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Surviving the madness of the coronavirus pandemic – going into lockdown

I’m constantly having to update my articles about the COVID19 pandemic because the context is changing by the day. The underlying wisdom of this constant revision is that we all need to be flexible, adaptable and take one day at a time. Change is inevitable and right now things are moving quickly. And so is the virus!

On the one hand I’m seeing a world gone mad with fear and stress. But at the same time, I’m struck by how humanity can also be at its absolute best when confronted with a crisis. There is the brutal reality of illness, suffering, deep disappointments and losses, massive disruption to everyday life and plans, huge business and financial losses and in some instances even death from the virus. The challenges for us as inhabitants of this planet are unprecedented. Here are some tips to keep your head in this crazy experience.

  • Use social media with caution. If you’re wanting to connect with others, do it with care and supportive consideration. Don’t spread panic and gossip. Forward positive, constructive and emotionally containing messages. Delete anything that could be destructive for you or for others during the COVID19 pandemic
  • Don’t over-expose yourself to the news or discussions and updates about the pandemic
  • As soon as you feel your anxiety levels rise, alter your behaviour and your attitude. If you’re looking at your screen, stop and move on to something else that brings you more balance – preferably something constructive
  • Set up online alternatives to your usual source of income and to your communication with groups of people
  • Use the internet for information but only from reputable, responsible sites. Examples are sacorononavirus.co.za and nicd.ac.za
  • Monitor your emotional and mental state. If your anxiety levels are uncomfortably high, get in touch with your usual psychotherapist or mental health care provider. An online or telephonic consultation can probably be arranged if face to face is not an option
  • Your fear can be helpful because it drives a response that protects you.
  • The impact of the pandemic changes constantly so your response to it needs to be very flexible and adaptable. Be prepared to take one day at a time and adjust your behaviour in line with what authorities advise
  • If you are feeling extremely anxious, make notes of the exact basis of your fear. Are you scared of getting sick, are you responding to public panic, are you afraid of losing income? Once you have clarity in your mind about what’s behind your fear, it will help you to settle your mind and manage the fear
  • Remember that the coronavirus is not fatal for the vast majority of people
  • Don’t lose perspective about all the restrictions placed on society at the moment. The main reason for the extreme measures being put in place is to curb the spread of the coronavirus. This is ultimately to protect people who are actually at risk if they contract the virus: older people, those with immune deficiencies and chronic illnesses
  • Use your preferred methods of relaxation. This could be mindfulness, doing whatever exercise is possible at home, chatting to friends and family online, creative activities and reading
  • Practice tolerance for different levels of fear in others. People are reacting to (and defending themselves against the fear of) the pandemic in various different ways
  • This is a time of high stress with a consequent risk of interpersonal conflict and fights. Be very aware of your own behaviour and attitudes
  • Preserve your interpersonal relationships. The threat of the coronavirus itself, the impact on society, business and income are very upsetting for all of us. Stress of this magnitude can make anyone hostile, irritable, upset and quick to anger. Watch out for temper outbursts
  • Try not to sling too much mud at anyone at this time. The virus itself is the villain – much more so than any human being
  • Be extremely considerate of everyone you encounter during this time of crisis. Recognise that each one of us is affected. Be especially mindful of the risks taken and the stress experienced by medical professionals during the pandemic
  • Use the internet wisely and creatively. The online world has never been more important than now

And what about the children?

  • Help your children to see the coronavirus pandemic as an important and serious adventure. Teach them that they need to play an active role in sticking to the ‘rules’
  • Show your kids by example that we are all working together as a whole society with a goal of curbing the spread of the virus – especially because of the impact it can have on the elderly and on vulnerable people with certain health-related risks
  • Children are a risk in that they can carry and spread COVID19 but they are much less at risk of serious health complications from the disease than adults
  • Check online for ways to keep children entertained. Be creative in a way you’ve never been before. Use screens when you run out of other options. For young kids, check out www.fiveminutemum.com
  • Help children to manage their anxiety – keep them away from destructive reactions of others to the pandemic
  • Keep kids informed in an age-appropriate way. Young children should know that there is a bad germ that can be dangerous for old and sick people but that it’s not very interested in children. Grown ups are trying to stop the germ from jumping from person to person so we have to keep ourselves away from other people

For more about managing stress related to children or coronavirus, contact Jenny Perkel (clinical psychologist) via e-mail: jenny@perkel.co.za.

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