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How do we protect our brain and our heart from group panic? I view myself as a relatively calm person, but even I struggled to sleep well the last few nights.

Considering that the number of Corona related deaths in Europe is increasing significantly, it is not surprising that we, especially parents, worry. Like most people, I already had my own personal issues to deal with before the home isolation.  I was still reeling with sadness. My father passed away one month ago in a ICU hospital unit in Romania. It wasn’t Corona but a very aggressive form of a neurological disease. The memory of the two weeks  spent with my 73 year old father in ICU makes the statistic on death rate for elderly very real for me. When you lose a parent you lose a part of you, at least that’s how I feel now.

Through this weird situation of having the whole family being at home all the time, I somehow find it easier to deal with the constant heavy heart. As a  working mum who needs to juggle home-schooling, cooking and 1-2 video calls a day I don’t have time to check the news during the day. However in the evening, after watching the news, the bad thoughts are coming in. Sometimes they continue through the night.

It is tempting to fall into a state of self-pity but instead I decided to stay active by spending enough time outside with the kids. Treasure hunts are a nice distraction. To deal with my inner worries I started to read articles and tips from the ICF executive coaching  community.

Here are four tips  I found useful to help me avoid anxiety and panic.

1. Be aware of the anxiety influencers around you

When anxiety fosters prevention it is a good thing, but when the threat is uncertain, as in the case of the current corona virus, our mind can easily underestimate our body’s ability to cope. People with pre-existing anxiety conditions are particularly vulnerable.

I know by now exactly who are the people that will send me panicky whatsapp messages or would give me that weird feeling after a phone call. I deliberately choose how to react to them.

While a healthy dose of anxiety will help us cope, extreme and prolonged anxiety can become panic. When we are in a panic state, we suffer, we stress out our children and we create new problems through our reactions, such as buying toilet paper and masks.

2. Limit media exposure and stick with reliable sources

I used to check news throughout the day and I now keep to one official update through the  the Dutch news (‘NOS Journaal’). I received a lot of fake news via social media. After being burned once or twice I started to ignore that. Thoughts and predictions, especially the examples given on social media, can fuel panicky feelings.

I am not saying we should ignore the problem. It is important to be informed about the safety precautions and how to be supportive to others, helping them think more calmly. I was inspired to see my neighborhood has a volunteer group that offers to help people with grocery shopping.

3. Reduce anxiety by reducing risk and taking care of yourself

No matter your age and your state of health, don’t feel silly or embarrassed about taking the required precautions. If the government tells us to keep 1,5 meter distance, just follow their advice for the safety of everyone.

During this uncertain time, I found it important to keep up my self-care routine. A friend of mine just told me via video call today that she keeps doing her 7.45 a.m daily sporting routine and dresses up nicely as going to the office. Consider what helps you most, such as taking a walk in nature, meditating, exercising, or talking to a friend.

As long as you step back from the flow of news and take time to connect with the people you love and care about, you will feel better.

4. Keep the lines open with your parents. Be a positive influence on their day, they get enough anxiety influencers through the news

I started to call my mum every morning. I know she is alone and the mornings are toughest without my dad. However what is tougher for her is to hear everyone calling her the ‘risk group’.  She is not used to see herself as a victim and by calling her ‘risk group’ we instill more anxiety in her.

The language we use with our elderly parents and friends can either lift their spirits or  place them in a victim mode. It is not about ignoring the danger, but about considering their situation and being empathetic. This morning I had to stop myself from using the same patronizing speech with my mum everyone else does -‘take care, you are at risk, don’t go outside of the house, etc’. How would I feel if someone would tell me this, over and over again?

We can go through this together, but let’s not spread more panic.

Instead, let’s spread hope.

Author: Steliana van de Rijt-Economu, Executive Leadership Coach and author of ‘Mothers as Leaders’.

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