How to Not Freak Out About the Coronavirus. Or Anything Else.

If you’re a little anxious about your health, family, finances, community, way of life and/or having enough supplies to ride out a lethal, highly contagious global pandemic, that's not a bad thing. You’ve been paying attention.

But if you’re feeling acutely anxious – on the verge of freaking out – I have some good news: You’re not as anxious as you think. Sounds strange, but bear with me.

This is true in most cases when you’re experiencing a painful emotion. As with anxiety, you’re not as angry as you think, or as dissatisfied or as annoyed as you think when you have those emotions.

This is not to say the intensity of what you feel isn’t strong, legitimate and unpleasant. It’s a question of what’s behind that. You think it’s intense anxiety. You’re actually experiencing two things: anxiety and dislike of anxiety. You don’t want to feel anxious. Who does?

Often, most of the intensity and unpleasantness of a painful emotion comes from the dislike. If you can eliminate that, dealing with the emotion itself (anxiety in this case) becomes much easier.

This is not a perfect analogy, but imagine you’re five years old again and getting a blood test. Your dad has to pry you out of the car kicking and screaming because you dread how painful you think the shot will be. You dislike the situation so much that it makes what will be a momentary pinch into a monumental catastrophe.

The moment comes. You’re crying and bracing yourself. The needle pinches. It hurts a little. As the needle stays in and draws blood, you may or may not feel minimal discomfort. But it’s all over in 15 seconds. You say, “Wow Dad, that wasn’t so bad.”

So how do you eliminate the dislike that’s probably causing much of the intensity of your anxiety? Just think, “Ok, I dislike feeling this way.” I call this “Acknowledging Dislike.” It’s like bursting a bubble. The dislike can go away instantly, bringing immediate relief.

After that, use awareness by taking your attention into your body, and take a few deep breaths. You’ll never learn this in talk therapy, which is mind-based, but emotions are sensations in your body usually triggered by thoughts.

Each emotion is located in a specific part of your body. If you can find the emotion, just observe it and let it be. If you can’t find it, just keep your attention in your entire body. That’s what I usually do because I feel like most emotions occupy my entire body. The emotion should fade as you pay attention to it, but don’t try to force it.

Acknowledging dislike is the most practical and powerful way to improve your mindset in the moment. It eliminates so much needless suffering with a single thought.

Everyone dislikes COVID-19. That’s not going to change. But you can change how you feel about it in an instant by acknowledging disliking it when anxiety is rising.

I wish I had a test or vaccine I could give you. This is the best I can do. But COVID-19 will eventually go away. You can acknowledge dislike for the rest of your life. In the meantime, be well, count your blessings and stay safe!  

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