With new headlines emerging daily about the spread of Coronavirus, it’s easy to feel out of control. Where might it strike next? Who will get sick? It’s distracting and depleting. It’s also an opportunity to strengthen your resilience muscle.
Part of the reason that Coronavirus upends our sense of security is that it’s invisible, says meQuilibrium Chief Science Officer Andrew Shatté, Ph.D. “It taps into primal fears—sharks, spiders, snakes—but it also can’t be seen. You can see a car; you can’t see a virus. So for those of us who want control, it’s a predicament, emotionally and mentally,” he says.
So while statistically driving a car is far more likely to harm you than Coronavirus, it also feels much less scary, because we can envision the threat and it’s familiar. “In the absence of information, our thinking styles fill in the gaps,” Shatté warns. “When we’re more informed, we’re less apt to let our minds run away with this.”
Here are six informed ways to navigate the current climate with resilience:
1. Control what you can.
Arm yourself with medical information from reputable sources and take proper precautions, such as washing your hands and sneezing into your elbow. If you’re worried about vulnerable friends and family, such as the elderly, put a plan in place to check in regularly. Adjusting behaviors will help you regain a sense of empowerment instead of allowing the latest headlines to dictate your actions and emotions.
2. Take care of your body.
Stress affects our mood, but it also affects our physical health. Now is the time to manage it: Get plenty of rest. Take regular work breaks. Make sure to eat healthfully. Building a resilient immune system will also help you feel more in control. After all, “The risks of suffering from stress and burnout are higher than Coronavirus,” Shatté says.
3. Address your root fears.
Take a moment to think about what really scares you about Coronavirus. Is it getting sick? Or is it truly about your Iceberg Beliefs, such as a need to remain in control at all times? As humans, we’re hard-wired to scan for potential threats—and Coronavirus has been framed as a big one. So arm yourself with facts: A small proportion of the population has Coronavirus, and in those who do, the symptoms are frequently mild. “This is a real threat,” says Shatté. “but our natural fears make it much worse.”
4. Practice realistic optimism.
In situations such as this, Shatté says, it’s easy to make decisions based on anxiety—such as stockpiling groceries or avoiding public spaces. While caution is important, extreme panic will undermine your mental health. Remember that the vast majority of people who contract Coronavirus will suffer mild symptoms, says Adam Perlman, MD, meQuilibrium’s Chief Medical Officer.
As such, Shatté says, “Make sure you worry according to probability and adjust your behaviors to gain some sense of control without panicking.” The brain has a notoriously hard time with probability when it’s running on fear.
Realize that people might be distracted, worrying about friends and family, or confused by the latest headlines. At work, especially, colleagues might not be running at 100 percent. Give people room to adjust. Build in extra time for meetings for those who might be working remotely. Offer flexibility on deadlines. Conduct walking meetings to keep active—and to get away from the Internet.
6. Practice gratitude.
Coronavirus is a new threat and coping with new threats requires strength and energy. So give yourself some credit. Remember to end each day with a measure of gratitude that you successfully navigated the world around you, and let this positivity build on itself. You have the power to care for your physical and mental health; don’t let anxiety control your well-being.