The novel coronavirus (now named COVID-19) has been in the news almost daily since the first few cases were confirmed in Singapore. When the DORSCON was raised from yellow to orange, many people rushed to the supermarkets to buy staples, in fear that they might have to take cover at home.
Fear is a neurological response to perceived threat and when triggered, our fight-or-flight response is activated. It serves as a protective mechanism, prompting us to stay safe. Hence, you’ll see people avoiding crowded places, taking extra precautions, and to the extremes, shunning others. While some of the responses have been logical, some have been downright racist and mean. People who refused to serve healthcare workers are angry. Healthcare workers are working round the clock. Those of us who have kids fear our kids will get infected and want schools to shut down. There is so much negativity surrounding us now.
A friend said to me: What you share with people is so important in times like this. How can we continue to stay positive amidst all the negativity surrounding the COVID-19? Hopefully this will be helpful for you.
1. Notice what makes you angry or stressed.
Last week, when the DORSCON was changed to Orange, I read the news fervently to see if there was anything else I needed to do, or needed to know. Without realising it, I read from one article to the next and the next, and 30 minutes had passed. Tension rose in my chest, worries about my children started to fill my brain. And I wondered if this situation would ever end. Unknowingly, I had been driven by my own anxiety into action, without stopping to check-in with myself on how it had all made me feel. Recognising that I was feeling stressed, I decided that I would only read what was needed, and the necessary government updates. This has significantly reduced my feelings of anxiety.
2. Focus on what you can control
Not being in the frontline means sometimes it feels like everything is spiralling out of control. During this time, it’s important to refocus on what you can control: your own thoughts, actions and responses. For instance, if you are thinking “Am I going to get the virus?” You may want to challenge that thought with actual facts e.g. no of times you have been out, how often you’ve been hand washing, etc. You see, emotion can quite often overtake us and we escalate our own fear by believing what we think is real. Go back to the objective facts & take the necessary precautions. If you feel angry that others are hoarding or avoiding the healthcare workers, remember you can’t change others or force them to see your point of view. But you can: support the healthcare workers by joining community efforts to send them positive notes, buy only what you need, etc. Focus on what you CAN do, rather than blaming and getting angry. Not that your feelings aren’t valid, but they will not help you stay positive.
3. Look for the light at the end of the tunnel
I know it’s something that is easy to say, but not always easy to do. But in these moments, we have to be optimistic and believe that this situation, like SARS, will pass over time. While it is troublesome, and difficult during this period, it will not last forever. Instead of wallowing in the negativity and moaning that everything has changed, we can look to some of the positive things that could result from this:
- Fewer mass gatherings (especially for schools) means there is lower chance of our kids falling sick, not just from the virus. They are also learning the importance of personal hygiene because of a real life situation.
- Spending less time in the malls and crowded places, means we have to get creative about how to spend our time outdoors or at home. All of this increases family bonding time.
- Fewer people travelling/flying means less emissions in the air, and more families get to stay together.
- For those of us running our own business, it means white space to be creative and re-look at strategies to be profitable even when we can’t do face-to-face events. For example, building up our online offerings, write a book etc.
Perhaps at this point, you may think I’m just being Pollyannaish, and unrealistic. But let’s face it. We have two choices here:
- We can get upset and moan, blame the inopportune time of the outbreak, and get angry with almost everyone, or stay indoors and be consumed with anxiety. For example, I could get really worried that my revenue flow has been affected and start to panic.
- We can take the necessary precautions, make some adjustments to our lifestyle and the way we do things, seek other opportunities, and feel much better about the situation. For example, I could start writing my book and build my online program.
Which one do you want to choose? Note that being optimistic doesn’t mean we are blind, nor foolish. It doesn’t mean I don’t bother about my hygiene, or will I go on a field trip to the hospital thinking “It’ll never happen to me.” It simply means that I can find ways to move on with my life, focusing on the present and what I can control. In the process, we get to do things in a different way, and gain new perspectives. It’s a far more empowering position to be in.
4. Manage your overwhelm
If you are feeling overwhelmed, do take some time to pause and breathe (in clean air, please!!) In my workshops, I teach people about the box breathing method, which navy seals use to navigate their stressful trainings and real-life situations. Here are the steps:
- Breathe in for 4 seconds.
- Hold your breath in for 4 seconds.
- Breathe out for 4 seconds.
- Hold your breath for 4 seconds.
- Repeat for 1 to 2 mins or until you feel calmer.
If the above doesn’t work, use other methods. For me, being out in nature has been most calming. It also reminds me that there is something larger at play. And just like we can’t control the time the sun rises or sets, we can control what is in our sphere of influence.
I hope the above tips have been useful for you. Please know that your fear, anger (and other emotions) are all valid. I’m not asking you to dismiss them, but for you to recognise that you can still respond in an empowered and positive way. May it be a time where we can challenge ourselves to overcome our internal programming and seek new ways & perspectives.
Wishing everyone well 🙏
About the writer
Sha-En is the 1st Singaporean graduate of the Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. She has been featured on multiple media platforms, including TV documentary ‘Chasing Happiness’, Business Times & radio MONEY 89.3FM. As the founder of Happiness Scientists, Sha-En has trained more than 10,000 people in schools & organisations in the research and practice of Positive Psychology. A professional speaker, she has spoken at the 1st Positive Psychology Conference in the Philippines & World Congress on Positive Psychology 2019 in Melbourne. She recently did her first TEDx talk at the TEDxSalon in Singapore.