From a Diana Ross song, you may recognize these words:
In the name of love
Before you break my heart
Think it o-o-over..."
And right now
Stop catastrophizing and awfulizing
Think it o-o-over.
That is a wise philosophy of life and living, no matter what the circumstance and challenge. And it certainly is relevant at this time, late February 2020, during which the intense anxiety and panic that many people are experiencing appear to be even more endemic than the mysterious coronavirus itself.
Some people might say: ‘’Easier said than done.’’
Maybe so, yet studies show that it is still do-able for those of us who choose to, and who make the effort to do so.
It is not the spread of the coronavirus that is creating anxiety within people, it is their beliefs about it that does so.
What can we do, what can't we do?
Even if medical experts cannot immediately stop any widespread, national or global spread of a virus, each individual certainly can, and hopefully will take common-sense precautions to prevent catching and/or spreading it and to increase the chances of halting the local and global problem as soon as possible.
We can also choose our thoughts and attitudes about the situation, and thereby it is in our power, if we elect to use it, to firmly adopt a rational attitude about what is going on.
If we do so then we will create healthy emotions, such as concern, rather than the debilitating emotions which include anxiety, extreme fear, and panic. We have the choice.
It can be helpful to pay attention to the anxiety we may be creating and feeling as a result of catastrophizing, awfulizing, and imagining the worst, and to ask ourselves: ‘’Where is that debilitating emotion getting us?"
Sadly, many people believe the notion that such an emotion is one that they should be feeling during times of chaos and uncertainty.
On a television program this morning, a doctor talked about the situation giving healthy precautions that could be taken. He also said: “It is normal to be anxious at this time.”
I disagree with the assertion that it is normal, though I could hardly disagree with the observation that it is common.
Normalizing anxiety serves no positive or productive purpose.
To feel healthy concern about current events can be productive as it can motivate us to keep informed and to take impactful actions.
Creating anxiety serves no helpful purpose.
Anxiety does not facilitate stability or productivity, it is harmful, it zaps our energy, it weakens the immune system, and it robs us of enjoyment in life.
On the other hand, it would certainly be dysfunctional to feel apathy or total detachment from the seriousness of current circumstances.
That is not what is being suggested here.
It is of vital importance that we are informed of up-to-date facts regarding the virus and to listen to suggestions about preventive and proactive actions that could be taken in a timely fashion.
However along with that, it is of immense benefit for each of us to adopt a mature, healthy and sane attitude that begets calm and that encourages and facilitates greater acceptance and productive actions. Such an attitude also allows us to experience enjoyment, despite and including the challenges.
How can this be achieved?
One means of doing so is to diligently and vigorously keep things in a realistic perspective.
Experts tell us that some individuals may succumb to illness whether it’s a result of this virus or other viruses, and other individuals won’t.
Anyone can be at risk of succumbing to any variety of illnesses, bacteria or viruses, at any moment. That does not mean that we inevitably will succumb to them. Some determining factors include genetics, the current state of health, the strength of one’s immune system, healthy or unhealthy lifestyles, and additional elements.
Panic and anxiety will not keep illness at bay nor increase the chances of not succumbing to it.
By experiencing healthy concern rather than anxiety about the situation, we are likely to stay alert, vigilant, act in life-enhancing and common sense ways, and this will beget calm and prevent immersion into anxious states of being.
In-so-doing we can also prevent feelings of hopelessness and the weakening of the immune system, we can remain resilient, we can enjoy the positive aspects of our lives, and we can serve as models of stability and hold healthy perspectives that can help soothe and calm people around us who are getting themselves into catastrophizing modes and anxiety.
The other thing that we can do is to reflect on and observe, that nothing is certain in this life and we best work toward accepting that fact.
Demanding certainty won’t create certainty.
Whilst there are probabilities regarding outcomes, there do not appear to be fixed certainties.
Our lives are finite, each of us will die at some point, preferably later than sooner and with minimal suffering.
Let’s exercise mindfulness and focus more on quality of life in the present and the elements in our lives that we are grateful for, rather than indulge ourselves into unhelpful speculation and dwelling on what might happen in the future.
We have the choice in the here and now to both create and maintain emotional suffering, or to minimize such suffering, by choosing to think in rational and realistic ways.
Let’s choose the latter.
Let’s think things o-o-over.
Let’s stop worrying, in the name of love, tranquility, acceptance and of cherishing life.
Ellis, A. & Ellis, D.J.(2019). Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. Washington D.C. American Psychological Association Publishers.