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Coronavirus panic: how to stay calm when everyone is losing their minds around you

“I’m basically an emotional support animal nowadays, and it’s wearing me down.” 

I must have parrotted the words, “just keep washing your hands,” about a thousand times in the last week. I’ve written them in articles, I’ve typed them into WhatsApp, and I’ve said them aloud over the phone, too. Why? Because it’s the only bloody advice experts have given us over the coronavirus pandemic so far, and I’m nothing if not a stickler for the facts.

The facts feel flimsier than ever, though, when my friends and family decide to counter them with their own hysteria.

One informed me, with all the authority of a World Health Organisation leader, that washing my hands is “pointless” (they reckon Covid-19 can attack me “through any orifice, really – that’s why doctors are wearing masks and goggles”). Another challenged me to look at all those terrible photos from Italy and Wuhan (“does it look like the flu to you?”). A usually level-headed friend has decided they absolutely 100% have the virus, despite the fact they haven’t been to a high-risk country or come into contact with any confirmed cases.

Meanwhile, my smart-as-a-whip and healthy as a horse BFF has messaged to ask if she can self-isolate at my place (although, to be fair to her, she does live with someone who has underlying health issues). And my mum, bless her, has been sending me photos of empty supermarket shelves and warning me to stock up on toilet paper, tampons and tinned food

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They’re not the only ones, of course. Social media is awash with panicked tweets, frightened Facebook statuses and disturbing Instagram photos. And, just as HBO’s Chernobyl triggered my nucleomituphobia, this is all making me feel… overwhelmed, actually. Horribly, miserably overwhelmed.

I know it’s silly. I know the NHS has reassured everyone that they’re well-equipped to deal with a pandemic. I know that basic hygiene is genuinely the best way to avoid Covid-19. And I know that coronavirus kills far fewer people than the endless churn of headlines would have you believe. And yet…

Well, it’s hard to keep your head when everyone else is losing theirs, isn’t it?

coronavirus-self-isolate

To help me get back on top of things, I reached out to mental health advocate Jo Love for some advice. Here’s what she had to say.

I wasn’t worried about coronavirus until everyone else was. Why is hysteria so infectious?

All emotions whether positive or negative can be contagious. So much like the very virus that is causing the current stress levels, you can “catch” it from other people. And just like a virus, it can leave you feeling (emotionally) wiped out.

My loved ones rely on me to reassure them with common sense, but it’s getting harder. How do I protect my own mental health during this time?

Always being the ‘strong one’ can be exhausting, overwhelming and tiring. It can be so easy to be everyone else’s anchor when in fact you’re the one who is drowning. The best way to help yourself is to stop pouring from that empty cup and as hard as it feels, putting yourself first for once. Leave those mounting WhatsApp messages for another day, don’t answer the phone to that draining friend, and saying no to that moaning mate.

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What should I do if I find myself spiralling?

I am a big fan of using big deep breaths to calm myself quickly and easily. There are a dizzying number of breathing techniques out there but for me as long as I breathe out for longer than I breathe in, it works its works its mood boosting magic. Of course, with the added bonus that it’s easy, free and you can do it anywhere from in front of your boss to on the bus!

Studies have shown taking a deep breath really does calm you down

What are the easiest ways to stay calm in a crisis?

Breathe: Studies have shown taking a deep breath really does calm you down by triggering neurons in your brain which tell the body it is time to relax. Try breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth, making sure the outbreath is longer than the inbreath.

Write it down: There are lots of proven benefits of keeping a regular journal, but writing things down works to improve your mood. Even as a one off, writing things down can be an enormously cathartic way to view your problems, fears, and concerns.

Distraction: It’s an oldie but a goodie – look for something to take your mind off it. Have a cup of tea, phone a friend, listen to a podcast (maybe plump for something uplifting and leave the true crime for another day).

Get outside: Find five minutes to get outside and walk. Nature has been shown to calm people down within just five minutes, and it will give you a chance to think through your priorities and what you can do next.

Get grinning: Smiling and laughing releases hormones that calm you down and allow you to be in control. Interestingly, research shows that the mere act of smiling tricks our brains into lifting our mood, lowering our stress and boosting our immune systems.

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With that in mind, I’m going to take myself for a walk and treat myself to a Netflix binge-watching session. Wish me luck.

Image: Priscilla du Preez/Unsplash

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