Professor Brendan Kelly
There are many ways we can manage our anxiety about coronavirus. In the first instance, it is important to stay informed, but not to obsess. Limit your media consumption about the virus to 15 minutes twice per day focused on reliable sources such as the World Health Organization. Don’t fill in knowledge gaps with speculation or random musings on social media.
It is useful to try to know yourself better. Take time to consciously identify the stresses in your life and manage them as best as possible. Identify things that make you happy and optimise these.
Focus on what you can control in this situation. This is especially important when explaining coronavirus to children. Think of the well-known environmental slogan, ‘Think global, act local’. Small actions (like hand washing) matter greatly, both in our own lives and in the bigger picture.
Do your best not to fall into unhelpful thinking habits. It is useful to audit your thoughts from time to time, especially if you find yourself having continual negative thoughts that affect your mood or selectively focusing on bad news.
Think of others. We gain perspective when we see ourselves as part of a larger whole. Coronavirus has demonstrated just how inter-connected we all are. We can use this connectedness to strengthen each other and consolidate our response to this outbreak. The suffering of other people is continuous with our suffering – just as their happiness is continuous with ours.
Try to become more aware of your emotions. We are in unusual social and emotional situations with which most people are unfamiliar. Recognising and labelling our emotions helps us to recognise their power and accept them for what they are: transient feelings that will pass.
Don’t forget that emotions can disguise themselves as behaviours or facts – and can therefore mislead us. We can have several conflicting emotions at the same time or in quick succession. It is helpful if we practice the skill of sitting with uncomfortable emotions, rather than responding to them immediately. Meditation helps.
Talk to others about your feelings. If you want to be heard, listen. At a time of high anxiety, it is especially important that we label our feelings as emotions (rather than facts) and that we engage in direct, truthful communication – or, in Buddhist terminology, “right speech”. No matter how difficult it might seem, the truth is our strength.
Follow the public health guidance. It applies to you. We need to stick together.
Do other things. While social distancing, self-isolation and general anxiety can place certain limits on our activities, there is still plenty that we can do, both inside and outside: eat well, sleep, go outside when possible and do some exercise. Find an activity that absorbs you and clears all your worries from your mind for a period of time: running, meditating, yoga, knitting.
Reward yourself for your achievements. Practice compassion for yourself and others. The current situation is difficult for everyone in different ways.
At all times, remember that proportionality is the key. Anxiety and panic can seem infinite, but nothing is truly infinite. While we cannot and should not ignore our emotions, we need to respond proportionately to them and leave room for logic, pragmatism and action. The coronavirus pandemic demands no less.
We are always bigger than our anxiety.
Brendan Kelly is Professor of Psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin and Consultant
Psychiatrist at Tallaght Hospital, Dublin. He is the author several clinical and historical
titles including Ada English: Patriot and Psychiatrist and Hearing Voices: The History of
Psychiatry in Ireland.
He has recently written the book “Coping with Coronavirus: How to Stay Calm and Protect your Mental Health” (Merion). His book is available on Kindle as: 978-1-78537-361-9 Epub: 978-1-78537-362-6 for only €1. Audio book in production and due in coming weeks.