Right now, the world is facing a challenge (Coronavirus) on a global scale like many of us in our generation haven’t experienced before. It’s of course not the first, nor the last one, humanity will face.
History is filled with examples of equal, if not more severe, threats.
But like those before us, we also need to decide how each of us will respond to what’s in front of us right now.
Will you succumb to the fear or learn to overcome it?
You can choose to become overwhelmed or apply strategies for overcoming overwhelm.
That’s what this post is about.
A New Zealand expert recently said in the media that the current global pandemic is like multiple fires. The better we manage the spread of those fires, while dealing with the existing ones, the more likely we will be to slow the coronavirus down until such a time that we can get on top of it.
But while that is happening, and I know our government here in New Zealand is doing their best to make sure we are safe, the question becomes: “How will you and I show up every day, while all of this is going on around us?
Because the reality is, life goes on.
No matter how many things get cancelled or closed, for the time being, life continues despite the Coronavirus.
And you and I still need to navigate these rocky waters as we try and make an income, do business, take care of ourselves, take care of our families, and look out for our neighbours.
Doing all of that will require that we learn to overcome overwhelm and create some sense of resolve.
Even if you want to panic, how is that going to help?
How is that going to help your kids?
As people, we have very ‘fluid’ memories.
Psychological research has pointed this out numerous times.
We easily forget that we are not the first, nor the last, people in the world that have or will face threats of global proportion.
Here are a few of the deadliest diseases in history, according to Drugs.com:
- The Black Death – it ravaged most of Europe and the Mediterranean from 1346 until 1353. Over 50 million people died, more than 60% of Europe’s entire population at the time.
- Smallpox – during the 18th century, over 400,000 people died annually in Europe from smallpox. Overall fatality rates were around 30%; however, rates were much higher in infants (80-98%), and one-third of all survivors went blind.
- SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) – almost all those infected developed pneumonia due to this coronavirus infection. By the end of 2003, 774 people had died out of the 8,098 infected people notified to WHO.
- Bird flu (also called Avian influenza) – common and several major outbreaks have occurred sporadically worldwide since the disease was first recorded in Italy in 1878. H7N9 is considered the influenza A virus with the greatest potential public health impact. During 2017, 1565 people were infected with H7N9, of whom 610 (39%) died. Poultry was confirmed as the source.
- Ebola –it’s a severe, often fatal disease (death rates average 50% [range 25-90%]), caused by the Ebola filovirus. The most significant outbreak of Ebola in recorded history occurred from 2014 to 2016, predominantly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
- Polio – it’s a crippling infectious disease that is often fatal. Children under the age of five are especially susceptible. Although periodic epidemics occurred during the late 19th century, it was the spike in prevalence that occurred in the 1940s that lead to the development of a vaccine in the ’50s. In 1988, polio cases were an estimated 350,000.
Now, these are just diseases.
I’m not even talking about some of the worst wars in history (in terms of fatalities).
Here’s a shortlist, according to Indiatoday.in:
- World War II (1939 to 1945) – 70 million fatalities
- Mongol Conquests (13th century) – 60 to 70 million fatalities
- World War I (1914 to 1918) – 17 million deaths
- The Manchu Conquest of China (faught for 60 years in the 17th-century) – 25 million lives lost
- Napoleonic Wars (started 1789) – 6.5 million fatalities
And this is just looking to history.
I don’t even want to start going into all the horrifying statistics of fatalities that are still happening around the world today.
Just look at this article on the 5 Genocides That Are Still Going On Today, by BusinessInsider.com.au.
These things are happening under our noses.
But my suspicion is that because it is far away or because it isn’t sexy enough for the media, most of us are either blissfully unaware or don’t really care (all that much).
We have just forgotten.
The point I want to get across is that when something is close to home, like this coronavirus outbreak, our memories don’t always serve us that well and we easily go into fight or flight mode.
We easily catastrophise (hysteria) and self-inflate (“we have it the worst and we’re all doomed”).
The numerous examples of hysterical people fighting over toilet paper in Australia is one example.
But when we look to history, our forefathers and grandparents did not survive the incredible odds against them because everyone just succumbed to mass panic and hysteria.
Somehow, like the ancient Stoic philosophers kept reminding people, we need to find a way to rise above the current adversity of the situation.
And we have to start by accepting that no amount of panic or anger about things outside of our control will change anything.
In the same breath, it will also keep us from tapping into and utilising the things that are inside of our control.
So, by succumbing to fear and unhelpful emotions at a time of challenge, we render ourselves powerless to withstand and respond effectively to whatever is coming at us.
Whether that be a dictator or a disease.
Therefore, what are our options?
I would suggest that while the governments and scientists are doing their bit, perhaps we need to do our bit.
And like the ancient philosophers said, the first and best place to start, is taking personal responsibility for ourselves.
In other words, start with YOU.
But WHERE, specifically?
I would suggest starting with minimising your feelings of overwhelm (and stress).
Taking control of your own emotional state is perhaps the most important thing that you can do right now.
Because when you’re in a more empowered emotional state, you’re essentially setting yourself up to think clearer.
You cannot tap into your higher levels of thinking (prefrontal cortex) when your survival “mechanisms” (limbic system) are activated.
So, we must take control of our emotional state by doing what we can and with what we have.
Here are 10 strategies to take care of your mental health and minimise your feelings of overwhelm and stress:
Take a deep breath.
Once you start to feel overwhelmed, things tend to go downhill quickly.
We’ve seen this happen in the media.
So rather than doing that, give yourself a break by relaxing, taking a deep breath, and slowing down your brain.
And yes, this might sound silly and even old-fashioned, but the power of deep breathing and calming yourself down haven’t really gone anywhere.
Many of us just don’t ever really tap into this natural resource and ability we have.
You can also scan your environment and describe it to yourself.
In other words, rather than sticking your head in the sand about the Coronavirus pretending everything is either “going to crap” or “there’s nothing to worry about”, “expose” yourself to your fear, feelings of overwhelm and stress.
Please, this does NOT mean you expose yourself to the coronavirus or any other dangerous situation!
But ‘exposure’ is a very common strategy in therapy to overcome fears and anxiety.
The more you “expose” yourself to the thing that you’re anxious about, the less powerful that thing becomes.
So, in this instance, take a deep breath and read what credible scientists are saying about the coronavirus.
That’s one example.
But please DO NOT take your advice from the media about the Coronavirus, who are all about the sensationalism of information and getting eyeballs on their articles.
Take a breath and think things through.
It will disengage your mind from your stressors and bring it back to reality.
Focus on what you can do.
Like I said earlier, in any situation, there are things you can control and things you can’t control.
It’s, therefore, vital that during this time of uncertainty that you keep your focus on those things within your influence.
Focusing on the things that are outside of your control will only create further unhelpful emotions.
These will render you ineffective to respond effectively to whatever is in front of you.
So, take a breath, and focus on what you can do.
The Coronavirus is here, it’s done …
So, focus on what you control.
You can wash your hands.
You can take care of your immune system.
You can use supplementation like vitamin A, vitamin C, and get out in the sun for vitamin D.
You can reduce the amount of sugar in your diet.
You can drink more water.
You can exercise more (unless you’re sick).
You can go to bed earlier (you don’t have to binge-watch another series on Netflix)
Control what you can control.
Let go of those things that are out of your control.
This, of course, flows from the previous point.
Not only do you need to focus on what you control, but you also need to let go of those things that are out of your control.
You can’t hold these in equal balance, as the negative will always weigh heavier.
Now, again, I am not promoting ignorance or self-deceit here.
This is not about “happy thoughts” while the world is on fire around you.
This is about understanding that no amount of holding onto things that are out of your control, like the Coronavirus, will make any difference for the better.
It will not help you.
There’s no reason to think about it and get yourself more agitated if you can’t do anything about it.
So, learn to let go of anything you can’t influence while doubling down on the things that you CAN do something about.
This brings us to the next point …
Focus on solutions.
Most of us make the mistake of focusing on the problem and imagining negative outcomes.
But this strategy decreases your capability and causes even more stress.
We call this Catastrophising in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
It’s a cognitive distortion or irrational thought a lot of us have in believing that something is far worse than it actually is.
Catastrophising can generally take two different forms:
- making a catastrophe out of a current situation, and
- imagining making a catastrophe out of a future situation.
But it only ever leads to more stress, overwhelming feelings and panic.
So, if you are going to put your brain to work, then use it to find the best possible solution(s) despite the overwhelming odds or challenges in front of you.
Ask yourself what you can do to eliminate or lessen the sources of your stress.
Now, of course, you cannot do much about the reality of the coronavirus right now.
But you CAN change how you think about it.
You can ALSO change whether you’re using your brainpower to focus on solutions, like washing your hands frequently and staying home when you feel sick.
This leads me to the next super important strategy for overcoming overwhelm …
Avoid making assumptions.
What are the actual facts about the coronavirus?
What are the top experts in the world saying about this?
What is actually happening in your country?
We know what is happening overseas, but those governments are doing their best to resolve their situation.
What is happening in YOUR context?
And is freaking out over what’s happening overseas going to help you at all, here and now?
Moreover, where are you getting your information from?
Because if social media or the media, in general, is your source of information, you’re most likely going to freak out since EVERYTHING is major according to them.
The problem with the media is that they often major in the minors rather than truly inform or even educate.
And even if some of it’s true, just reading the comments of a lot of people who ARE basing their opinions on assumptions and out-of-control emotions, WILL cause overwhelm for you.
- Are things actually as stressful as you think they are?
- Is it possible that you’ve misinterpreted the facts or made poor assumptions?
- And even if it’s bad, what can I do right now to keep myself, my family and my neighbours save?
Gather all the facts before deciding if there’s a reason to be overwhelmed.
But more importantly, question your judgment of these things also, because we can interpret information in all kinds of ways.
Ensure that you’re on solid ground before hitting the panic button.
Give yourself a change of scenery.
If you’ve been following your local government’s updates and directives on the coronavirus, chances are that you’re pretty clear about what needs to happen right now.
You know what your responsibilities are, what you can and cannot do, and how you should act until directed otherwise.
So, maybe, you need to give yourself a change of scenery for a bit.
Maybe get off social media for a while.
Maybe get out of the house and the office for a few hours (if possible).
And yes, it is still completely fine to get out of the house and into nature.
If you’re sick, stay away from other people.
If you think you might be sick, have it checked out, and then stay away from people.
But nothing prevents you from going outside and sitting in the sun (unless it’s raining or you’re sick).
This Coronavirus isn’t transferred through the air but via droplets falling on surfaces and you touching it and then touching your face.
Hence the hand washing.
But, the point here is, your environment affects your perspective.
And if social media is your only “environment”, then I’m afraid you’re in trouble.
Spend some time in nature if possible.
Get in the sun if you can.
Watch a movie.
Stay busy with work (if safe).
Just do something that helps you overcome any feelings of overwhelm so that you can be more prepared to act and respond appropriately and effectively when it’s needed.
Spend time with a friend.
Some of you might be frowning at this strategy.
Isn’t self-isolation or social distancing the whole point of this?
Yes, it is.
But let me remind you of how we used to “spend time” with a friend when I was growing up …
We called it a “telephone call”.
You would take this device that was plugged into the wall, dial a number, someone on the other end would pick up, and you would speak to them.
And sometimes these conversations lasted for hours.
In fact, sometimes, even a lot of coffee was involved.
You on your end and them on their end.
It was great.
And what’s great these days, is that we have even better options like, “video calling”.
Not only can you call your friend and talk to them, but you can now also see them on a screen.
So, no, the coronavirus does not mean you become a recluse.
It does not mean that you have to cut yourself off from other people.
It does mean, however, that we need to become more creative and direct our brainpower to solutions rather than freaking the hell out about all the “restrictions” that have been put on our lives.
This brings me to the next point …
Take part in a relaxing activity.
Overcoming overwhelm requires that you learn to relax.
Even when it’s hard.
And especially when you’re sick.
There is no point in freaking out, even though most of us do it frequently and well.
So, what relaxes you?
Lying on the couch with your headphones listening to music?
Going for a run?
Walking on the beach?
Reading a book?
Watching a movie?
Taking a bath?
Lifting weights or exercising outside?
Just because we’re faced with some restrictions on our normal activities, that does not mean in any shape or form that you don’t have any options left.
It drives me crazy seeing how some people are responding right now.
It’s literally as if all options for self-care and self-management have disappeared.
But that’s not true.
There are still many things many of us can do to relax, calm ourselves down, and overcome overwhelm.
There are still many things we can focus on despite the Coronavirus.
But again, it comes down to us using our brains to focus on solutions rather than what’s outside of our control.
Cut down on your obligations.
A sense of overwhelm is often the result of trying to do too much too quickly.
It is when we feel like things are out of control and we’re struggling to balance everything in our heads, that overwhelm occurs.
It’s almost like our brain shuts down.
So, an effective strategy to overcome overwhelm is to minimise your obligations.
Cut down on the things you need to keep your hand on.
Strip it right back to the bare essentials and the most important.
Doing that will help you feel like you have more control with so much uncertainty going on around you.
This will go a long way in helping you overcome overwhelm and stress, and consequently take control more effectively of your situation.
Consider which of your obligations are most important and get rid of the rest.
This brings us to the last strategy to consider …
Remember when you’ve been overwhelmed in the past.
If you’re reading this, then you survived.
In fact, you might even laugh today about how stressed you were back then but how ridiculous it seems now.
The reason for that is because hindsight is always a perfect sight.
So, let’s tap into that and learn from it.
When you were overwhelmed in the past, what did you do?
- How did you get through it?
- How did you take care of yourself?
- How did you keep perspective when things seemed uncertain or irrational at times?
- How did you take care of others?
These are all powerful questions and lessons you can tap into right now.
Therefore, rather than succumbing to the overwhelm and fear this Coronavirus is creating, tap into your own resourcefulness based on experience.
You just need to remind yourself of it.
Last thoughts …
As the Coronavirus spreads, it’s easy to go with the crowd.
The problem is that “the crowd” is often misguided, hysterical, and not helpful at all.
That doesn’t mean that you’re not, but you need to understand that it’s your personal resourcefulness that will serve you most in this time of uncertainty.
Not your lack of resources.
So, slow your mind and take a deep breath as you’re faced with feelings of overwhelm.
Try to maintain an objective perspective on the Coronavirus and the situation in the world.
It’s easy to get carried away when you’re feeling stressed, but it’s not helpful.
Take a timeout and make a list of the items you can control.
Search for solutions that address those items.
Control what you can control.
Let go of those items you can’t control.
Rely on friends and family to help you cope since you’d do the same for them.
And please … PLEASE … take care of each other.
Just because you might be fine does not mean someone else might be.
Be a good person.