At home and on social media, you’re an extroverted badass. In public, you’ve likely become an isolationist dodging eye contact and handshakes, with a tendency towards agoraphobia and a general excitement over cancelled plans.
In Australia, major grocers have restricted toilet paper to one pack per person. In Japan, rolls are chained to the wall in public restrooms. And, in Hong Kong, armed robbers recently carried out a heist as supplies were delivered to a supermarket. Hoarding is a natural human reaction in times of high anxiety.
Anxious hoarding makes us feel like we’re doing something, while fulfilling a need for control. Even if only over anal hygiene.
The world is not teetering on the brink of extinction, but a prolific media is relentlessly reporting the a-cough-alypse via HD pessimism and push-notifications to your phone. Covid-19 is not the pandemic of yore. Sure, it’s crafty and loves the limelight, but it’s injury and mortality rates are paltry in comparison to what your predecessors experienced. Consider that The Plague claimed up to 375 million lives across Europe and Asia during the 14th century. While over the past 300 years, there have been three Flu pandemics, including the Spanish Flu, which killed 50 million people worldwide.
What if…? → Worry → Anxiety → Demoralization & Exhaustion
To add further perspective, every year sharks kill approximately 10 people, while about 100 die from being stepped on by cows, and 150 by falling coconuts. More people die on their couches watching Shark Week than being eaten by them. We fear the wrong things. It’s the creatures that lurk within our minds that truly invoke fear.
In reality, we should be more concerned with cancer, Lyme Disease and our Sno-Cones for glaciers than Covid-19. But the media is a fickle instigator that loves to trigger us. The coronavirus is their latest attempt to drill fear, anxiety, and panic into our psyches. The current media-fueled paranoia has created a fresh culture of hoarding that simply isn’t commiserate with the reality.
And as a historically anxious guy, I would know. But despite the daily torrent of virus news, I surprise myself at my own response. I have yet to avoid the gym, restaurants, or hotels; nor have I hoarded a single item. One only needs to view my cupboards to spot normally low levels of toilet paper and pinot noir. My pantry looks the same today as it did pre-pandemic; with only a few cans of tuna, stale granola, and no record-setting tubs of peanut butter, Chex Mix, or cases of Fruit Roll-Ups.
Those of us prone to anxiety have been mentally (not physically) prepping for disaster, calamity, and pandemics all of our lives. Anxiety’s muse is worst-case-scenarios. When one actually occurs, we’re in our element. Finally, everyone else has moved into our irrationally dysfunctional lane. Except that most people aren’t career worriers, and they’re doing it all wrong.
By way of example, I have always worn 6 mm thick black nitrile gloves at the gym on each visit. I also have a legacy of using hospital grade Sani-wipes at cafes, hotels, and in rental cars – all while fully cognizant that it’s overkill and likely why I have little immunity to the common cold or telemarketers. But I finally have justification for my compulsions, and look less crazy to the newly anxious.
The media loves to scare us – whether about pathogens thriving in our kitchen sponge, or the carcinogens in our mattress.
I see online images of barren store shelves, and hear tales of people having to wipe themselves with socks because Cottonelle is now a controlled substance. Somehow, I’m still not attending the Costco Fight Clubs or subscribing to the mania. If I can source my inner-ohm, so can you.
My recent chill can also be attributed to the serenity I witness whenever I enter a local Safeway, CVS, or Trader Joe’s, despite the fact that I live in the town of the first Covid-19 death in the U.S. Yet, shelves are stocked, terror is absent, respirators are not adorned, and society here is humming along in absence of mass chaos. In the past week, I’ve experienced the same palpable calm throughout the San Francisco Bay Area all the way south to Los Angeles.
Taking precautions is sound practice. But thieving Starbucks napkins and one-ply toilet paper from gas stations is unhealthy paranoia. Fortunately, normalcy is contagious. But so is fear. The anxiety seed-planting by the media is the biggest contagion of all. It’s reckless of news outlets to create a culture of fear through biased reporting, thereby sustaining an anxiety continuum that frays our nerves.
So, What Can You Do to Keep Your Cool?
1. GO ON A BRAIN DIET. The antidote to feeling better in a world seemingly gone mad is as simple as limiting your media consumption. You can’t control the turmoil, but you can dramatically limit your exposure and counter the negative with some positives like Upworthy, The Good News Network, and YouTube cat videos. You may like being up to date on news, but at what cost to your internal peace? Make a media exposure limit and stick to it.
2. FIND THE HUMOR. IT’S THERE. Anxiety and humor cannot coexist – sort of like Clark Kent and Superman, or humidity and good hair. Using humor in trying times causes a mental and emotional shift that yields a new perspective in approaching difficult situations. And, it does all this without drugs or booze, so you can relish the healing properties of laughter at work or while operating equipment – like a lathe or wet screed. And, phrases like “social distancing,” “let’s board a cruise ship,” and “trust your government” can be funny.
3. FORGET NIHILISM – RADICALLY ACCEPT THE MOMENT. In shocking times, our brains shift to a self-preserving form of denial where the logic-loving prefrontal cortex can shut down. This allows the amygdala – the blaring alarm system part of the brain – to take over. Freedom from suffering requires acceptance from deep within us of ‘what is.’ Let yourself go completely with what is. Stay rooted in the moment (aka, mindfulness). Acceptance is your only way out and through. But it requires an internal commitment – not once, but over and over.
4. CRACK A (HALF) SMILE. A half-smile is slightly turned-up lips with a relaxed face – like a celebrity DUI mugshot. This tactic is proven to be effective in turning around cycles of negative moods and depressive episodes. Because emotions are a combination of thoughts, sensations, and behaviors, changing just one of these components can result in significantly altering the course of the emotion. You will instantly signal to the brain a feeling of levity despite your serial killer smirk.
5. THROW A COUNTER-PUNCH. Do not give in to what anxiety is driving you to do. Whatever it is that counters the anxiety, do it. Each time you parry your fear, you are “rewiring” your brain and weakening anxiety’s hold on you. No one overcomes anxiety who consistently avoids. When it comes to quelling Coronavirus anxiety, facing your fear is key. While avoidance may make you feel better in the short-term, it prevents you from learning that this virus is not as scary or crushing as you think.
6. WALK IT OFF. Movement facilitates a healthier mental and physical state despite whatever else is going on. No matter the existing threat, your body and immune system will be improved through exercise, allowing you to better manage anything from a pandemic to a bunion. Take it one step at a time. Drive to the gym or trail-head. Then walk away from your car, and don’t return till you’re bejeweled in the sweaty sequins of health and achievement.
7. STAY OFF ANY BOAT LARGE ENOUGH TO HOST A BUFFET OR JIMMY BUFFET. At least for now.
What you think will destroy you probably won’t. If you’re still anxious, you can print this article for toiletry.