergence of COVID-19 cases in Wuhan. Less than three months later, March 11th, the COVID-19 virus was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

According to the WHO, a pandemic is a global outbreak of disease or virus spreading to infect people and can exponentially spread between people because there is little to no preexisting immunity against it, (which has ignited and fueled a higher level of common fear).

The WHO has also noted, "For most people, COVID-19 infection will cause mild illness; however, it can make some people very ill and, in some people, it can be fatal. "Older people and those with preexisting medical conditions (such as cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, or diabetes) are at risk for severe disease."

It has spread to 185 countries, 372,146 cases have been reported, there have been 16,3120 deaths, (mostly in Italy and China), 101,069 cases (86%) have either recovered or been discharged from hospitals and 12,192 cases (5%) are serious or critical.

On March 11th, it was declared a National Emergency by the federal government in the United States. There are reports of cases in all 50 states and this week, California, New York, Illinois, and Connecticut virtually shut down and have mandated that all residents stay at home and commit to social distancing and self-isolation.

Another aspect of our common fear is we don’t know how long this new life paradigm will last. We are being asked to take part in social distancing and self-isolating, which is the only practical way to “flatten the curve” and hopefully limit the spread of the virus. None of us could have imagined a scenario like this happening in our lives outside of sci-fi movies and books.

We are all facing many justifiable common fears: loneliness, financial concerns, long-term economic fallout, and health impact. Like so many other Americans, I’m working remotely from home and conducting therapy sessions either virtually or via phone. In adjusting to our new normal, I’ve put together a few tips you may find useful in managing and staying motivated throughout your day-to-day existence.

1. Believe in our ability to persevere individually and as nations.

Inherent to humans is the desire to survive despite obstacles. I have talked to many people in different countries and in different age groups, all of whom are working to face their fears. They are coming up with different methods to problem solve and cope with the unknown. Italians singing to each other on their terraces is an example of that. Other clients have been setting up “happy hour” by Zoom or FaceTime.

It’s important to be creative and find ways to stay connected and share time together.  Schedule time to meet for coffee, book clubs, or family/friend group chats.

2. Don’t over-saturate your brain.

In order to mitigate rolling anxiety, put off looking at news and social media for new updates all day long. Choose a time during the day, preferably not the first or last thing you do each day to check in on whatever news channel you find reputable. I recommend using; WHOCDC, and Worldometer. Do that for limited periods of time. It’s so easy to get caught up in a rabbit hole of information or disinformation. Set boundaries and take moratoriums to reduce the amount of time you’re available to talk about the pandemic with your work associates and friends.

3. Get some fresh air.

It’s critical to continue to go outside and get some fresh air. If you’re quarantining, put a mask on and go for a walk alone, keeping a safe distance from others. If you’re social distancing, go for a few short walks a day, keeping a six-foot distance from those around you. It’s essential to maintain some daily exercise regimen and taking short walks will help to combat depression and increasing anxiety. People in captivity who don’t have access to fresh air and exercise fare poorly.

4. Commit to developing and implementing daily structure:

Try to develop some structure to your day. If you succumb to what’s easy and lie around watching TV all day, that is a surefire way to become anxious and depressed over time. The body and brain need variety and activity to stay engaged. Find a balance between your work and your personal free time. Set aside time to devote to your hobbies, whether it’s cooking, reading, virtual yoga, gym or dancing classes, arts & crafts, playing games, doing puzzles, etc. If you’re working, challenge yourself to move around throughout the day. Don’t work from your bed or stay behind your desk all day.

5. Be realistic and don’t succumb to a catastrophic mindset.

There is a lot of scary information out there and still lots of unknowns, so make sure to keep the news in perspective. What we have learned from China is that it is possible to reduce the number of new cases. Italy has shown us that elderly people with compromised respiratory conditions or other pre-existing health problems have a high risk of fatality if infected. We need to do our best to keep them safe. Remember, it’s our human and civic responsibility to social distance and self-isolate to limit the spread of the virus and flatten the curve, not because the virus is a death sentence to everyone who is infected.

If you find that these tips are not effective in reducing your inherent levels of anxiety, loneliness or any other common fears you may be facing, try other ways to keep yourself mentally, physically and emotionally stimulated and healthy. If you feel you need professional help, there are a lot of mental health professionals who are available for consultation via phone and virtually using FaceTime, Skype, Zoom and other Web-based platforms.

Be responsible, empathize, and let’s help each other face our common fears together.

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