Question: Any suggestions for coping for the tremendous amount of stress that coronavirus is adding to our lives? The constant stream of contradictory information from doctors, the hysteria of the media, and the genuine concern regarding what seems to be a serious problem is undeniably taking up alot of emotional space in my life. Any recommendations ?
Much has already been written on this topic. I will attempt to address it from a specific angle and describe an approach to deal with these common coronavirus worries. This will involve summarizing the various CBT-based (cognitive-behavioral therapy) strategies.
Let us begin with a question. Should one worry about this dangerous coronavirus or not? Should we be thinking about questions like, "what should I do if someone coughs on me?" What if I need to be quarantined?" Will I be hospitalized?" "Will I die?"
As a first step, it is important to validate your worries. It is a normal human response so don't feel guilty for feeling afraid. Besides, if you push your feelings away, they will leak out somehow.
Many, if not most, people are just like you and are concerned that they may be affected.
At the same time, you also have a right to put things into perspective. There is a difference between productive and unproductive worry. Productive worry leads people to do proactive things. It is
wise to feel your feelings and share them with someone close to you. It is also wise to plan how to deal with potential problems, and to contemplate how to avoid them. Productive worry leads people to engage in activities such as washing hands, steering clear of people who are coughing, and practicing social distancing, Unproductive worry, on the other hand, is about thinking repetitive "what if?" thoughts that one can do little about.
Related to this distinction of productive vs. unproductive worry is the tendency of many to have a "shitta" on this. Either it is the worst thing that ever happened or it is being blown out of proportion. However, there is a middle path: you can worry productively without having to catastrophize or minimize. This will help you make better decisions.
If you are engaged in unproductive worry, it is worthwhile to practice tolerating uncertainty Not knowing what is going to happen and how long this will last causes fear. However, we should keep in mind that we have often experienced this uncertainty and made it through. Getting married, starting a new job, and learning how to drive a car are all filled with uncertainty, yet, we somehow managed.
In fact, most of what we do contains some uncertainty. Every time we eat, drive a car, or walk in the street, we enter the world of uncertainty. We need to realize that some things are beyond our control and we need to be confident that uncertain things work out. We need to surrender that only Hashem is in control. Learn to tolerate uncertainty and practice this. This is the essence of bitachon!
Set Your Mindset
: Worrying fills our minds with potential problems and feared failures. Change the script by deciding early on what kind of day you'll have. Where will you focus your attention
? What kind of divrei chizuk will you read? What kind of Shiurim will you listen to? What quality of thoughts will you cultivate? Who will you reach out to? This is your
life—reclaim your ownership rights.
Another strategy is to examine the evidence. Worrying usually tells us fake news: it overestimates probabilities or catastrophizes outcomes. It tells us that if we get sick, it will be horrible or that we will die from this. Think in terms of "what is the probability that I will die from this?" If you look at the numbers, the probabilities here are quite small. Think realistically. If someone coughs on you or you get sick, it is certainly not wonderful, but is it the end of the world?
Set aside worry time. Decide that you will give 20 minutes daily to worry. During the rest of the day, write them down and put it aside for your worry time. Having a designated time, may make it easier for you to move on throughout the day. During the actual worry time, use some of the strategies discussed above.
Schedule activities. Unproductive worrying wastes time and energy. It is also easier for worry to strengthen when we are stationary, especially if we are just sitting around and reading bad news. Make a schedule and keep yourself busy: learn, say tehillim, read, or engage in work. Physical movement is especially helpful: when you start to worry, do three minutes of walking (up and down stairs or quick walk outside). While you are engaged in these activities, your mind will likely wander to worrying. Notice it; accept it; put it on the calendar for worry time; and go right back into your activity. Repeat as needed.
Much hatzlocha to all in coping well with this challenge.
Originally appeared in Yated Neeman