On Saturday my husband and daughter went out to get some groceries in Toronto, Canada. After several hours they returned without hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, rice, potatoes, or toilet paper. Not one for panic buying, I hadn’t stocked up.
“We can always use tissues, or newspapers,” I said, “… or leaves.”
Here in Canada, the number of COVID-19 cases is moving towards 1000. Many provinces have declared a state of emergency. Government departments have closed schools, colleges and universities as well as shut down borders to non-essential travel. Almost everyone is social distancing or self-isolating. Cafes and restos are serving take-away only, stores are cutting shopping hours, people are working from home, and events and activities have been cancelled or moved online. Not only is the world trying to figure out how to contain the spread of the virus, but it’s also trying to stop the stock market slide and the domino effect on household finances and the global economy.
Given all that’s going on, there must be better ways to channel our COVID-19 anxiety than panic buying food supplies and pharmaceuticals. We are all in a state of agitated flux. One moment I feel grateful, the next paralyzed and useless. I want to do something more than grocery shop for neighbours and friends. So I pulled together a list of Panic Remedies. Then I ran the list by my neighbour, Kevin Adams, who is a registered psychotherapist.
“What you’ve described are remedies to regulate a natural fear,” Kevin said via video call from two houses down. “Rather than going into a fight or flight or a shut-down response, a more healthy response would be to more actively engage in remedies like reaching out to friends, or the other things you’ve named.”
Kevin has two decades of counselling experience in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and developmental trauma. When we talk about the group herding or panic response, I ask him if there’s anything we can do to channel panic purchases into something more positive. “We can only turn it into a positive response through education — which is what the media is trying to do,” he said. “All these things combat against an overwhelming sense of helplessness.”
So here you go: your 7 Panic Remedies for Viral Anxiety
Panic Caring: The COVID-19 pandemic is creating heightened anxiety, isolation, and greater feelings of loneliness. We can all lessen this by reaching out, or offering to shop or pick up supplies for our elderly neighbours and friends, people with compromised immune systems or with visible or invisible disabilities, and those with mental health issues who may be feeling even more isolated. Studies have shown that helping others reduces our own anxiety. So think about people who might not have a support group because they’re new to the country or to the community, or those who may be struggling because they’re single parenting or looking after aging parents or ill partners. Don’t repost a message on social media. People who need help rarely ask for it. Be proactive and build belonging. But phone or email them first. Don’t just show up.
Panic Reading: It’s easy to get dragged down into the social media vortex of negativity or just slip into the habit of checking news updates or stock prices every 20 minutes. That won’t help calm you down, but reading fiction, creative nonfiction or poetry will. Reading relieves stress, improves focus and your ability to understand other people’s emotions. If it’s difficult to sit still for 30 minutes, try 10. Or leave the phone far away and read before bed. If you don’t want to read, listen to a virtual reading series.
Panic Donating: Refugees, homeless people and remote communities aren’t immune to the effects of a pandemic and charities haven’t stopped working. If you can spare the monetary equivalent of a bottle of wine, donate it. The World Health Organization, Médecins Sans Frontières and other groups have stepped up efforts to combat the effects of COVID-19. If you want to keep your aid closer to home, think about food banks, hospices and shelters, local theatres, museums, art centres. Check their websites or email them to see what they need. Various studies have linked the act of giving with a boost in oxytocin — the sexy feel-good hormone — in your brain. If you’re healthy and strapped for cash, declutter those boxes of clothes or books under your bed. You don’t need to donate them now but you can have them ready to go when things calm down.
Panic Creating: Take time to write in your journal, play an instrument, sing, knit, paint, sketch, dance in your kitchen, or carve wooden pencil boxes. The act of creating leads us to a mindset similar to meditation where we are fully immersed in what we’re doing. Studies have shown it helps people with depression or anxiety, and can even slow cognitive decline. There are lots of online creatives offering free services now.
Panic Exercising: My mother-in-law used to start every day with push-ups in her bed until she was in her early 90s. She used soup cans as weights when she was in the kitchen. We don’t need to run 10 kilometres to decrease the symptoms of anxiety or depression. Any kind of exercise will do if we want to feel more self-confident and have more self-esteem. Exercise is also a fabulous stress-buster. According to an article by Walden University: “Increasing your heart rate can actually reverse stress-induced brain damage by stimulating the production of neurohormones like norepinephrine, which not only improve cognition and mood but improve thinking clouded by stressful events.” CreativeLive is offering free online health and wellness classes 24/7. Please keep in mind that some people are carriers of COVID-19 and may feel no symptoms. At this time, no one has the right to run or walk or cycle past others at less than 2 metres. If you’re thoughtful, you’ll give everyone a wide berth.
Panic Communicating: Don’t underestimate the power of technology to help build or rekindle solid relationships. During my quarter-century living in France, the UK and Australia, I relied on new technology to communicate with friends and family all over the world. First we only had fax, then emails, then social media, and now free video conferencing. I’m constantly amazed by my ability to build and maintain close relationships with people in different hemispheres. Use this opportunity to search out old friends or colleagues you’ve lost touch with. Yes, they will remember you. I recently reached out to several people I worked with 20 to 25 years ago, and they all were happy to hear from me. At least that’s what they said!
Panic Supporting: This week while walking to clear my head and get away from my children, I stopped in at a couple of local shops to see how the owners were doing and how I could support them. This was before recent restrictions and information. I still stayed 2 metres away from people. I returned home with a matcha latte and three empanadas. Drinking my latte, I emailed a local bookshop about a couple of books I need for my MFA. They got right back to me. Even a thoughtful email connection with a stranger feels good right now. We can still support our small independent businesses. If you’re healthy and you feel you can go out safely, get a cup of tea or a meal and bring it home to eat. Or better yet, order in, or order ahead to minimize any contact. As noted above people can feel well and still carry COVID-19. Please be respectful of others. If you’re home and unable to go out, phone your favourite local boutiques or indie bookshops to see if you can buy over the phone or online or get something delivered. If you’ve got extra cash, buy a gift certificate from local shops for gifts later in the year. Don’t cancel your yoga workout or music lessons with that family run business, keep them up through video.
Added 21 March 2020:
Panic Thinking: I really didn’t think I would have to include this one, but after being out to a few shops for necessities here in Toronto, and having seen the news of my fellow Aussies swarming Bondi Beach and becoming aggressive in grocery stores and pharmacies, I’ve added this. Please treat every fellow human being like they are your elderly parent whom you love or your immune compromised friend. Thank you to the individual shops who’ve taped out squares at the front of their stores to keep the three people allowed in separated while the two employees did the shopping for us. Thank you to all of those who were respectful and polite, which was the majority. And to those of you who spat on the sidewalk in front of me, who crowded into my 2 metre bubble unnecessarily (yes I kept moving away), and who were coughing on the street and not covering their faces, please do better. All the information is out there: social distancing and isolation is the way to reduce the spread of the virus. Just because you feel well, doesn’t mean you are.
Still feeling anxious or the need to restore your faith in humanity? Don’t forget your local therapists and counsellors are still conducting sessions online.
Thank you all for your lovely support and kind words! vxx (Virtual Kisses), Miss Kiki