#1: Prepare, But Don't Catastrophize: Turning Crisis Into Growth
Today, as I write this, is Friday the 13th. Over the past 24-48 hours, life has radically changed - for many if not most of us, in response to the Corona virus. Some of these changes are inconvenient, disruptive - even life-altering. But we can make powerful choices, to turn these challenging circumstances for our good.
Already, there is a lot of information being publicized on how to minimize the physical dangers of this pandemic. But there can be profound emotional impacts as well - not only from the virus itself, but also from the secondary impacts emerging from it - whether you actually contract the virus, or not. This 6-part series, CORONA, EMOTIONS, AND YOU, will guide you in keeping yourself and your loved ones emotionally well - even in the midst of this broad and growing challenge.
So Many Changes, In Such a Short Time
Within the last 2 days alone, in many of our local communities, the following changes occurred:
- CANCELLATIONS of major events - conferences, sporting events, theatre performances, concerts, church events, etc.
- SCHOOL CLOSINGS - particularly of major universities, which are now moving to online format only.
- FINANCIAL CHALLENGES - including massive stock market drops, job instability, and loss of income for many.
- TRAVEL AND TOURISM - flights cancelled, tourism disrupted, even Disneyland closing its doors.
- CONSTANT MEDIA COVERAGE - focusing on the dangers, deaths, and disasters associated with this new pandemic.
- HOARDING OF CONSUMER GOODS - especially toilet paper, water, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant.
- BROAD SOCIAL ISOLATION - as we are all urged to engaged in maintain "social distance" to minimize further contagion.
Such a vast range of changes, within just a few short days! How are all these changes affecting you, and those you love?
Feeling the Impact - How These Broad Events Affect Us Personally
One of my friends on social media, a theatre director and producer, captured the mood of the moment with this expressive selfie, as he pondered the implications of these changes on his chosen profession. Many of us can relate to his very apparent and realistic distress!
In my own circle of friends and family, the impact is already being felt. Here's a few situations I've learned of, in less than 24 hours' time:
- The musician completing her master's degree in April - who now can't do her final concert, or participate in any graduation other than an online ceremony - and whose current business has been decimated by the wave of event cancellations.
- The college student whose courses will now be all online - who is now moving back home early, and wondering if her June wedding can still go forward with her loved ones actually present.
- The retired man who watched a lifetime of retirement savings evaporate with a bad day on Wall Street.
- The high school student who still has to go to classes - but whose first prom was just cancelled.
- The nurse who now has to prepare to be called into service with hardly a break at her local, increasingly overrun hospital - even in the midst of her own pressing challenges.
- The family man who can't come to his dad's 83rd birthday party, because he and his family are starting to feel feverish and sick, and don't want to bring their aging father an unwelcome, potentially lethal gift.
- The girl who hadn't seen her parents in two years, whose long-anticipated flight home this month is now being threatened by travel restrictions.
In one day alone, these are the kinds of individualized impacts we're all starting to feel. Can you related to any of these situations? How is the Corona challenge impacting your health, mental health, family, or work?
Anxiety, Depression, and Addiction - How They Can Be Triggered (Or Intensified) by Large-Scale Circumstances
Over my 20 years as a counselor, and 30 years as a mental health educator, I have often seen how individual distress can be set off or made worse by broad events. The tragic events of September 11, 2001, involving the attack on the World Trade Center, contributed to a rapid-fire rise in anxiety. Some may remember the Y2K scare of 1999, when many believed our computers would all stop working, launching large-scale disaster. The proliferation of constant-access news channels, that report day and night on every possible tragedy or disaster around the world, can leave us feeling like it's not safe anywhere. For us - and especially for our vulnerable youth and children - these broad events and influences can have a tremendous impact - leading to hopelessness, despair, fear, self-doubt, and the desire to escape it all through addiction.
What no one seems to be talking about yet, in regard to the Covid-19 crisis, is the potential EMOTIONAL impact of these emerging events. Long before the virus hit, we already had pre-existing epidemics of depression, anxiety, suicidality, and many varieties of addiction. If we are not careful, the challenges we are facing - now and in the future - can powerfully fan the flames of these and other emotional problems.
Weathering the Storm - Adopting Patterns That Increase Our Personal Power and Resilience
At this point, of course, none of us know how long this Covid-19 crisis will last, or what the ultimate consequences will be. Will it be a short-term inconvenience, blowing over quickly? Or will its impact be more enduring or severe? No one knows for sure. But the good thing about a worldwide challenge is - we're all in this together! You're definitely NOT alone in all of this. And pulling together, we can make it through this -- with strength, optimism, and hope.
If you think back on the prior disappointments, tragedies, and challenges of your life, you will find that they often led to your most important personal growth, life lessons, heartfelt values, and cherished relationships. You can harvest the benefit of all you've learned from your prior experiences, to shore you up and encourage you in this current challenge.
Likewise, this current situation can strengthen and educate you, in ways that can benefit you - and those around you - for years to come. You can learn to become more resilient, happy, and emotionally well - regardless of what is happening around you.
One of the most important lessons of human history is - It's not so much what HAPPENS to us that controls our emotional state - but how we THINK about what happens to us, and what we DO about it in our day-to-day lives. So even in difficult circumstances, we have a lot more power than we think, to help ourselves and others to positively weather our various challenges.
This series, COVID-19, EMOTIONS, AND YOU, will equip you with daily strategies to help you weather wisely the changes, disappointments, disruptions, and losses associated with this current crisis. These resources will be released daily between now and March 24, when experts estimate the peak of the pandemic will occur in the US. Over these 12 days, you can equip yourself and your loved ones with expanded EMOTIONAL PREPAREDNESS that ultimately will be worth far more than a basement full of toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
In the meantime - of course, wash your hands, be wise about where you spend your time and with whom. But don't freak out! Don't make a challenging situation worse by engaging in negative thinking, negative behavior, or negative interactions with others. You can learn to become more resilient, happy, and emotionally well - regardless of what is happening around you. And this series is here to help, in that positive and transformative growth process.