COVID-19: Some Thoughts by Psychotherapist Mark Laing
Published On: March 20, 2020
As a psychotherapist, I see many people struggling to deal with the day to day stressors, worries and concerns. They struggle to stay emotionally intact and find it difficult to make decisions. They are often further injured by well meaning but poorly informed people who suggest they should think happy thoughts and just “let it go.”
As I watch the conversation on social media, I see under the current new stressor of the Corona Virus, people responding in similar ways. There appears to be a polarization that is becoming much more divisive. On the one side you have those who are minimizing this pandemic saying the media is exaggerating this virus and that this is no big deal. On the other side are those in great panic struggling to stay emotionally intact and making panicked decisions. They are stockpiling toilet paper and disinfectants and isolating themselves in the midst of tremendous fear, worry, helplessness and hopelessness. My guess is both sides are right and both sides are wrong.
How Can We Approach This Pandemic Then?
Those who underestimate or minimize this pandemic offer some valuable encouragement. This is not to suggest we should all carry on as usual. This would be social irresponsibility. But their message does contain calming assurance just as a parent may assure a child who is upset, that they are safe. When I was waiting to get tested for Corona last week, a mother was in front of me with two kids about five years old. One was quiet while the other was quite upset and making lots of noise. The mother bent down to the distressed child and asked her to look around the room and asked her if anyone else was carrying on like her. Mom reassured her, when the child said no one else was acting like her by saying, see everyone here is here for the same reasons as we are and they are calm, they are safe and they are in good hands. The child paused for a moment and then feeling reassured gave her mom a hug. I think this story is at the rational heart of those minimizing this virus. We can learn that if we wash our hands, limit our exposure to others, cover our mouths when we sneeze or cough that here is hope we will get through this scary and uncertain experience.
On the other hand the message from those panicked by this also place emphasis on the instructions we have all received and urge us all to take them serious and participate in those measures to “flatten the curve” as the experts are hoping this two week isolation will achieve allowing health professionals to have better control managing this pandemic. So the panicked message has value but at the same time there is no current reason to overshoot emotionally and begin building pandemic bunkers in our homes.
Talking To Our Kids
Kids today already live in a very stressful world. Perhaps Greta Thurnberg presents an ideal picture of typical childhood angst in the world today. Kids struggle with parents who are fighting or divorced, they are struggling with fears over climate change and many report feeling hopeless about a bright future. Corona only adds a ton more stress to their plates. Kids talk at school, they talk privately to their friends, they talk on social media and read many of the scary articles about the virus including some poorly written and fear mongering articles and of course they may hear their own parents express fear. So how do we maintain a sense of calm, safety and reassurance at this time?
1) Parents be careful how you talk about what you heard on the news or your own concerns in front of your child.
2) Institute safe practice measures within the home that include washing hands for at least 20 seconds, covering your mouth if you sneeze or cough. Explain that these are measures that we should always observe in order to help keep everyone healthy, NOT just because of the Corona virus. This is a wonderful opportunity to institute healthy practices as a lifetime practice.
Remember at one time doctors didn’t think washing your hands between examining patients had no place in causing deaths of patients. This of course was eventually realized to be untrue and today doctors wash their hands between patients or before surgery and after.
3) Be open and encouraging of allowing your children express their concerns. This is not where you minimize or create a sense of panic. Stay calm and reassure them that they are safe and as a family you are doing all the right things to stay safe and healthy. John Gottman’s How To Raise An Emotionally Intelligent Child is an excellent resource for parents.
4) This is a wonderful time to build a stronger family unit by distracting activities such as playing board games, reading to your kids, having your kids help you bake cookies or a cake, learn something new through instructional You Tube videos or have a in house camp out night and build tents with sheets and prepare the family’s favourite dinner.
So yes, this pandemic is serious and concerning and not to be taken lightly. At the same time, it is not a call to have a melt down or obsess over and feed possible existing anxiety disorders. As a therapist I am concerned especially for those who already struggle with anxiety and find this pandemic as too overwhelming and are really struggling to manage their emotions. Keeping your sessions and not cancelling them is important to maintain well being and we all can heal by maintaining healthy interaction.