We perceive the seasonal flu as something familiar - we know how it is transmitted and, most importantly, how it can be prevented and what we can expect if we get infected. On the other hand, even though scientists are discovering more about the coronavirus every day, it is still perceived as something unknown and threatening and that can cause feelings of anxiety, fear, high alertness and tension. This happens because one of the main human needs is the need for certainty. It helps us feel in control and to know what is coming next so we can feel secure.
When we feel anxious, our mind tends to use dysfunctional mechanisms like ‘catastrophising’ to prepare us for the worst possible scenario so we could bring back the sense of control (“If I am prepared for the worst, I am prepared for everything”). When this is happening to us, we tend to predict only negative outcomes of the future situations, while at the same time ignoring other, more likely outcomes. In the current situation, we might think something like this: “This will last forever”, “There is no safe place”, “I am helpless”, etc. When this is combined with the constant search for new information, often from unreliable sources, anxiety tends to increase to the point that it causes insomnia, loss of appetite, sadness and burnout.
So how can we minimise anxiety related to the coronavirus pandemic?
The most important thing is to practise recognising the chain of negative thoughts and images and asking ourselves questions like: “Is it useful to think this way?”, “How are these thoughts making me feel?”. The second step is to change our focus on things that we can control.