“This is not the Zombie Apocalypse,“ says the physician host on Sirius Channel 121, a 24/7 station launched a week ago Sunday, dedicated to all-you-need-to-know-about-coronavirus-but-are-afraid-to- ask-in-public. The hosts are all highly-qualified and articulate scientists from NYU/Langone. They do not minimize that there is risk for some of our population and that we all need to do our part to reduce risk to these groups and ourselves, whether or not we are a part of that group.
Callers dial in to the station’s hotline asking about their or a loved one’s level of risk of getting or recovering from the virus: “If I have diabetes?” “If my child has asthma?” “If I have no spleen?” “If I’m over 65 but really healthy?” “How long can the virus survive on surfaces I touch?” All great questions that 20 to 30 minutes of listening time will answer. We all need to make adjustments in our personal hygiene habits, the hosts advise, but we also should continue to live our lives. He and his colleagues provide compelling, factual evidence including comparisons with flu and prior similar viral or bacterial outbreaks.
Over 60 percent of my emails over the past few days have COVID-19 in the subject line. Every government agency that we contract with has their own guidance in addition to guidance from the state and local Departments of Health and the Governor. The federal government’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the international World Health Organization (WHO) also chime in with their guidance as do trade associations, attorneys, business consultants and advisors, accountants, and more.
And news strings that I follow earnestly – meaning 24/7 – keep me informed about what our nation, state, and municipalities have reported regarding how many people are being quarantined and whether or not they have been positively identified as having COVID-19. It looks like a social media competition to see who can design the coolest charts and graphs. The program manager in me is envious.
Sadly, I made the mistake of checking my “Clutter” and “Junk” folders, because I don’t want to miss anything: Every airline I fly or have ever flown – and some that I have never flown – boasts about their comprehensive new airplane cleaning strategies. So are the hotels I’ve never stayed in. I really do want to book a flight somewhere, if only because the now-extended daylight is so enticing.
I also really hate the beautiful graphs though that shows what’s happening to some of my retirement funds. But, fortunately, many more advisors have sent me emails that they will soon rescue and protect me and my money.
The FEAR acronym above is one that many therapists use to help people who live with anxiety or panic to get grounded in service of building self-management and recovery tools. Since MHAW has a public role to help people to reduce their sense of panic, here’s my advice to the FEAR-stricken:
- Ask yourself, “what is my biggest fear” about the COVID-19 virus?
- If it’s about the illness that exposure might produce, compare your picture of your fear against the facts that experts provide on contagion and recovery/cure rates, which are far-and-away in the positive.
- While you don’t need to horde a one-year supply of toilet paper and milk, experts advise you have food and supplies if you’re out of commission for two weeks. And, don’t forget, Amazon trucks and planes as well as the U.S. Postal Service are still rolling!
- If it’s about things you might miss out on if that real big fear were to come true, use the anxiety energy to fuel new motivation and plans for a new life goal, such as a renewed health and wellness goal, a learning or educational goal, or, yes, even a travel goal. Engage real, qualified help to deal with any associated barriers – the flood of emails tells me most are very available. Start your plan now, not when your anxiety reduces as the world picture improves!
- Wash your hands. Sing “Happy Birthday” or the chorus of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” twice out loud so others can hear and enjoy!
- Be kind to everyone, even if you have to do it from six feet away. Just maybe they’re also turning their anxiety into goals and we all benefit from your positive presentation of yourself.
Oh, and last, don’t be “like Mike” when it comes to news binging: Set a time limit on reading email or attending to our mass, competitive media about COVID-19. If you’re driven to read more about just the mental health aspects of COVID-19, you can check out five pages and 24 tips on the topic – “Mental Health Considerations During COVID-19 Outbreak” – on the World Health Organization’s website!
Thank you NYU/Langone and Sirius XM for providing substance to the “R”.
And, from all of us at MHAW, thank you to our federal, state, and municipal leaders for your strong and pro-active response to this episode.