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The quickly changing global nature,  and uncertain circumstances related to the COVID-19 virus can naturally increase anxiety and panic. These feelings are completely normal and understandable, and reflect our need for survival. That said, it is important to remember that although worry is normal, panic can prevent us from being rational and logical, which are thinking skills we need at times of such difficulty. When we don’t manage our worry, panic can cause us to act in ways that aren’t helpful or may even worsen the situation. Staying calm is easier said than done. So here are some practical tips to consider how to “Keep Calm and Carry On” as we respond to the coronavirus. Remember that humanity is resilient. And you are a part of humanity, and so also resilient. 

  • BE SENSITIVE TO THE WORRY OF OTHERS.  The risks associated with the coronavirus vary from person to person. Some populations, such as elderly, or immunocompromised people will be more at risk than others. Remind yourself that, even if you may not be worried due to low risk, there will be others who are at greater risk. Remain sensitive to others’ worries.
  • REMAIN PRACTICAL. Remain practical in your response to your worry. At times, worry can cause us to overreact. Challenge worries and behaviors that may seem excessive.
  • FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL INSTEAD OF WHAT YOU CAN’T. Maintain control over what you can. We often don’t need 100% control in life to survive. We have experienced many situations in our lives where we don’t have full control and we survive those as well. Look for what you can do instead of what you can’t. This will calm some worry.
  • PUBLIC HEALTH RECOMMENDATIONS OFFER US SOME CONTROL. One of the best things we can control is our own hygiene. Follow public health recommendations for self-care but also when necessary, self-isolation.
  • SEE CHANGE AS A HELPFUL STEP. Since the recommendations being made can be drastically different than what we are used to (e.g., self-isolation, shutting down of large group events, and routines we are used to such as work or school) it can make us feel like we don’t have control. Remember these events are actually meant to improve our control in response to an uncertain situation. Change your perspective to see them as helpful, vs. a sign of chaos.
  • LIMIT ACCESS TO MEDIA TO WHAT IS NECESSARY. Though it is natural to want to continue to stay informed about updates related to the coronavirus, its  spread, and what we should be doing in response, research shows that excessive consumption of this information and media can make us increasingly anxious. That increased anxiety can make us respond less effectively. Limit your access to the news and such information. This might mean taking breaks, or setting a specific time to follow up on the information instead of always leaving it on.
  • BREATHE SLOWLY TO TURN OFF YOUR INTERNAL ALARM. When we are stressed, sometimes our body can respond as if we are  in danger, just like an alarm system. This means our breathing style changes so we are taking heavier, more rapid breaths and taking in more oxygen. This can create physical symptoms of anxiety which can prevent us from thinking calmly and logically. When we are mindful of this response and try to breathe more slowly and more calmly, by breathing from our nose and belly (diaphragmatic breathing), we can help turn off our alarm system, which allows us to think more clearly. This works well for children and adults and can be done as we move or as a part of a mindfulness exercise.
  • REMAIN CONNECTED TO PEOPLE. Stay in touch with friends through phone and text. Supporting each other through our feelings can be very helpful and reduce our sense of hopelessness. But do talk about things besides just the coronavirus, as variety in discussion can be helpful in coping too.
  • ASK FOR HELP WHEN YOU NEED IT. If you are struggling with pre-existing mental health issues, such as an anxiety or mood disorder, or if you’re struggling more with these issues now, these times may be increasingly more difficult, and you may find problems may peak at this time. Seek out supports from family, friends, and any mental health care providers. Even with limited physical access, many care providers may provide access to phone service.
  • CHALLENGE WORRIES. Remember to challenge irrational worries, by asking yourself if the worry is realistic or if we have exaggerated it.
  • MODEL CONFIDENT CALM FOR CHILDREN. Managing your own anxiety, by following the steps above, can be a helpful model for children if you have them or work with them. They will look to you for security. If your anxiety is managed, theirs will increasingly be too.
  • REMIND KIDS WORRY IS NORMAL. Inform children that worry is normal, but also offer them tools to help manage and control what they can do, in the same way you’ve done so. The tips noted above, work well for children too when presented in age appropriate language.
  • TONE IS EVERYTHING. Talk to children about the coronavirus in an age appropriate and constructive way. Remember that the tone of the conversation makes a very big difference. Children look to you to determine how alarming a situation should be.
  • MAINTAIN AND FOLLOW ROUTINE. Although routine in many ways may be disrupted, try to maintain as regular a routine as possible. If you or your family are off work and/or school or self-isolating, this may mean creating a routine of what to do during the day. Consistency and routine are helpful for managing stress and increasing a sense of hope and control.
  • ALL OF THE ABOVE PLUS FUN. Remember that all of the tips above are relevant to children as well as adults. Using child appropriate language makes them child friendly. Be creative, and don’t forget to focus on having fun too.