A climate futurist and a psychologist have shared easy tips and techniques that have always helped them pull through bad times.
The coronavirus pandemic is bigger, uglier and scarier than we ever imagined. With countries struggling to cope with the virus, death tolls rising and almost everything at a standstill- its absolutely ok to be worried, scared and vulnerable.
What is not ok is to let the ongoing situation cripple you and if you’re feeling overwhelmed with the onslaught of information bringing more bad news than good every minute, its important to take a step back, relax and put things in perspective.
Alex Steffen, a climate futurist pens down some of the most practical tips to help you keep your fears in check and avoid getting too stressed and slipping down a coronavirus anxiety spiral.
As a climate futurist, Steffen looks at data to predict how climate change will impact civilization and the planet at large. Having spent a major part of his adult life grappling with ominous, foreboding and calamitous climate news, Steffen shares how he maintains his sanctity in dealing with it.
Speaking on the same issue to the New York Times, is Dr. Harriet Lerner, a psychologist and author, who has spent much of her career studying the effects of anxiety and fear on individuals, families and larger systems.
1. Get the correct facts
Another thing that helps me is "balance checking."— Alex Steffen (@AlexSteffen) March 19, 2020
It really helps to have a one friend or advisor who's concerned about the same things you are, but also willing to tell you when it seems like concern about the worst case scenarios is unbalancing your thinking about daily life.
Steffen begins his tips by explaining the mental hygiene concept and cautions people against collecting too much negative information as it is debilitating and traumatic.
He advises on relying on educational information rather than news that is reactionary.
He states that mental hygiene requires “Avoiding consuming too much apocalyptic news,” as well as “actively seeking out information that empowers you to better understand the deeper trends around you: long-form, thoughtful, explanatory, solutions-focused work that teaches rather than triggers.”
His tip is corroborated by Dr. Lerner, who says: “My advice for coping is the same for all the scary events and possibilities that life brings: Go for the facts — even difficult ones — because anxiety escalates and fantasies flourish in the absence of information.”
2. Exercise moderation
When we're facing a crisis—whether from COVID-19 or the climate emergency—many of us experience a loss of control.— Alex Steffen (@AlexSteffen) March 19, 2020
A natural response is to try to regain control by learning everything we can, so we immerse ourselves in the news.
Steffen adds: “When we’re facing a crisis—whether from COVID-19 or the climate emergency—many of us experience a loss of control. A natural response is to try to regain control by learning everything we can, so we immerse ourselves in the news.
However, both Steffen and Dr Lerner caution against overdoing it.
“There is an endless supply of bad news, shocking events, and apocalyptic warnings right now, and people are happy to offer up as much as you can take and then some. You will run out of mental health long before the world runs out of traumatizing stories,” explains Steffen in his next tweet.
Dr Lerner suggests to only rely on authentic sources because, “Under stress, people are unlikely to rethink the filters through which they see reality. It’s our responsibility to pay attention to our own most valued sources of information and to follow up-to-date instructions to the letter.”
3. Speak to a like-minded friend
We can't always see when we're slipping into the deep end, when our toilet paper purchasing has gone from preparation to hoarding.— Alex Steffen (@AlexSteffen) March 19, 2020
Helps to have a friend to encourage you to put some of that TP back on the shelves, so to speak.
Steffen adds that a friend that helps in “balance checking,” is a great way to make sure you don’t go overboard with your fears.
“We can’t always see when we’re slipping into the deep end, when our toilet paper purchasing has gone from preparation to hoarding,” he adds.
“Helps to have a friend to encourage you to put some of that TP back on the shelves, so to speak.”
Offering the same advice, Dr. Lerner says, “Grab some other clear-thinking person to ask what she thinks or what he would do about stockpiling food, or taking that plane trip, or talking to little Billy about what’s going on with grandma in the hospital and his school being closed. You may choose not to follow the advice you seek, but it’s essential to have other perspectives.”
4. Connect with people
Another thing that helps is basic self-care—things like exercise, diet and sleep, but also just being kind and patient with yourself and others. Laughing. Connecting.— Alex Steffen (@AlexSteffen) March 19, 2020
Seems obvious, I know, but man do I struggle sometimes to keep these kinds of practices up.
While Steffen writes it is important to practice some basic self-care along with eating and sleeping well, he advocates laughing and connecting with people as well.
“Seems obvious, I know, but man do I struggle sometimes to keep these kinds of practices up.”
Dr Lerner also makes the same point in the New York Times report and says that social distancing should not become self-isolation. “It’s essential to stay in communication with family, friends, neighbors and other resources and find ways to keep calm.
“Use the phone, text, email — all means possible — to stay connected to friends, neighbors, your adult children, anyone who matters to you. Especially those who induce a sense of calm rather than chaos. People need to hear your voice — and vice versa,” advises Dr Lerner.
She adds: “Everything that goes under the umbrella of ‘self-care’ is essential right now,” and recommends engaging in healthy practices and continuing regular routines that bring comfort and stability.
5. Be open to change
Finally, it helps me to practice letting go of the old and welcoming the new.— Alex Steffen (@AlexSteffen) March 19, 2020
Everything around us is changing more quickly than it has in generations—maybe in human history.
Much of what we have grounded our sense of normalcy on turns out to be soft sand, shifting fast.
Because life is unpredictable, Steffen writes that his next tip of “letting go of the old and welcoming the new,” has been immensely beneficial to him.
“Everything around us is changing more quickly than it has in generations—maybe in human history.
“Much of what we have grounded our sense of normalcy on turns out to be soft sand, shifting fast.
“Trying to frantically keep things the same—to protect everything, to make every decision the right one, to be in control—will make you crazy,” he adds
According to Dr Lerner, “Terrible things happen, but it is still possible to move forward with love and hope.”
6. Strengthen your ties
Distilling the genuinely vital—relationships, values, purpose, cultural traditions—from the fleeting is good for my brain.— Alex Steffen (@AlexSteffen) March 19, 2020
That doesn't mean not to learn or prepare—it means to learn and prepare to carry forward the true heart of our lives.
I find that practical, and healing.
Steffen writes that trying times such as the outbreak, help put things in perspective and is the best time to invest in strengthening the vital parts of our lives, which include relationships, values, purpose, and cultural traditions.
“Distilling the genuinely vital—relationships, values, purpose, cultural traditions—from the fleeting is good for my brain.
That doesn’t mean not to learn or prepare—it means to learn and prepare to carry forward the true heart of our lives.
“I find that practical, and healing,” he tweets.
7. Practice self-love and compassion
Well, just a few thoughts on a Wednesday quarantine evening, I hope of some use.— Alex Steffen (@AlexSteffen) March 19, 2020
I know this is a terrifying and chaotic time, but be gentle and forgiving with your head and your heart, if you can.
Dr Lerner writes that anxiety and fear are “physiological processes” that “make us miserable,” but they are a part of our lives and will keep coming back. Which is why she advises to practice self-compassion and not “be hard on yourself when you can’t shut yourself off from fear and pain — your own and the world’s. Fear isn’t fun, but it signals that we are fully human.”
Steffen concludes his thread stating: “I know this is a terrifying and chaotic time, but be gentle and forgiving with your head and your heart, if you can.”
Share these tips to help someone who is distressed with the rapidly spreading COVID-19 pandemic.
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