There are a few basic emotional intelligence concepts coming up that can be helpful as we navigate this territory of the Coronavirus.
Let’s lay the groundwork with those. Then, we can talk about 5 helpful thoughts that we can incorporate to how we are thinking about all that is happening.
First, most things are not only bad or only good.
When we work on healing relationships and experiences in therapy, one of the central themes is that all human beings are capable of all things. That means the same person that has hurt you is also capable of being thoughtful, doing good deeds and loving you. This doesn’t excuse hurtful actions or harmful situations, it just helps to bring in a balanced perspective about people that creates some breathing room.
That is what I want to do here: create some breathing room.
I don’t want to minimize feelings in any way, just as we would never minimize feelings around a trauma. And, bringing in a more holistic picture can help.
Second, building a net before you need it is always wise.
In other words, challenges are easier to face and problems are easier to solve when you are proactive. When something is a full-on emergency, the only thing you can do is survive. Of course, there is a point of diminishing returns when someone becomes overly anxious and hyper vigilant. That is not helpful. But getting in front of things in a way that is calm and mindful is a good thing.
Third, it’s important to be aware of passing judgement.
You could be the person getting dirty looks when you sneeze (not because you are sick) in Starbucks and you could also be person giving dirty looks to someone who coughs in the grocery store (who might have had something stuck in their throat). Someone could be judging you for not being cautious enough and you can be the same person a day later judging someone else for being not cautious enough.
Information and perspectives are changing fast. We don’t know everyone’s circumstances or how fear might be showing up for them. Fear can show up like anger, micromanaging, emotionality, inappropriate humor, denial or suspiciousness, among other things.
Be mindful and generous with your compassion.
Here are some points to consider you as process what is happening around the Coronavirus right now:
ONE: This is a time of raising consciousness and empathy.
This is a time where there is a lot of consciousness being raised around thinking about others. There have been a lot of conversations where I see people’s perspectives shifting when they start to consider what this may be like for people they know or for society as a whole. Most of the time, we might not have to consider the health and well being of others and the community as a whole. We might be mostly concerned with caring for our own health or our own family’s health. Or, we might not even be thinking of our health at all (if we’re lucky).
This is also bringing up important conversations about being a good community member and working together as a community. Think of how many people you see not picking up after themselves or stopping in front of others while on their phones, not being mindful of the impact on others. People you see doing that stuff are not jerks. That has become common place. Now people are thinking more deeply about others. It’s great teaching for kids and teens. And adults, of course!
The other piece is seeing how interconnected we are, that we can learn from one another globally and that efforts made as a whole can make a difference. If you haven’t seen this article yet on the research around why social distancing and other measures are important to slow the spread as well as how learning from other countries and other epidemics have helped, check it out. It is very matter of fact. It has been viewed 17 million times in the last 24 hours.
TWO: Consider how taking precautions does not have to be in response to panic and fear, but about being proactive vs. reactive.
Like with any medical condition, catching it early helps the prognosis. Like with any emotional issue, we teach our clients about the importance of catching a feeling when it first starts to arise. We teach that awareness about it will help you employ coping and communication strategies before you go into fight or flight or a major escalation.
In this situation, taking measures does not have to be done out of fear. You don’t have to buy all the toilet paper or all the frozen food. You can buy a reasonable supply in case you do have to quarantine yourself/your family. You can be mindful about others who don’t have extra money to be stocking up in advance. You can reduce social contact by doing things online more when possible, frequenting high traffic places less, being vigilant about washing your hands. You can do all this to support flattening the curve versus out of fear of pandemonium.
Shift your thinking to support your own mental health and that of your loved ones. Panic doesn’t help anyone. Not your immediate loved ones or the others who are left without any supplies because people freaked out.
THREE: This is a time that brings forward a lot of creative solutions on a large scale.
As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. Very important systems that are both private and public like big companies, small businesses, public schools, healthcare facilities as well as communities and families are having to come up with creative solutions to respond to what is happening. Some of these systems would take years to move as much as they have moved in the last week.
People are being forced to come up with out of the box solutions or try out ideas they have been resistant to before because of financial concerns or due to taking safety precautions. I’ve heard people brainstorming about some amazing ways to shift the way they do things and the ideas coming through are impressive.
FOUR: The creative solutions can be helpful for creating positive paradigm shifts.
Some of the changes happening now could be here to stay because we find out they work better! For one, people are actually staying home and taking care of themselves when they are sick instead of “muscling through it” and going in to work or school. Good! That’s how it should always be. I will gladly wave goodbye to the societal norms of overworking and championing productivity above all else including relationships, health and actually living.
Another one is that companies and individuals might find working from home actually results in a better quality of life and more productivity if it’s done right. Less time commuting, more time with family, happier pets. In fact, Costa Rica signed a new Work from Home Bill into law in Fall 2019 to encourage working from home for multiple reasons including reducing traffic, impact on the environment and increasing healthy productivity.
I’m interested to find out what else we might learn that works better as a result of this situation.
FIVE: It’s an opportunity to reflect on how fear shows up for you.
Fear is a funny emotion. It has so many faces. It doesn’t show up in a consistent way. In fact, I was just talking about this last in my own therapy session with my therapist (yes, therapists go to therapy too because it works and it keeps us in excellent working condition!) and we were laughing about how fear was showing up for me in such an uncommon way.
One way that fear often shows up is an attempt to control. It is common to try and gain control in our lives when we’re feeling most vulnerable or at risk of being “hurt” somehow (whether physically, emotionally or both). So, it can be a time to observe how you are responding to this situation, even if you don’t think you feel afraid.
You can ask yourself: In what ways am I trying to gain control right now because I’m afraid? What do I have control over versus not? When/where else in my life have I felt out of control and how did it affect me or others in my life? Journaling on this could be super helpful. Or bring this to your therapist.
A note on therapy: you don’t have to stop going to sessions because of the coronavirus. It’s a good time for reflection and exploration. Or to work on fears and anxieties. Ask your therapist for the option to do a video or phone session. Just make sure you have privacy and no distractions if you are going to do a remote session! Want more tips on online therapy sessions? Check out this page.
Ultimately, fear is going to be present to some degree.
Emotions are messengers and fear’s message is to pay attention. And, that is a good message for right now. We do need to pay close attention to reliable information sources and to our actions. That will help keep us safe. And, when a feeling goes to an intensity that is too high, it is no longer helpful. So, we bring in these other thoughts and perspectives to balance the fear and keep it in a range that remains helpful.