BLOG: Maintain calm amid the COVID-19 pandemic
by John D. Kelly IV, MD
As the COVID-19 virus sweeps the world, it is easy to become anxious and fearful. I recently learned of a close friend who nearly succumbed to the COVID-19 virus. While my friend was immunocompromised, his illness was a reminder as to how this contagion can affect our loved ones.
In addition, my institution, like many others, has appropriately canceled elective surgeries for at least 2 weeks. The loss of income, coupled with the market decline, can easily fuel a quick descent into despair. I have found the following tips useful in maintaining calm during the storm:
- Stay informed, but not inundated with news. Research has shown that obsessive attention to media coverage of tragic events increases stress and potentiates need for media seeking. It is important to stay apprised of the facts and become aware of preventative strategies. However, don’t fall into the trap of convulsively following the news, feeding your brain nothing but negativity.
- Arm yourself with the facts. The truth is 80% of people afflicted with COVID-19 experience only mild symptoms and most infected patients recover. In addition, infections have been rare in children. While the estimated mortality rate of COVID-19 is 3.4%, most reasonably healthy individuals will overcome the virus.
- Adopt a routine. Keeping a schedule, even while at home, can introduce some measure of control over your life. Adhering to one’s usual bedtime lessens the amount of change in these uncertain times. Make sure to pencil in time for rest and exercise – two powerful immune systems boosters.
- Accept the facts. Accept the fact that each of us will suffer a loss of income. However, we live in the most resilient country on the planet and good times will return. Thankfully, those of us in medicine will not realize starvation or abject poverty. This too shall pass.
- Focus on what you can do. There are things you can do to prevent contraction and spread of disease including, social distancing, frequent handwashing, avoidance of touching your face and maintaining general sound health. Since the virus spreads exponentially, even small changes can translate to considerable effects.
- Look outward. When we direct our attention to the greater good of protecting our patients and loved ones, we focus less on our own inconveniences. Our health system recently (and appropriately) canceled all non-urgent patient visits at least 2 weeks. When one engages in a cause bigger than one’s own interests, meaning and purpose manifest. The sacrifices are directed at a noble cause – the safety and wellbeing of our fellow Americans. This makes the effort worthwhile.
- Practice relaxation techniques. Practice a relaxation technique, such as mediation or mindfulness exercises. Any “presence” practice will keep racing and catastrophic thinking at bay. Journaling has been an effective tool for me as writing helps bring me clarity and perspective.
- Remember the Silver Linings Playbook. There is always a “gift” to whatever misfortune may befall us. Working from home seems to increase efficacy in some domains, as well as inspiring creativity. I have used this temporary respite to catch up on some writing, reading of non-medical literature and, most importantly, spending time with loved ones. Use this rarely experienced down time to evaluate your life and amend your personal mission statement. Invest more in fitness and hobbies. Tackle some projects which have eluded completion.
The COVID-19 pandemic will soon be history. Let’s seize this opportunity to control what we can, accept what we can’t and take full advantage of the innumerable hidden blessings that await us.
Dutcher, EG. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization; 2012;doi:10.1016/j.jebo.2012.04.009.
Thompson R, et al. Science Advances. 2019;doi:10.1126/sciadv.aav3502.