During times like this, it is common to respond with fear or panic. Pandemics aren't something we as humans typically can anticipate, or prepare for adequately without some form of action prompt. However, deciphering the difference between fear and panic is one battle. Another battle is not allowing a fear-based response to become overwhelming and bleed into other parts of our life and from transitioning back to some sort of normalcy.
The difference between fear and panic is how it affects us. Fear entices us to go to the grocery store, stock up on essentials, wear a mask and stay home, but remain some sort of acceptance and tolerance. Panic entices us to go to the store, buy all of the toilet paper, buy all the home goods we can as if we won't be able to leave our homes again. The emotional value of panic is more destructive to our mental health because it matches an irrational thought with an irrational action.
It is normal for irrational thoughts and fears to pop into our heads when dealing with things that aren't necessarily "solvable" or that don't have a clear end in sight like the coronavirus/COVID-19. Many of us have felt "not safe/in danger/stuck", but by giving into those thoughts too much we have created a story or script of the worst-case scenarios, which can impede us from entering our logical mind. This will have long-term effects and be harder to break the more we allow them in. These thoughts and behaviors are produced when we attach meanings to feelings, especially those of fear, panic. We base our living, behaviors, and beliefs on these feelings.
In DBT, we learn of the three states of mind: emotional mind, logical mind, and wise mind. The difference in these is one is purely based on emotion, one entirely on logic, and the one in the middle, the wise mind which encompasses both. Our most helpful and productive functioning is in wise mind. We shouldn't make decisions based solely on emotions or focus entirely on logic. A balanced focus on the sides is the best practice for our mental health.
When dealing with fear-based thoughts or feelings regarding this virus, allow yourself to de-escalate and find a way to tap into your logic. Logic says you can leave your home, logic says this will go away, logic says that some have died but also that some have beat it. While our emotions say you'll stay like this forever, you'll get the virus and die, etc. Ask yourself, "Is this the wisest behavior, conclusion or thought or is this disruptive and emotion-based". This takes practice and patience but allowing yourself to break through the emotional mind and toward logic/mind. The better we get at this now, the easier it will be to transition back to normal functioning in the future, and outside of our fears.
If you or someone you know is in need of coaching on how to break apart fear-based responses, emotions or behaviors reach out to an anxiety counselor in Orlando at Orlando Thrive Therapy. A counselor will happily teach you skills to de-escalate, break apart irrational thoughts or feelings, and provide support in times like this. To speak directly to the author of this article, email firstname.lastname@example.org, keep calm and thrive on!
Heather Oller is a licensed Orlando therapist at Orlando Thrive Therapy, Coaching & Counseling who specializes in counseling Orlando couples, individuals, and families who are seeking changes in their lives. She has been a mental health professional for over 17 years and is a practicing Orlando counselor that specializes in conflict resolution for couples. You can contact her for an appointment or call 407-592-8997 for more information.