Panic in The Time of COVID-19

By now if you have not heard about the novel coronavirus named COVID-19, you probably live under a rock and you should really stay there until this is all over. Who knows when that will be.

For the rest of us, not only do we have the virus itself to worry about, but we also have the community response to navigate. How much should we panic? Is panic only ever a bad thing? I am noticing that some people in my community are desperate to prove that they are not among those “ridiculous” enough to let this pandemic scare them. If I mention my concern, some of them immediately take on a superior demeanor and share that “the flu kills more people” and “it’s really not that big of a deal if you get it, since you’re young and healthy.” 

But can there be such a thing as too little panic? It seems as though most people are taking one or the other extreme, caricatured either as being ruled by fear or by loudly proving to the world that they have “common sense” and won’t be afraid. Shouldn’t we be somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between terrified and flippant?

From my (semi-educated but by no means expert) experience, human responses such as worry and panic are tools given to us by evolution to help keep us alive. In the early days of humanity, if you didn’t let fear guide you, you’d be likely to get eaten by a predator or have a life-ending accident. Panic prevents you from making irresponsible choices for your well-being.

Obviously if it is applied to a non-life-threatening situation, panic can be overused. But for our elderly and immuno-compromised loved ones, this is indeed threatening to their lives. Can’t I be concerned about their fates and take steps to prevent the spread by allowing my panic to aid me but not consume me? I don’t think it should be shameful to admit that I am worrying. I can use this anxiety to make smarter decisions rather than just going on as usual and letting whatever will happen, happen. There is a limited degree of control that we have, and my so-called panic can help me figure out what that is and how to use it. This is evolution at work.

So how do I plan to use my worry? I’m still figuring it out as I go, but this is what I plan to do during the pandemic:

  • I will wash my hands and follow all the other CDC recommendations for good health hygiene, etc.
  • I will monitor the news daily about the coronavirus spread
  • I will eat at home as often as possible
  • I will postpone planning get-togethers
  • I will avoid game nights
  • I will cancel travel plans (already have)
  • I will work from home if it is offered to me

This is what I will not do unless the situation calls for it:

  • I will not stop working 
  • I will not panic-buy supplies
  • I will not stereotype people 
  • I will not wear a mask if I am well
  • I will not have a meltdown

It’s probably not a perfect list, because I am not perfect; but it feels like the right amount of action for me at this time. What about you? Are you claiming your fear and harnessing it for good?

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