Staying mentally/emotionally healthy is about understanding the cause of mental/emotional distress. Uncertainty is high on the list of things that tip the scale from feeling secure to feeling insecure.
The human psyche does not like uncertainty. And uncertainty is at the core of the current corona crisis. Nobody knows what will transpire next. People don’t know if they will contract it, whether they will have a job tomorrow or what restrictions authorities might decide. Everything in your life immediately feels uncertain. And this goes against how the human psyche is wired.
The human psyche is geared to constantly make predictions about what will transpire next so that one can guide one’s behavior. And when you can’t do that, the rational part of your psyche shuts down and the emotional center – the limbic system – takes over. This brings on fear, anxiety and erratic thinking followed by erratic behavior. Fear of uncertainty is what drove the toilet paper buying-binge and all the panic buying. People are grasping at something they can control. Literally grasping.
Experiments conducted at University College London revealed that people are more stressed when they are told they might receive an electric shock than if they know they’re definitely going to receive one. So it’s common the majority of people feel anxious, fearful and panicked due to uncertainty.
The first step to protect your mental/emotional health is to pause and identify how you feel. Even if the answer is ‘I don’t know – I’ve never felt like this before’, just pausing to ask the question and acknowledging your fear of uncertainty, starts to re-engage our forebrain – where rational thinking takes place – and you feel calmer.
Secondly, remember that everyone is in this together. There isn’t a person on the planet who is unaffected by this in some way or another. You are not alone. Talk to family, friends, colleagues about how you’re feeling and the specific things that are worrying you. Ask others how they’re managing everything. Your confidante will respond in one of three ways:
- He/She will express reassurance
- She/He will offer practical advice
- Or She/He will say the two most powerful words: Me too. And hearing the words ‘me too’ – or something to that effect – immediately dampens down stress–I’m not weird or have something wrong with me for feeling this way. Even if neither of you has any answers, you’ll both feel better for sharing your concerns.
Thirdly, to keep yourself mentally/emotionally healthy during an emergency–counterintuitive though it might sound–is to actively look for ways you can help others. Focus on what you can do for others – in small ways or in big ways. Nothing improves our mental/emotional health more than feeling that you’re making a positive contribution to someone – whether it’s family, a friend or a stranger. If you notice a colleague seems distressed ask them, ‘Are you OK? What can I help you do?’ If your neighbor is unable to go to the store, offer to drive them or get the items they need. This is the time for random acts of kindness. It will improve your mental/emotional health and the other person too.
“Together we are as strong as a tribe.” ~Ana Hawk