Opinion: we must not be flippant or too relaxed, but being optimistic may well be the thing that will get us through this

Anxiety is a normal response to stress, and it would be very hard to not be worried at this uncertain time. You are not alone and it is very normal to feel the way that you do right now. However, there is a difference between panic and caution. This is a vital time and a time to be alert, but is there a need to panic or will it help us? Is there anything wrong with being optimistic right now?

We must not be flippant and too relaxed because we need to be vigilant and careful. However, being optimistic may well be the thing that will help us through this. Whether we worry or not, the truth is it will not change the outcome. It will not stop us getting the virus. Acknowledge the impact of your worrying, is it helping you in any way? 

Try to work out what may be blocking your optimism. This may be very obvious, but, it is very easy to get caught up in the stress, with news reports, Facebook posts and the media in general at present. It is important to ensure that you are only relying on facts from the the World Health Organisation and relevant governing bodies. If the media coverage is overwhelming, it may be useful to avoid spending too much time on social media, Google and news coverage. It is important to be cautious, but fear and panic will not help.

In my opinion, the key to maintaining optimism in this situation is by focusing on the facts. Facts help our brain to be more rational in times like these and help us not to focus on the worst case scenario. There are very valid reasons to be anxious, but try to focus on what is true, and the positives about the situation that you can think of. Focus on what is on your control, like staying in, practicing good hygiene and protecting those who are at risk.

We worry a lot about what is out of our control, which is everything else in this situation. We can only be careful but, other than that, worrying does not change the outcome. It just steals our joy. Focus on what you can do, and try to let go of the rest. 

It may help to write out a list of the reasons why your worries are not true, or why you shouldn't worry about them, a list of facts. For example, the situation is improving in other parts of the world, like China. Most cases are mild and most people recover. It is important to remember that there are methods to kill this virus: if we are cautious (not panicked!), and staying at home we can flatten the curve. In addition, many scientists around the world are working on a way out of this as we speak.

RTÉ Brainstorm podcast on how to mind your mental health and deal with such unprecedented events as self-isolation, social distancing and a national shutdown

When we think about these facts, we feel better, making our day more enjoyable. Why focus on the worst case scenario, when we have no proof that it will happen, making ourselves feel stressed? What path are you going to choose?

If you feel that your thoughts are overwhelming, try using a "worry window". Think about your worries, write them down, talk to someone and let it out. Give yourself one hour to simply worry in the morning, for example from 9am to 10am. After 10am, try to stop yourself from thinking about your worries, and save them for your evening worry window, say from 9pm to 10pm. When any worries come into your head during the day, tell yourself that you have already spent an hour of your day worrying and you are waiting to your next worry window at night. If anything pops into your head during the night, save it for your morning worry window and so on. As time goes on, try to cut down the time of your worry windows. If you can keep them to 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night, that is only 20 minutes of your day you have gave to worrying, instead of worrying on and off all day long.

Worrying does not change the outcome, it just steals our joy

Stress can make us ill, so take this time to focus on you. Make the most of this time, practice self care and look after yourself. Pro-active things like mindfulness, gratitude, breathing techniques and meditation can also help and may help you to be more optimistic. Make a list of all of the things you are learning to be more grateful for, and all the things you are looking forward to being able to do again, because you will be able to. This journey could be a long ride, so do you really want to look back and see that you spent all of this time upset and worrying, when we have to go through it no matter what?

The fact is that we have this time to pause, and it can be a time to find new passions and new priorities. After this, maybe we won’t take for granted the small things anymore, like meeting a friend for coffee, taking pictures together and dancing with friends. This pain can be a teacher, and it give us permission to take care of ourselves and rebalance our lives. What have you been neglecting? What can you change to make your body and mind happier and healthier? 

READ: 10 reasons not to panic about the coronavirus

READ: 5 tips to mind your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak

READ: How Irish youth are showing empathy for others during the crisis

If you are struggling right now, please remember that it won’t always be this bad. Things will get better. It is easy to jump to the worst case scenario, but be kind to yourself, as the worst does not always happen. There are a lot more recoveries than the very sad and scary death toll of this virus. Try to find the optimist in you, and make this journey a bit easier for yourself. You will get through this. Remember: optimism is contagious! You might just help yourself, and someone else too, and come out of this stronger than ever.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ