How Should We Think about COVID-19?
Most people in our country and throughout the world are anxious and worried about COVID 19, the Coronavirus. Anxiety levels are sky high, people are getting sick and dying, and a lot of uncertainties exist right now. But are our thoughts about the situation unreasonable and unjustified? Or, are we thinking rationally?
Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself–nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” How does this belief fit with the rampant fear of the effects of the Corona virus? Cognitive therapy is a large part of any treatment plan for anxiety or fear, such as those brought on by the Coronavirus and its effects on the economy.
Are We Over-anxious about COVID 19?
The purpose of this blog is to get us to consider whether we are thinking too negatively about the coronavirus and its effects on the economy. In no way am I questioning the medical authorities who are advising us with respect to the Corona virus. Medical experts are telling us that we need to practice physical distancing, handwashing, and cleaning everything before and after we touch it. Many states are shelter-in-place states. Continue to follow the suggestions of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). However, I am making a distinction between the actions our country should take (decisions made by public officials) and how we think (work done by therapists and counselors) about the effects of the virus on our society. I am writing about how we think of it, not what we should be doing, although our leaders do need to have clear-headed, accurate thoughts and facts about the coronavirus.
While we continue to follow the guidelines of the CDC, we are still likely to be thinking more negatively than we could be. We should be worried and alerted, but do we need to have the news channel on all day? For two hours? For 30 minutes? Whether I watch the news at the end of the day for 10 minutes or all day for 10 hours and get alerts every time someone dies, the same things will still have happened that day. I am wondering how many of us would be less alarmed (while taking the same precautions) if we watched less news.
Either way, some possible thoughts we might be having include the following:
“It will never get better.”
“This situation is a disaster.”
“I am not going to be able to pay my bills.”
“I’ll have to start all over financially.”
“I’m going to get the virus and be very sick or die”
These statements involve cognitive distortions, including jumping to conclusions, overgeneralization, and catastrophizing. Never get better? It likely will get better. A disaster? Maybe it is a big inconvenience. To a significant degree, it is how we define it. We can choose whether we think of it as a disaster or as an inconvenience. If we decide to define it as a disaster, then we will likely feel a lot of anxiety and depression. Even in worst case scenarios (two hundred and fifty thousand deaths in the United States), 99.92% of us will not die from the coronavirus.
Here are some realistic (not distorted) thoughts.
- The stock market dive is temporary.
- The recession will likely be temporary.
- We’ve made it through tough times before.
- 99.92% of Americans will not die from the coronavirus.
To see my blog about optimism in children, click here.
How Effective are Worry and Panic?
Remember that panic and worry accomplish very little, if anything. Whether we think about or get news about or talk about the Corona Virus for 30 minutes per day or 5 hours per day, the next day and the next two weeks will likely play out the same way, regardless of how much we “worry” about it. There are things we can do to have some agency in these times, like handwashing and physical distancing, but worry is not one of them. We cannot change the course of a virus no matter how much we worry. Social distancing likely changes the course. But not worry. If one of us already has the virus, worrying about it will not make it go away. In fact, worrying increases our likelihood of getting sick. Stress weakens our immune system. If we worry more, we will be sicker. The more we worry, the more likely we may be to get the coronavirus.
What Should We Do?
Use this extra time to do something positive. Focus on the trees blooming and the resiliency of nature. Get in shape by running, working out, or running the stairs in your house. Pet your dog more and talk to him/ or her more. Play with children. Fix up the house and the yard. Clean the garage. Drink wine with friends on Zoom. Most importantly, choose whether you are going to think, talk, and worry about the Corona virus for 30 minutes per day or 5 hours per day. It literally is our choice.
Consider getting your news by reading rather than watching, because reading involves less stimulation. Keep track of how much money you do NOT spend and spend double that amount when businesses re-open.
These times are not easy. But which would make us feel better? Spending two hours looking at and thinking about the eastern redbuds and the cherry blossoms? Or, spending two hours watching the news? The number of people who get the Coronavirus during those two hours will be the same. Either way.