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Education and common sense

Kari Swanson

Fear is defined as an unpleasant feeling triggered by the perception of danger, real or imagined.

Fear is an emotion induced by perceived danger or threat which causes physiological changes and ultimately behavior changes such as fleeing, hiding or freezing from perceived traumatic events.

Fear is a symptom found in Anxiety Disorders, Generalized Anxiety Disorders, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders, Separation Anxiety Disorders and Phobias.

Fear can be debilitating and can cause a drastic decrease in a person’s functioning.

Prolonged fear can cause depression.

Some fears may be a result of experiences or trauma, while others may represent a fear of something else entirely, such as a loss of control or of the unknown. When we are afraid of something we really do not know a lot about that causes fear. We tend to blow things up in our mind and catastrophe situations or events.

What is currently happening in our world is scary. It is a virus people don’t know a whole lot about and are relying on experts to tell us or, worse yet, the media.

Educate yourself. Read up on COVID-19 and become familiar with the symptoms, how it is spread, how to protect yourself and how to get tested.

We, as a nation, have been through diseases, epidemics, and catastrophes before. Why is this different? Is it because places are shutting down, people aren’t allowed in nursing homes to visit, the schools are closed, and sporting events are closed to the public? These are precautions. These are preparatory strategies to help stop the spread of this virus. These are not indicators that the world is ending. Unfortunately, for people experiencing fear prior to the birth of COVID-19 all of the hoopla in the media and all of the closings of places and events certainly feels like the end of the world is coming.

What can you do? Stay calm. For those of you who do not experience clinical anxiety, PTSD, or any type of phobia take what you may be experiencing; nervousness, stress, fear and multiple that times 200 and just imagine what someone who is prone to anxiety is feeling. People with anxiety tend to receive cues from those who don’t experience anxiety. If you don’t typically experience anxiety and you now start exhibiting fear and behaving in a way that is atypical (i.e., buying 20 packs of 30 rolls of toilet paper at one time) what message do you think you are sending to those that already live in a heightened sense of fear? Education is key. Preparation is helpful. Common sense needs to rule.

Those of you that do have clinical anxiety, please know that the strategies being put in place are being done to be helpful and to get ahead of the spread of this virus. Increase your supports. Talk about how you are feeling in light of this scary situation and practice coping strategies such as grounding, visualization and deep breathing. Turn off the TV, don’t read the newspapers, and limit social media.

Truly, you already know way more than you need to, and if you do not think you are educated on the symptoms, spread and treatment than please educate yourself and then be done. Do not obsess over it and when your mind goes to thinking about it or you hear someone else stressing about it, distract yourself. What you are able to control is distancing yourself from those that are ill, putting distance between you and someone else in waiting rooms, classrooms, etc., and washing your hands many times a day with soap and water when able or with hand sanitizer when out and about. Do not go out when you are not feeling well. These are the things within your control. Everything else you need to let go. We cannot control what we cannot control. No matter how much you ruminate on it or dissect it, there is only so much you can do. Do that and move on.

We need to be aware of our children, some of whom may be rejoicing in having two weeks off of school but others whom may be scared to return to school for fear of getting a disease that closed the schools in the first place. As adults, be aware of what you are saying around little ears. Be aware of what children are seeing on social media and the television. Talk to your kids about what is happening without a sense of fear. If you can’t do that, find an adult that can. Don’t ignore that kids are not going to school for the next two weeks. Ask them what they know about COVID-19 and educate yourselves together. Adults are the role models. Educate them on how to protect themselves from air borne bacteria and the importance of hand washing. Let them ask questions. Their questions will let you into their minds and let you see how they are viewing this virus and what they are hearing from others. Don’t let your children live in fear. Help them process it. Help them prepare what they can. Help them control what they can. Help them to continue to live.

We need to come together as a community to help each other through this. We need to continue to be kind and helpful towards each other. That goes a long way when there is uncertainty and fear in the world. Be aware of how often you talk about COVID-19 and limit that, if possible. You don’t know the anxieties and fears of the person with whom you are speaking. Know your limits with your own thoughts and worries and get real with them.

Remember, education is key, but please don’t forget about common sense.

Kari Swanson is a Master’s level clinician with 25 years of working in the mental health field. She is the founder of CORE–Choosing Openness Regarding Experiences which is a non-profit organization with the mission to provide mental health awareness and suicide prevention education to Warren County.

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