As the COVID-19 virus continues to wreak havoc on the global economy and global health systems, it’s easy for many of us to naturally revert to feelings of stress, disbelief or even outright panic. The fight-flight response, while at times an adaptive advantage for human survival, can also be an impediment to it. That is, there are some dangers we perceive that are not really present, at least not in the immediate moment, and for us individually. In a recent Psychology Today article, psychiatrist Dr. Eva Ritvo discussed the heightened global fear surrounding COVID-19, as an exemplifier of the fight-flight response. She said that, “if real danger is not present, we may become obsessed with the wrong things. If fear doesn’t have the proper target, it can become anxiety and paranoia.”

These fear responses can harm our immune systems and general well-being. And ironically, these responses can make us more susceptible to the threat than we would have been if we had stayed calm.

So, what are some ways we can work to improve our levels of calmness and Zen during this unprecedented global uncertainty? Here are five simple options.

  1. Create a soothing atmosphere, surrounded by scents that make you feel more refreshed, energized and clean overall. Some scents frequently regarded as mind and body calmers include lavender, jasmine, lemon and rosemary. In choosing your scented products, be mindful of added chemicals on ingredient labels. These can subtly harm, rather than help in your quest for a soothing and healthy atmosphere at home – where most of us are now spending a higher percentage of our daily time. Appealing to your other 4 senses is also important. Find and integrate (into your living space) sights, sounds, tastes and textures that collectively enhance the overall atmosphere. Even subtle change can be impactful, helping bring you into the present and draw attention away from daily stressors. Additionally, consider using different scents for various areas of your home to find which scent suits your home the best.
  2. Place some limits on your family’s daily screen-time. With work-from-home policies in place, widespread e-learning, closures of nearly all facilities for leisure and exercise (theaters, gyms and health clubs, zoos, museums, etc.), and a rise in unemployment claims, the reasons to justify more screen-time perhaps seem endless. But now is a time when less screen time is the real prescription in high demand. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement on March 17, with guidelines for keeping children occupied and limiting screen time. There was no single number established for screen time, however, we can infer that establishing a well-balanced screen time and holding your family members accountable to this can be truly beneficial.
  3. Find ways to rely less on visiting grocery stores and essential food businesses that are still open for delivery, pick-up or in-person shopping. You can use the extra time to create shopping lists with new ingredients and prepared foods you don’t typically add to your carts – real or virtual. Fresh new cuisine can inspire creativity and clear-mindedness, and bring small, manageable change to your routine amongst broader uncertainty. Prepare these lists strategically and efficiently during your time at home to avoid relying on multiple order shipments and added time spent at brick-and-mortar store locations. If you absolutely need to visit a grocery store for essentials, the CDC offers helpful guidelines for approaching grocery shopping and other essential errands.
  4. Designate different spaces, within your home and your broader daily environment, as the main or even only places for certain activities. This is something many of us do anyway (i.e. office building for work, couch for responding to personal emails, dinner table for catching up with family members), but we perhaps need to be more mindful of these strategies now with fewer available spaces to designate these activities. In addition to designating spaces for more mundane or predictable daily activities, it is also helpful to designate spaces for moments of high stress. For some, quiet and private spaces like bedrooms are ideal for moments of deep thinking and self-soothing experience. Others may find they do their best thinking and mental resetting while outside. It is also important to designate time and space each week for planned leisure and “safe” socialization. 
  5. Devise your own plan (that makes sense to you) for how you will “listen to the experts” and heed any medical, social or economic advice that is applicable. By consciously, and maybe even physically drafting this plan yourself, you are taking some preemptive control over the possible threat(s) that could impact you personally. Some of these threats are true for all of us globally, while others may only impact certain geographic regions, group populations or even individuals alone. For instance, you could decide to limit your news reading/watching time to 30 minutes per day, or only do this activity at a certain time of day (i.e. morning, afternoon or evening.) By forcing yourself to do this mental exercise, you are decreasing your chances of unnecessary stress or a future fight-flight response.

For the wide majority of us, this is the first pandemic of our lives. Not only is this impacting us financially, but also socially in forms of staying at home, social distancing and self-isolation. It is more important now than ever to proactively adopt ways to lower stress levels and manage paranoia in daily life. The whole world is in this together and we will no doubt come out of this very soon.