Going Mental: On Panic, Pandemics, and the Importance of Being Mindful

Yes, we know we’re in a time of growing fear and worry. Yes, a pandemic is a very good reason to be afraid. No, you don’t need to panic, that will only make things worse.

Of course, it’s understandable that you panic, but don’t panic too much to the extent that you might get yourself sick. Instead, be mindful that there are others around you who cannot control their level of panic or anxiety, and that the increasing amount of panic in the media, streets, supermarkets and social circles is acting as an intense trigger to pre-existing panic and anxiety disorders that many are just barely keeping in check.

As the entire world joins hands to fight the spread of the Coronavirus outbreak, we notice that it’s not just the virus that is contagious, but the panic too.

Just like the older population is physically more vulnerable to the virus, people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and other anxiety disorders are also more likely to suffer because of the outbreak and resulting mass-panic. Many of those suffering from OCD have a constant fear of contamination and an obsession about being excessively clean all the time, so news of infection popping up every few minutes can be devastating.

Those suffering from Hypochondriasis will also be having an incredibly distressing experience; even those of us who don’t suffer from this disorder are constantly in a state of paranoia over every cough and tickle in our throat, imagine this being a full-blown, severe anxiety-inducing illness.

While the introverts of the world rejoice in their government-enforced solitude, others find solace in keeping themselves busy and surrounding themselves with people, this is what gets them through the day. A time of quarantine and social distancing can be incredibly difficult for those unable to spend time alone or in a relatively confined space.

But the good news is that there is no shortage of resources and coping strategies to help us all get through this pandemic together, ideally in one piece, and with our sanity intact.

Although it’s a must that you stay connected so you know what’s happening around the world, try not to read too much because, at this time, it will only worsen your anxiety. There is also so much misinformation going around that a little bit of a media detox will help ease the confusion caused by all the chaos.

“Don’t listen to too much news. As long as you follow the safety precautions, try not to think about the virus all the time. And even if the thoughts come to you unconsciously, force yourself to stop, and if you still can’t, say the word stop out loud, then redirect your thoughts somewhere else,” said Dr Magda Hanna, Psychiatrist in Canada, Fellow of the Royal College of Canada

Instead of focusing on what you can’t control, and panicking as a result, focus on what you can control, like keeping your hands clean, not touching your face, eating healthy, staying at home as much as you can, and following the safety precautions announced by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Make sure to distance yourself from friends or family who you feel might be adding to your stress with too much news, scary assumptions, and predictions.

Dr. Hanna explained that, as a community, we should be more considerate towards people suffering from panic or anxiety disorders.

“Respect their feelings. Let them vent. Don’t shut them off, and at the same time, support them, help them or at least advise them, to think of something more positive. But most importantly, don’t minimize their feelings, because yes, all of us are anxious, but they are more anxious right now,” she added

“If you’ve been following with a counselor or therapist, make sure to keep in touch with them, even if through the phone,” added Hanna.

This time can be overwhelming for us but completely unbearable for others, so let’s try to be more considerate to anyone who might be suffering a little more than we are.

WE SAID THIS: Take a breath, and stay safe!