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Contagion - Staying Calm Amidst the Panic

"Keep Calm and Carry On". Those were the words of the famous and oft-quoted motivational poster used by the UK government to raise morale while the country was being threatened by mass air attacks from Nazi bombers during the Second World War. It's a slogan which is needed just as badly eighty years later as Britain, along with the wider world, finds itself in the grip of another very different kind of battle, this time against the novel coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19. Businesses are closing, borders are firming up, thousands are panic buying, and most of us are being told to self-isolate. If you’re experiencing anxiety, insecurity, and fear at this time, it’s entirely understandable and you’re certainly not alone.

Trouble is, it's not just the virus that's contagious - the fear and anxiety that go alongside it are highly infectious as well. Known scientifically as social contagion, the spread of emotion from one person to the next has blossomed in a way few of us have seen before and resulted in panic buying, fear of going outside, and hefty debates about proper protocol conducted via social media. None of us are immune to this emotional transmission. If you’ve found yourself caught up in fear and coronavirus anxiety these past couple of weeks, then I strongly recommend the regular practice of some mindfulness exercises. These practices will help you to step beyond the habitual thought loops that are keeping you down. In doing so, they’ll provide you with a deeper sense of peace, calm, and acceptance despite what’s going on in the world around you. We can't change what's happening but we can reduce the extent of our own personal emotional entanglement with it. The challenge is not to worry about the things you can't control.

Mindfulness is one of the key weapons we deploy in the Phoenix therapeutic arsenal and seldom have these skills ever been more badly needed than now. Three months into 2020 and it’s evident that this year will be one like no other. Across the globe, fears of the coronavirus pandemic are spreading quicker than the virus itself. Businesses are closing, borders are firming up, thousands are panic buying, and most of us are having to self-isolate. However, amidst the very real danger that the coronavirus poses to many, the anxiety that we are experiencing in both mind and body is doing little for our health and vitality. The fight-or-flight response, which is certainly beneficial when we’re up against imminent danger, is now in overdrive for many. With a flood of alarming news it's hard to find the peace and ease we deeply yearn for.

When we’re faced with danger or excitement, adrenaline is released into the body to help us deal with the situation. Adrenaline makes our heart beat faster, increases blood pressure and makes us breathe more quickly. This ensures the blood is filled with oxygen so that the muscles in the arms and legs can work more effectively if required for fighting and running away. Extra blood is sent to the brain to keep us alert, while blood to the stomach is reduced as less important functions – such as digesting food – are put on the backburner. Adrenaline makes us want to go to the toilet as the body seeks to shed excess weight in the form of water and solids to enable it to run faster.

These biological changes can be good for us in short-term doses. But it’s vital that we be able to switch off that fear response when it’s no longer required. Otherwise, if it’s maintained for too long or develops into extreme fear, then it starts to impact negatively upon every area of our lives. One of the most deeply unpleasant symptoms of stress is a panic attack and these are caused by hyperventilation. When we’re tense or anxious, we tend to breathe shallowly and quickly from the chest instead of deeply and slowly from the diaphragm as nature intended. This leads to an imbalance between the oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body. By learning how to manage our breathing we can re-balance the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Anxiety can also lead to depression. If you haven’t already, then we recommend you check out one of our previous blogs, Depression – Curse of the Black Dog, which explores this subject in much greater detail and provides a wealth of useful advice on dealing with depression and other mental health issues.

None of this needs to be cause for alarm though; instead, we can use this information to empower ourselves to be more mindful of our thoughts, concerns, emotions, and the world around us. Try to keep yourself grounded in the present moment and not allow yourself to think too far ahead. We're all facing uncertain futures as a result of the impact coronavirus has had but fretting about what's to come won't make it any easier. We can't predict the future - we can only deal with the here and now, so that's where our focus needs to be. Mindfulness is a fantastic tool for cutting down on stray thoughts and unhelpful rumination. The future hasn't happened yet and we don't benefit ourselves one bit by envisaging worst-case scenarios which might never come to pass. It's true that we can't stop thoughts from popping into our head but we can choose whether or not to indulge them. When we indulge thoughts, they grow arms and legs and frequently snowball into something much bigger which bears very little, if any, relation to reality. Here are some top tips for keeping mindful during the coronavirus lockdown.

1. ​​Be mindful of time spent reading news and scanning social media.

This is a particularly challenging one for many, especially since many of us are self-isolating and are unsure of what to do with our time. However, see if you can draw increased mindfulness to your time spent online. Take mini pauses to inquire: Is what I am engaging with fuelling fear or peace?

​2. ​Consider ways of supporting your community connection.

Make use of the internet and associated technologies to check in with your friends and family members via phone or video calls. Have virtual dinner dates with those you care about. In addition, you can join an online community that will support your sense of connection and togetherness at this time. Check out our previous blog, Coronavirus - Surviving the Lockdown, for more on this.

​3. ​Self-inquire: What opportunities might this time be presenting?

As we all have additional quiet time at home at the moment, consider using the opportunity to explore buried passions or curiosities. This is a great time for at-home learning, creative expression, and mindful contemplation. Consider any online courses, books, or other resources that can support you.

There's an old Zen proverb which states, "You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour." Oprah Winfrey has joined forces with world-renowned spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra to promote the use of meditation as an invaluable survival tool during the coronavirus crisis. Oprah and Deepak have this week launched the 21-Day Meditation Experience - Hope In Uncertain Times - and are encouraging millions of people throughout the world to take up the challenge by meditating daily for three weeks. A spokesperson for the campaign said: "Together, we'll meditate each day to find peace of mind in the midst of turmoil, and help our global community find hope and optimism. Meditation is one of the best tools we have to relieve anxiety and protect our well-being as we navigate this challenging time. In this free online program, we'll come together for three weeks of daily meditations that include wisdom and guidance from two of the most influential thought leaders of our time, plus silent meditation time to restore from the inside out." You can join Oprah and Deepak's 21-Day Meditation Experience at #HopeGoesGlobal

For more information about the benefits of mindfulness and meditation, check out our previous blog, Meditation - The Power of Now. Here at Phoenix we'll be providing further helpful tips, advice and coping strategies in the days and weeks ahead. In accordance with government advice on social distancing, we're not seeing clients face-to-face at the moment but we are continuing to provide consultations online via Skype and by telephone and can offer discounted rates or free advice to those struggling financially at this time. Please contact us for details on 01383 731894 or drop us an email at

Above all, stay safe and try not to worry or panic. Remember, no matter how bleak the situation looks, you're not alone. We're all travelling in uncharted waters at the moment but we will get through this.

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