Strange Days….. Dealing With Self Isolation, Fear & Panic.

“Panic is a sudden desertion of us, and going over to the enemy of our imagination.” – Christian Nestell Bovee

The current situation with Coronavirus has probably given a lot of people an insight into panic, and how our brain and body reacts to situations of immense stress and fear.

The well used phrase ‘panic buying’ sums it up perfectly.  As soon as we are confronted with fear, we go into fight or flight; this is our primeval reaction that has been hardwired into our brains during prehistoric times (Understanding Anxiety, Panic & Depression: Part 1 – Anxiety).  This is just another example of where this built-in response isn’t really suited to the modern world.  It is natural to want to protect ourselves and our loved ones, hence why some people have turned to stockpiling food, but this has a negative effect on the communities that we live in.

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This week, as I went around the local supermarket, I started picking up things only to realise that I really didn’t need them, so I put them back.  It’s really difficult to stop yourself from just getting one more of this or another two of that when you are worried you might run out of things.

Supermarkets are not my favourite places for trying to control my anxiety at the best of times, I always worry about parking and how many people will be there, and now those feelings are worse because there is the uncertainty of what will be available.  For the first time in my life I saw aisles of empty shelves in the supermarket, and it is a really unsettling sight.

It was pretty much on the cards that the virus was going to spread, so Kim and I started buying some extra bits a few weeks ago, and I am glad we did, because I think I would have really struggled mentally if we hadn’t.  As I was going around the supermarket this week I felt comfort in the fact that we had some supplies, which kept the panic at bay and helped me control my anxiety.  In addition every month we usually do a shop at Costco, which is bulk-buying heaven.

It shows how reliant we are on services such as supermarkets.  We have become accustomed to having food available at all times; not only that, but also having a wide selection of foods to choose from.  We can pretty much get what we want, when we want it.  Take that security away and we become fearful.  How will we survive?  The uncertainty causes our imaginations to picture empty kitchen cupboards and this leads to panic.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change – Charles Darwin

It is also interesting that the virus has brought us back to the basic needs of life; looking for food and the security of a roof over our heads.  Maybe this experience will make us appreciate the simple things in life more?

It forces us to live more in the present.  Things have been changing on a daily, if not hourly basis, so forward planning has pretty much gone out the window.  While we have been aware of the virus, the changes have come so suddenly that we don’t have time to register them and react in a calm and rational manner and this can cause a state of terror.

I really don’t think that the media have helped the situation, and they certainly don’t help people’s mental wellbeing.  I know they have a duty to report what is going on, but some of the headlines (especially from the tabloid news) have been sensationalist and cause a lot of unnecessary fear.  They also spend hours speculating on theories instead of just giving the facts.  The truth is that no one really knows what is going to happen or what the short and long term effects will be.  These are times for level heads, and this type of sensationalist behaviour really doesn’t help anyone.

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The media talk a lot about the vulnerable people that this is affecting, do they not realise that their behaviour and the way they report the news makes these people more vulnerable.  On one hand the media does great work in highlighting mental health problems, and then on the other hand they create anxiety and are a big part of the problem.

As for so many of you, Kim’s work has become more uncertain and it makes me feel even more useless than I already felt.  At the moment she still has work, which I am thankful for because so many do not, so I just have to hope that this continues.

I am not as worried about the isolation bit as a lot of people seem to be; I have been isolated for years because of the anxiety.  People can still call and video call friends and loved ones; imagine your fear stopping you from doing this?

So what can we do to help our mental health in the current climate? 

I think one of the key ways is distraction (I generally use avoidance techniques, but wouldn’t recommend going this far).  Here are some ideas, including things I have tried and continue to do.

Maybe limit your exposure to the media, and in that I include social media as well.  Don’t cut yourself off completely because there are a lot of people promoting positive and creative messages and ideas on social media, so try to focus on these.

Spend more time doing creative things such as writing, art or music; build something; I have model kits; remember Airfix?  It is a great way to focus your attention, and can help you get into a state of flow, so time passes before you even realise it.

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Last year I built a pond out of old pallets that I got from a local garden centre.

If you have a garden or a balcony, why not start thinking about growing your own vegetables.  You can even have a go if you don’t have any outside space; by growing some herbs on a windowsill?  Check out local allotments, if people have to self isolate they may need help tending their plots until they can get out again?  Maybe you can get some produce as a thank you.

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Learn a new skill such as a language; there are lots of free on-line courses that you can sign up for.

Get out and exercise if you can; walk, run or cycle.  If you want motivation, try virtual challenges such as Race At Your Pace (you can also earn some exercise bling….)

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Practice mindfulness when you are out, it helps you focus your mind and stay in moment.  Believe it or not spring/autumn is coming and these are great seasons for seeing nature at its best.  If you are in a town or city it may be more difficult, but there are green spaces; also look out for hidden architectural gems. Take photos when you are out and share them with others.

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If you can’t go out, then you can still exercise, there are loads of videos on Youtube, plus you can get fitness DVDs on-line, anything from aerobics to yoga and Pilates (it has been proven that yoga has the same effect on reducing blood pressure as aerobic exercise, so you don’t have to jump around like crazy to get fit and relax).

You can also explore meditation to relax; there are plenty of apps, such as Headspace that offer various types to help with different aspects of life, so you can focus on the area that you are struggling with most.

If all else fails, there’s always Netflix…..

There are no easy fixes to what is happening, and trust me; you can’t just turn off panic and anxiety like a tap, but you can try and manage it so that it does not become overwhelming.

Keep well everyone, and try not to panic.

Thank you, thank you, thank you

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