Reducing anxiety in a crisis

So much is being written about how we can help ourselves through the lockdown and social distancing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic that is sweeping the world. What seemed normal to us a few months ago has changed and there’s a lot of advice out there about coping. Amongst all this information I found something that really struck a chord with me and this is what I’m sharing today.

According to Sigal Barsade, an emotional intelligence expert, we can catch each others moods or emotions. She refers to this as emotional contagion and asserts that it is far more infectious than the coronavirus, Covid-19. Not only is it more infectious, but it affects every single human being on the planet. Examples of emotional contagion range from the grief that swept the UK when Princess Diana died to the panic buying of toilet rolls during the current pandemic.

From birth we are programmed to mimic other humans. It is how we learn to communicate, share feelings and gain social acceptance. When someone smiles at us we are likely to mimic that expression and smile back. The action of smiling actually makes us feel happy, even if that happiness originated from someone else’s joy. The process is so subtle that we are usually unaware of it and think the emotion is our own. It turns out that we catch most of our emotions through non-verbal behaviour such as writing style and facial expressions but we can also pick them up from conversation and tone of voice.

In today’s world of communication overload we receive information all the time from television, radio, various social media channels, the internet, e-mails, journals and magazines and, of course, friends, colleagues and family. Information is available to us every minute of the day in one guise or another so it’s easy to see how emotions can spread like wild fire.

During the current pandemic naturally many people are feeling anxious. Like all other feelings anxiety is contagious. The problem is that negative emotions such as anxiety affect our long term health. The feeling of anxiety is real and, if the feeling becomes prolonged, it contributes to us feeling less resilient and less able to react positively to the things that are going on around us.

Negative feelings and sentiments can last forever. We can see this in the generation that experienced World War II when food and other items were rationed. They became the make do and mend generation and for most people the worry of running out of things stayed with them.

Prolonged anxiety leads to poor mental wellbeing and can trigger long term mental health problems such as depression and stress. In turn, poor mental health can lead to poor physical health such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. So we can see there is a high risk of creating a secondary problem as we evolve into a population that is less resilient and in poor health long after Covid-19 is under control.

So what can we do about it? Here are my top ten tips.

  1. Limit our time listening and watching information relating to the pandemic.
  2. Get information only from reputable sources so that we know what the facts are.
  3. When talking about the pandemic stick to the facts.
  4. Remember that frightening thoughts we may have about what might happen in the future are not real. We can calm our racing minds through bringing ourselves back to the present and realising that we are safe in this moment.
  5. When we chat with friends or family be aware that we may be catching their anxiety. Take a step back and remind ourselves of the facts.
  6. Conversely, take care when chatting with friends ensuring that we stay positive, consider what we are saying and how we are communicating, including through body language and tone of voice.
  7. Take care when writing e-mails or social media posts and review the message before sending.
  8. Try not to focus on particular aspects of news reports. For example, hearing that people are panic buying but not focussing on the fact that actually there is no problem with the supply chain and there is enough food for everyone.
  9. Focus on what we can control – in the coronavirus pandemic this is staying at home (current guidelines at the time of writing include the exceptions of when you need essential supplies such as food or medicine or to exercise for a limited amount of time each day) and practising social distance.
  10. Focus on activities that calm the mind such as exercise, being kind to others or meditation.

It’s a difficult time for everyone but we have to remember why we are having to take these measures. Remembering our purpose helps to keep us focussed.

I hope there is something in the little blog post that resonates with you.

Stay safe.