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  • Coronavirus: Coping with COVID 19 Uncertainty and Anxiety

    In very rapid order, we have seen the COVID 19 novel coronavirus epidemic push itself into the center of our attention.

    The novel coronavirus has emerged as a major public health and economic issue.  In an attempt to control its spread, public health officials are now placing more controls on our social and economic activity.  COVID 19 has certainly shot quickly into a place of prominence in our collective consciousness.

    What is more, many of us are experiencing very real effects on our daily life, as our society wrestles to control the spread of the virus. I am aware of how many people in my client group have been asked to self-isolate because of possible exposure to COVID 19 in the workplace, or because they themselves or a relative have recently returned from travelling to the U.S. or overseas. I expect that this is fairly representative of the population of the Greater Toronto Area as a whole. If so, there must be a great many people who are being directly affected.

    Psychological Impact of Coronavirus

    These substantial effects experienced by many can have very real psychological effects on individuals. It’s not uncommon for people to feel a sense of loss of control and loss of freedom, as various restrictions come into effect. As a result, many people seem to be experiencing some degree of anxiety or depression about the current situation.

    In addition to the specifics of COVID 19 quarantine, self-isolation, and other restrictions, many people are also feeling a great deal of anxiety about the financial impact of the coronavirus situation. We had been in a stable and growing economy for quite some time, but now, at least in the short run, things seem considerably more choppy and unpredictable.

    Such feelings can be that much worse for individuals who have a history of anxiety in any of its forms, or any form of depression, and for those who have undergone any of a large number of types of traumatic experience. The fact that we are all subject to an unending stream of new, angst-provoking material in the news stream also makes our reactions more intense.

    Avoiding Panic and Herd Mentality

    In dealing with this type of situation, it is very easy for individuals to slip into a mindset characterized by panic. It is possible for anxiety to become so intense that it turns into terror or unreasoning fear, which interferes with our capacity to think clearly. As prominent anxiety expert Dr. Margaret Wehrenberg explains, this occurs when the amygdala, the part of the brain that acts like a “smoke detector” (or crisis detector), associates a state of felt uncertainty with intense feelings of fear.

    This type of panic response can easily intensify a kind of psychological response that social psychologists such as Stanley Milgram refer to as herd mentality. People look to the group more intensely for guidance when they are in a state of perceived fear or peril. Jungians are very aware of how such states in groups can lead to what Jung called temporary “mass psychoses“, where an entire group is subject to delusions about a situation or is responding in ways that are patently irrational. This can lead to the kind of hoarding phenomena that we have seen recently, where people, without any rational basis have been stocking up on household supplies to such an extent that big box stores in our area are completely stripped of toilet paper (!), in the groundless belief that shortages are about to occur.

    Finding Personal Power and Creativity

    One of the things that we can do for ourselves in response to the uncertainty around COVID 19 and coronavirus is to seek places in our lives where we can exercise our control of events and our personal power. There are perhaps some things at present that we can’t control, but it can be very important for us to ask, where in my life can I exercise a sense of control at this time?

    For instance, I may currently have to stay at home, having been told not to go into my work at this time. This may lead to a sense of powerlessness and limitation. Yet, are there things that I can do in my own home that would give me the opportunity to exercise my personal power in a way that feels good or satisfying? Are there connections I can make, things I want to learn, possibilities for the future that I don’t normally get to explore? Alternately, are there people –family members, friends or others — whom I can contact via phone, online or other media so that I can offer support — or gain support?

    One area where it might be very important for me to exercise my personal power would be the amount of news or information related to COVID 19 that I let into my life. Often, people tend to instinctively seek information in a time of uncertainty, in a bid to gain more control. However, that can backfire, if people find themselves subject to a bottomless deluge of information all keyed to increasing peoples’s anxiety.

    As we know, in recent years, the media have discovered that raising peoples’ fear levels increases views for news items. Healthy, self-compassionate self-care at this point may well involve limiting or eliminating the amount of coronavirus news that comes into your life. You may want to see some news, perhaps, but now may be a very bad time to be a news junkie — so simply stay away!

    A final thing that you might do for yourself is to find support from a good, affirming therapist, such as possibly a /a-midlife-transition. Working with the right kind of therapist at a time like this may well help to increase your sense of control, and to clarify what is really important for your life journey at this time.

    With best wishes to all during this demanding period,


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