Like just about everyone else on planet Earth, it has been a very stressful couple of days for me. The spread of the coronavirus — the new viral strain in the coronavirus family that affects the lungs and respiratory system — has resulted in a lot of very drastic changes in a very short period of time, and that feels scary.
Shame Solves Nothing
Unfortunately, one of the most popular ways our culture quashes fear is with shame. I’m sure you’ve seen the nasty posts making fun of people for stockpiling soap or being “overly cautious” for “no reason.” Obviously a global panic would be very bad, but a global shaming may be even worse. Shame does not teach us anything. It does not protect the people being shamed or those doing the shaming. All it does is stifle communication. This is an incredibly short-sighted way to deal with mass fear. Sure, stifling communication can prevent the spread of panic, but it also drives people further into personal isolation and actually intensifies their anxiety, which will inevitably spill out and spread to others.
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So if shame doesn’t work, but we really do need to get a handle on our collective anxiety to prevent additional complications to this coronavirus problem, what can we do?
We can accept our fear as a rational response to a very intense global issue, and go from there.
It’s OK to Be Afraid of the Coronavirus
If you’re afraid, that makes sense. Once you accept your fears as logical instead of “hysterical,” you can cut through like eight unnecessary layers of anxiety, such as, “Why is no one else freaking out like I am?” or “I’m probably exaggerating, it’s fine (but it’s not fine). No, it’s totally fine.”
It makes sense to be afraid right now, and I think we should talk about why.
I think a lot of healthy, able-bodied people are having their eyes opened to the terrifying possibility of being in poor health, and how scary that can be. It’s so easy to take our health for granted because as long as everything is working correctly, we don’t have to think about or put much effort into our health, especially for young people. But those with chronic illnesses or conditions that require constant monitoring or treatment understand that a healthy body is absolutely essential.
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As much as I like to think of myself as a floating head, the truth is, our bodies keep us alive, and without them, we cease to be here. I’m sorry if that’s scary, but I think it’s important to just say what is broiling below the surface in all of our minds. Illness is scary because it reminds us that we are mortal.
That can be really scary to admit to ourselves, but once we do, we can move forward through our fear into hope.
On the Other Side of Mortal Dread Is Hope
Without acknowledging why we are all so afraid, we cannot access our hope. Our typical hopeful sayings like “It’ll all be OK” aren’t going to cut it. We need to accept our fears so we can find some hope based in reality, rather than cookie-cutter platitudes.
Here are some hopeful things that may help guide you through your (totally reasonable!) fear:
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- Fear is a sign that something is important. As much as it sucks to be afraid of dying, the alternative — apathy, self-loathing, disinterest in life — is so much worse. You are alive, and you want to stay that way, and that is a wonderful thing.
- Your anxieties about keeping yourself safe will help keep others safe. Even if you are keeping yourself safe for “selfish” reasons, i.e. preserving your own health, if you don’t get sick, you can’t get others sick. Who cares about the intentions behind it? You’re still helping, and that’s so important.
- Even though it’s scary that everything is shutting down and getting canceled, this is actually a sign that countries and companies are taking this seriously, which will help slow the spread and make the coronavirus much more manageable and survivable.
- Humanity is coming together to protect the most vulnerable among us, and it’s beautiful. As I’m sure you’ve seen, the vast majority of people who get the coronavirus will be OK, but the elderly and immunocompromised are at much higher risk. By closing schools and canceling sports, humanity is saying, “We see you, vulnerable populations, and we will do everything we can to protect you.” It’s been so long since I’ve felt like we as a society have cared so much for especially vulnerable people.
- This will end. I can’t say when or how much damage will be done before that time comes, but sometimes it’s comforting to remember that nothing lasts forever.
I really do think there are legitimate reasons to be hopeful right now, but that doesn’t mean I’m magically no longer afraid. On the contrary, I’m writing this post at 3 a.m. because I can’t sleep because I’m scared. Hope doesn’t banish fear, it just helps us survive it. It’s OK to be afraid. But if you can, take time throughout your day to try and temper that fear with a nice dose of hope.
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