Coronavirus Fears and Other Feelings: Coping with Uncertainty

It’s a challenging time to stay balanced and focused when there is a threat like COVID-19 out there. Few of us can recall such major disruptions of our lives and our daily routines. I know I’ve had a lot of different emotions and feelings about it and I’m noticing the same in a lot of people around me. Whether I’m seeing clients, shopping for missing goods on the shelf, or on social media, people are feeling a lot. So how do we manage uncertainty? Here are some things that I’ve identified that might help while we travel this journey together.

  1. Have your feelings. I’ve been seeing a lot of stuff where people are telling others not to panic, don’t overreact, don’t be mad, etc. This is all dismissive. Although I don’t think there is a need to panic, if panic is the feeling you’re having, all you can do is move through the feeling. Stifling and stuffing your emotions aren’t going to make them go away. In fact, they’ll probably intensify. The people who are dismissing your feelings are actually saying to you that they don’t have a tolerance to support the feelings you’re having. Find people who will support them. They’ll pass. No feeling can last forever. The truth is there are things to feel angry, sad, and anxious about in this time. Although I don’t believe that this is the end of the world or anything like that, a lot of people are at risk and our daily lives are being impacted. It’s normal to have feelings about that.
  2. Deal with BS by drawing lines and learning more. Wow there is a lot of bullshit out there. Some of it is being used to politicize. Some of it is being used to pretend there is no problem at all. Some of it is being used to scapegoat various cultures. We can have time to add in things like television and entertainment to distract us from the chaos. However, we can’t use bullshit to distract us. For example, one line of dismissing peoples’ feelings is to tell them it’s just old people who are impacted or just watch your hands. Whenever someone says, just do [fill in the blank], there’s a good chance they’re telling you something shouldn’t be valued. They’re also likely making an extreme prescription for a complex problem. Obviously washing your hands can lower your risk, but you it doesn’t eliminate it. It also doesn’t make our lives easy. The fact that old people are the ones impacted doesn’t mean that young people aren’t also impacted. See the complexities. To deal with bullshit, we have to identify and acknowledge the complexities of this situation. Some basic rules: don’t scapegoat, lie, or oversimplify. Also, keep growing your own understanding from multiple reputable sources–specifically experts in infectious disease.
  3. Joke and laugh. Levity doesn’t hurt. Sometimes it’s all we have. It’s ok to find some humor in chaos. What makes you laugh when things aren’t so intense? What makes you laugh when things are chaotic and uncertain? Look for these things and find people who will share in them with you.
  4. Use rational thinking where you can. It’s really impossible to be in intense emotion and make decisions. You saw that I think you should have your emotions. However, I also want to say that it’s a good idea to try to let the emotions pass before you’re making decisions. A lot of people are making decisions out of fear right now. Buying 17 bottles of hand sanitizer isn’t necessary. And look, I sort of get it. When we feel fear and uncertainty, we want to get away from it. So a lot of our decisions are based in attempts to close that fear. But it isn’t going to work. That being said, when emotions lower in intensity, we can look through our thoughts and build a more rational framework. Then we can use facts to identify what we really need to be most fearful of.
  5. Some things are out of our control, but that didn’t start with this virus. This coronavirus can make us feel like things are just now out of our control. However, we’re faced with uncertainty every day. This virus sort of proves that. It virtually came out of nowhere. Most of the time, we get through it. However, we also get through it with loss. That means we have to make room for our own fear and support each other in our grief. If we’re taking a no BS lens on this situation, some people are going to experience loss and we need to be there for each other. The best way we can deal with our day-to-day vulnerability is to support each other with empathy and compassion. We can also support ourselves with compassion.

I hope this short read is a resource to stay grounded in a difficult time.