It’s a cold and rainy day here in Los Angeles and while I sit at home in my own self-imposed work isolation, all of my work travels having been cancelled, I found myself thinking about the long term effects of such a mental space, especially with the world around me paralyzed by fear. So I figured I’d get some tips on being proactive in ways other than sharing virus stats on social media that can help others get through this weird and confusing time.
As of today, the world is in panic mode. From Italy being on lockdown to flight routes being restricted, major events being cancelled left and right along with schools and businesses, the spread of the Coronavirus reached far beyond the illness itself.
While we see that it has spread worldwide and are frantically trying to make sense of it all, no one can deny that panic has set in to every aspect of our daily lives more than anything has ever before. The spread of all sorts of divisive and fear driven content online is soaring, it is the main topic on every news outlet and it’s the first thing out of anyone’s mouth. And the effects of this are just starting to be seen with no end in sight.
I won’t spend time telling anyone what the CDC and World Health Organization has already been telling us for weeks. We all know we need to be vigilant, wash our hands, etc. But what I do want to highlight is why and how to handle this in a way that is good for our mental health as well as our financial security, two things that are heavily affected by the state of affairs at the moment that could have even longer term effects if we don’t take appropriate actions to protect them now.
There are many things we can’t control but when it comes to our mental health and how we protect what we have and need to survive, there are definite steps we can take as individuals that not only help us but help our communities and beyond.
How to counteract the mental and emotional effects of social distancing and quarantine
We are seeing major events being cancelled, borders being closed and people stockpiling supplies to self quarantine. In Italy, the entire nation is on lockdown what with residents not being allowed to leave their homes or visit one another and only allowing 1 person per family to leave to grocery shop all to avoid the spread of the virus. Social distancing and quarantining does limit the spread of infection and contamination but we must be aware of the mental toll this will take if this goes on longer than anticipated and prepare.
The drawbacks of social distancing can include loneliness, reduced productivity, and the loss of other benefits associated with human interaction. It can also make it more difficult for a community to monitor the health of its members.
So what can you do for yourself and others if this is where we are headed? Here are some tips:
- Engage in things that keep you mind busy
- Get off of social media if it is not necessary for your job – the constant sharing of “unhappy” information is not only exhausting but also toxic to your mental health
- Turn off the news – Same as above. Get the info you need to stay informed but don’t pay attention to it 24/7
- Do things that make you happy and boost serotonin levels – Exercise, listen to music you love, dance, bake, etc
- Video chat with friends and family – Stay connected! If you can’t be with loved ones in person, the next best thing is to connect via tech! We need our tribes to get through tough and lonely times.
- Live is healthy and clean as possible – Sure, comfort foods feel good in times of “nesting” but many comfort foods and drinks are bad for our mental health if we indulge too much. Highly processed foods, refined sugars, caffeine and alcohol all affect our brain chemistry and can further increase depression and feelings of loneliness and hopelessness. Plus it boosts your immunity to eat clean as well – win win!
- Eat mood boosting foods – There are certain foods that help boost serotonin, the happiness hormone. Incorporate some of these when you are feeling low: Berries, almonds, chickpeas, dark chocolate (low sugar content), bananas , spinach, quinoa and sunflower seeds.
- Look at the silver lining – Perhaps this is a reset button for all of us! Maybe we all need to chill out, relax, spend time with ourselves to reassess what is truly important going forward. Look inward, it’s a gift!
The rainy day is upon us – how to save and plan for the post coronavirus financial future
As we see the closures of businesses, schools and events, it’s inevitable that people are and will continue to lose wages for a little while and perhaps some time to come. We are also seeing the trickle down in many places where businesses are tightening their purse strings as a precaution. So what do you do if you are worried about lost wages, the stock market plummeting further and how long this may last? Be proactive where you can be with my tips:
- Create an “essentials” budget and stick to it – You may have to sacrifice some superfluous spending in the mean time to be sure you have the money for essentials (see below)
- Give up some things, for now – Anything you don’t don’t “have to” spend money on for the immediate future, try your best to give up for a bit. You can live without your daily coffee and make it at home, squelch your online shopping habits and make meals at home. Skimp and save where you can.
- Don’t make rash decisions about investments – talk to financial advisors for the best course of action. they may very well tell you to stay the course, not panic and ride it out.
- Ask for bill deferment – Some companies allow you to do “skip a payment” if you qualify.It doesn’t hurt to ask your credit card company and any other utilities and services for a little help ; ) Credit cards tend to allow you to lower your interest rate if you are in good standing too!
- Get creative – If you are in fear of losing your steady income, try to find ways to make an extra buck. Offer to babysit, drive for uber, explore ways to make extra money online, sell your photography, etc – there are a number of ways you can turn your extra time or gifts into cash!
- If you’re self employed – Try to come up with new ways to save, bring in more clients or even pick up some part time work.
- If you’re employed – Ask the right questions! See if there are plans to shut down, cut hours, etc during this time as well as information on paid sick leave, stipends, etc. Getting up to date and accurate information will help you plan accordingly.
And yes of course, be vigilant about your physical health too! Here are my immunity boosting tips!
- Get rest!
- Stay Hydrated
- Load up on Vitamin C
- Keep natural anti-bacterial fighting vitamins on hand like A, D and zinc
- Eat clean (see above under mood boosting tips!)
- Stay positive
Why stopping the spread of fear is the key to our survival
Fight or flight – we are seeing demonstrations of this in spades across the internet, now more than ever. While fear can be a great motivator, by and large it is extremely toxic. Because I am not a psychologist, I have cited the work of a man, Mr. Bob Van Oosterhout, who is well versed in the psychology of fear to give you an idea of how fear works, why it is just as infectious to the mind as COVID-19 and how we can rise above it:
Fear based thinking is how our mind works when we’re in a state of fear as well as being a mental habit that persists long after the immediate threat has passed. It narrows our focus, restricts learning, blocks compassion and creativity, and makes us more self-centered, impatient, and judgmental. We have been this as we see the divisiveness growing as the situation worsens. It makes us vulnerable to manipulation and interferes with problem solving while leading us to form rigid, emotionally based opinions that are immune to input and logic.
We don’t reach out or try to understand other people when we’re in crisis mode, we don’t listen or learn. Sadly, it’s what we see on social media daily. There is no time for creativity or new ways of seeing things. Our mind is pulled to simple, quick solutions and what seemed to work before, even when that is the worst possible thing we could do, dividing us even more. Fear based thinking develops and deepens when we receive repeated messages that stimulate fear. Since fear gets and keeps our attention, it’s a useful tool for the media and entertainment industries.
So it’s important to understand how fear ultimately affects our brain. Thoughts, perceptions, and experiences create pathways made up of connections between neurons. They’re like little information highways in our brains. Going back and forth the same way across an empty field eventually creates a path and then a fully paved road. Repeating a certain line of thinking has the same effect in our brain. When a road is used a lot, it becomes well worn or paved, making it easier to travel on. When we no longer travel on a particular path, it grows over like an old road hidden in the forest.
At any given moment, we are either creating new pathways in our brain or reinforcing old ones. Pathways associated with fear are like highways – they’re easy to get to and allow us to move quickly because they’re related to survival. Messages of fear from the media pull our thoughts to similar pathways again and again while keeping us from forming new ones. Being stressed-out, frustrated, exhausted, or emotionally drained pulls us toward thoughts and messages of fear like a magnet. This further strengthens fear based pathways. When we fail to access other pathways, those other connections start to fade.
As stress increases and fear based thinking is reinforced, alternative ways of thinking and perceiving disappear. We stop creating new roads and no longer choose paths that expand how and what we think. Extending the road analogy, circuits in our brain can become like railroad tracks that narrowly limit our thought and perception. We become trapped by our own mind and are no longer free. The worst part is that we’re not even aware that we have given up freedom when we get stuck in fear based thinking. Our way of thinking in response to fear becomes our normal way of thinking about life, infecting our every thought and action.
Fear narrows our awareness. Caution expands it. Fear based thinking pulls our thoughts toward simplistic or old solutions and drives us to act immediately. Concerns have a history and context that demand reflection and understanding. Fear based thinking drives us to either cower and hide or charge forward with our head down. Concern leads us to develop and adapt strategies that fit with changing circumstances. Fear based thinking draws us into making the same mistakes again and again.
Breaking the cycle of fear based thinking allows us to see a larger picture and relevant details more clearly. We can respond rather than react; learn, adapt, and strategize rather than grab onto what we did before. Focusing on what’s going on rather than what might happen allows us to foresee obstacles and see opportunities and creative solutions while also making us kinder and more compassionate toward one another, allowing us to make better decisions as well as keeping us healthier in both body and mind.
I hope that this post gives you a little peace of mind and can help you focus on things that can not only help you but others if you put them into practice. This too shall pass but how we get there and in what state is yet to reveal itself so we need to be prepared in every way that we can. We must stay positive, remain calm, be proactive and hope for the best. Good luck out there and spread love where you can!