The Coronavirus is here and it’s becoming increasingly scary. From 12pm today, I along with the rest of the population in the country I live in, will only be allowed outside with a document to say where you are going and why. As I write this at 8am CET, the small medieval town I live in is deserted. Normally at this time, the streets are full of people going about their daily lives. Life as we know it is about to change for the forseeable future. We face a minimum of 15 days of compulsory self-isolation with trips outside only allowed for food shopping (given that there might be something on the shelves), trips to the doctor or pharmacy or small bouts of exercise (alone). Europe shut its borders to the world last night and personal freedoms, taken for granted by all of us , are being curbed.
We will, of course, survive this period with some inconvienences and obvious difficulties but we will survive in all likliehood. However, as I have witnessed in the last few days in my practice, the idea of self-isolation is truly worrying for many people and especially people who suffer from anxiety. Some of these people will be alone when compulsory isolation inevitably hits the rest of the world and they are already voicing their fears about it. For some, this thought is worse than actually catching the virus. It is important in these cases to keep a routine as much as possible, maintain contact with family members and friends by video or phone and practice as much self-care as possible, maintaining good sleeping, eating, relaxation and exercise regimes (many workouts can be easily done in the home). It could also be the case that being away from the usual stessors in life will actually reduce stress in some cases.
For me, I work from home and so does my wife so there will not be a great change for us on a practical level. However, we have still come up with a plan of action to reduce ‘cabin-fever’ and any chance that we might become over anxious. We have been semi-isolating for a few weeks now and some of the initiaves that we came up with have worked well. We decided on the following:
Practice mindfulness and ‘in the moment’ thinking. This is a crisis, no doubt, and nobody has any idea when it will end. Catastrophic thinking about possible worst-case scenarios are unhelpful. Try to take each day as it comes and find a balance of relaxation, productivity and connection with others. One of the positive side-effects of being isolated with others is that relationships can improve and become closer.
Avoid general media speculation. All valid information is available on national health and government websites concerning precautions and possible routes to take should anyone become infected. The general media is full of highly dramatic stories akin to a ‘zombie-apocalypse’. These outlets are best avoided. Many peopl will be watching news programmes constantly during the day. Try to limit this to sites you know are informed and official.
Avoid spreading bad news (especially doom stories and speculation). We are all in this together and everyone is trying to cope as best they can. I have heard from clients that their anxiety has increased when friends and family share news stories about the virus or even text them with bad news.
See isolation as an opportunity. While many of us will struggle with the idea of being kept inside, we personally have looked at it in terms of what we can catch up on. Business and personal topics, personal growth, more reading, spending time together, talking and discussing have been a benefit so far. It is very early in this new world and these points need to be maintained but suddenly we seem to have more time than usual for these things.
Be responsible. A major factor in the spread of the virus is social contact. Here, despite a stern warning last week to curb social activity, nobody really took any notice. Hence, we have an enforced ban on activity outside the home. It is clear that some will also put themselves before the good of the many and not even heed this new advice. It is down to the authorities to deal with these people and we can only concentrate on our own actions. Tempting as it it is, we have avoided stockpiling goods with the thought that supply will be maintained. We will not travel and only go out when absolutely needed.
Spread some kindness. Isolation does not mean that social contact cannot happen through other means. Check on family members and friends frequently, especially those who are known to be vulnerable and at risk. Boost each other’s spirits as much as possible. For older members of the family, offer to fetch provisions and prescriptions.
These are strange times and many people will suffer from mental health issues during this time. It is important that all is done to maintain good individual mental health and that of families around the world. Governments bear aresponsibility much much of it comes down to the individual and actions taken.