OK, so things are a little weird right now. And it seems like things got that way pretty fast. Just a few weeks ago, we were following our daily mundane routines and now most of the world is in quarantine. How did we get here? Perhaps more importantly, where do we go from here? What should we do? How should we feel?
During times of uncertainty such as this, we often look toward others as a barometer to gauge our own emotional responses. Unfortunately, what’s portrayed in the media is often the most extreme example of human behaviors. Should we be buying seventy-four rolls of toilet paper too? What kind of virus is this, anyway? Wait—now people are buying 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer?! (yes, this was a thing).
But before following suit, let’s remember the basic principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on the mutual interaction between thoughts, feelings and behaviors. In this case, anxious, fear-driven thoughts can cause the physical sensation of panic, making us feel like we are in fight-or-flight mode. These distressing feelings and emotions can then propel us to act in extreme ways, because this is the message that both our brain and body are sending. To put it simply: the way we interpret our environment has a profound influence on our emotional functioning. Makes sense, right? But the most important take-home message here is that the way we feel and the way we behave are influenced by our perception of events and how we interpret and think about a situation.
So, great—but how does this relate to coronavirus? It means that we have the ability to understand the situation with a proportional amount of concern and consideration (which includes abiding by directions given by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization). And when if we feel ourselves begin to feel panicky, we can take a step back and examine whether it was at all influenced by flawed or inaccurate logic that is now only serving to exacerbate and prolong the distress. The bottom line is that prioritizing physical health does not need to come at a cost to your mental health. Take precautionary measures, stay informed and consult medical professionals when needed. If you are in treatment with a mental health counselor, inquire about telehealth services. Remember that the behavior you demonstrate has the potential to make a significant positive impact on others.
Carolyn Moriarty, LPC