Fear, social distancing and surviving the coronavirus panic

From toilet paper-fuelled rampage to the unease of not knowing what’s coming for us tomorrow: coronavirus has officially turned society upside down. And we simply don’t understand how to deal with it.

Photo by cheng feng on Unsplash

I found myself lining up at my local supermarket yesterday, annoyed that I had left my weekly shop until Sunday. Everyone around me was exploding with anger, frustration and the atmosphere was palpable.

An old man who never goes out to do his shopping was struggling to use his credit card for the first time. I watched as the cashier tried to walk him through it. In the line behind him, other shoppers were growing frustrated, muttering words and “huffing” in their spot. I rolled my eyes.

The cashier noticed. As she started to pack whatever I was able to scrap from my shopping list from the shelves into bags, she nodded. “I cannot wait until this fucking shit is over,” she said.

Literally. Her words took me aback. Her swearing was raw and intentional, but she had finally reached the breaking point.

“The same people line up every morning at opening hours,” she said. “They take everything and there’s nothing we can do about it other than restocking and restricting limits on items.”

I let her vent.

She clearly wasn’t going to be able to do it to the rest of the people behind me; they were already doing their previous act on me, wishing I’d hurry up and let them buy the frozen peas they hoarded from me.

Don’t be this girl. (Unsplash photo by Hello I’m Nik )

After grabbing my receipt, I reminded her she’s doing a great job and to remember it won’t all last; I wished her a good day and headed out back into the midst of the crowds. where I headed to my go-to coffee spot.

The barista was no different.

He was blasting the Herald Sun for their frontpage and the lines of people from that morning. He said he could identify almost every person now — they were the same ones that came every time the doors opened at sun up.

Behind me, a woman with a trolley full of absolutely everything you could imagine sat sipping a milkshake.

Be this girl. (Unsplash photo by Hello I’m Nik)

I had only managed to grab one bag’s worth of things I needed off my shopping list, most of which (thankfully) was animal food. But looking at her trolley and her blissfully ignorant behaviour, I needed to grab my dirty chai latte and leave.


Perspective matters

As humans, we’re inclined to stick together when the going gets tough.

We help each other through disasters — like the recent Australian bushfires — and donate to get communities through when they’re struggling.

This has been different. Coronavirus has shifted the helping hand mentality to ‘every man for himself’.

It’s this behaviour and attitude change that we really need to reflect on most.

Yes, coronavirus is serious. It’s not to be taken lightly, and despite the death count not nearing previous pandemics, it’s a risk that some of us aren’t willing to take.

My parents, for example, are not always in the best of health. They have conditions that would mean battling something like COVID-19 would be a challenge. A risky one.

For some of us, ensuring we don’t pass that on is more about keeping loved ones safe than having to deal with ourselves having it.

And I beg you to remember that.

Maybe 10 people get diagnosed; 8 people get through it just fine with mild symptoms. But 2 of those people may find themselves in hospital in the ICU, and one has a high risk of not making it at all.

It’s all about perspective. Be smart and don’t be ignorant to the fact that this virus can do damage, even if it’s not likely to be in your circle of friends, family or colleagues.

Coronavirus across the world: dealing with the fear

Okay, so I’ve said you need to keep your attitudes in check and asked that you are respectful to the fact that not everyone has an immune system of steel.

That’s out of the way.

Now I want you to reflect on your own mentality towards this pandemic, and note down how you may have sensationalised, avoided or panicked about the current situation.

Maybe you don’t acknowledge it as something real to worry about. Maybe you find yourself fearing the worst.

I’m in anxiety and depression support groups for my own personal reasons. These communities have been plagued with posts from those literally stressing they are going to die.

They don’t have it. They may not get it. But they’re assuming they will and that they won’t make it through, and they’re having serious panic attacks out of it.

That’s how anxiety works, and I completely (of all people) understand that. But there are ways we can all manage and cater to our own mental health at this time of unknown.

Whether you give a crap about what’s going on or not, understanding how those around you are feeling right now is crucial.

Governments are demanding social distancing and hand-washing processes; locking down cities and cancelling events. There’s the risk of schools closing in Australia and businesses are already working from home.

Worldometers.info shows cases vs. deaths of coronavirus.

No matter your stance, the times are dire. Everyone is in stress mode and you need to respect that.

So here’s how you can avoid affecting your — or someone else’s — mental health when it comes to coronavirus.

How to care for your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic

If you’re like me and read absolutely everything, it’s going to take some self-discipline to reel yourself in.

Mass hysteria isn’t good for you, and the media isn’t any kinder right now (yes, that’s coming from me).

  • Find a couple of sources you can trust and only choose to read these. Don’t stray elsewhere. If you’re using social media — especially Twiter and Facebook — understand that not everyone is an expert on coronavirus.
  • Give yourself a limited amount of updates a day. Things change throughout the course of the day, we know that. But you don’t need to keep refreshing the page every few minutes.
  • Understand that you may need to walk away. Uncertainty is scary. But if you find yourself panicking or feeling anxiety and fear, turn your phone off or put it in another room. Don’t check it. Limit yourself and go read a book. Anxiety spirals when you fixate on one ‘problem’. Trust me.
  • Acknowledge your fears. And I mean to write them down and get them out of your head. Maybe these don't fear. Maybe these are feelings of anger and frustration because you don’t feel coronavirus is something to worry about. No matter the emotion — if it’s negative — get it out of your mind by putting it down on paper. This way you’re acknowledging them and letting yourself move on from there.
  • STOP THINKING ABOUT YOURSELF. This one’s for you. milkshake-woman. The elderly, disabled and those with existing health conditions are struggling right now. They need your help. They’re the most scared. Stop thinking about how you might catch a virus that may not be as much as a threat to you than someone else. Stop the selfishness, stop catastrophising and pull your anxieties in check. PEOPLE AROUND YOU NEED YOU TO BE GENEROUS AND FORGIVING.
  • Know your basic needs. Get enough sleep, keep up nutritious meals and get some exercise. You’re not restricted to not living at all. Don’t stop your body and mind from progressing.
  • Get support if you need it. There are groups and professionals all around you. Use them when you need it if you’re struggling more than you think you should be.

Final thoughts

I urge you to think outside of yourself right now.

I can’t tell you how many of my friends have made fun of the situation. The panic and hysteria can make for ideal jokes, sure, but there’s still a risk at hand.

Don’t be ignorant; maybe you won’t get it or if you do, it will barely affect you. But someone with poorer health might and then they’re in big trouble.

Practice generosity and forgiveness. Help those around you who aren’t doing as well as you are. Offer to do your elderly neighbour’s shopping. Self-isolate if you’ve been told to.

Be logical, smart and remain calm.

It’ll do yourself and everyone around you, a world of good.

Writer + mentor. Content marketing expert. SEO fangirl. All-round creative.

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