It is news to virtually nobody that a pandemic of COVID-19 is spreading across the world and is being blamed for many problems, from the actual sickness itself to the disruption of our daily lives and the damage to our economy. The sickness, of course, can be attributed to the virus itself, but the attendant problems are the result of a single factor, namely fear.
As mental health professionals, we are seeing daily the stoking of the furnace of fear as more and more reports come out about the spread of COVID-19. The emphasis is on which celebrity or government official has tested positive, how many have died, cancellation of sporting and entertainment events, and foolish political commentary designed to make government look incompetent at being able to stop a disease we have never seen. All of this seems to threaten our sense of personal safety, and quite naturally makes us more fearful.
It is fear that, as of this writing, has moved government agencies to shut down any place–including open spaces such as beaches–at which more than a few people might congregate. Officials, understandably, are afraid that if they don’t keep people apart, more of us might contract the disease, or even die from it. They are protecting us from a threat, and rightly so. The problem is that as more and more of us stay hunkered down in our homes, our economy and our daily lives grind to a halt, depriving us of several fundamental emotional needs:
First, there is the need for security, the sense that we are relatively safe in going about our daily work and lives. The current media climate is one of implied, and sometimes explicit, gloom and doom. And when we see businesses shuttered and activity in our communities virtually stopped, we feel less secure.
Next, there is, the sense of autonomy and control, the idea that we have the ability to direct the course of our lives in ways that are meaningful and fulfilling. At the moment, such control has been greatly reduced, leaving many with a feeling of helplessness, and even depression. Many of the things we might turn to for distraction–watching or participating in sports, live entertainment, gatherings with friends and neighbors, eating at a restaurant–have been taken away. Even our sources of inspiration and hope (churches, synagogues, etc.) are only available online.
We are deprived of being able to emotionally and physically connected to others, a basic human need. Certainly, we can use technology to stay in contact, to see and hear those we care about on a screen, but that is not an ultimate substitute for an encouraging pat on the shoulder or a loving hug from a grandparent. Research has amply demonstrated the importance of touch to emotional health, but the present situation has mandated that we do no such thing. Even traveling to see those we love presents problems, particularly if they are not in the country.
Still, it seems wise to do whatever we need to do to stop the spread of the virus. If we accept that, how then can we help ourselves and others during this unprecedented time of emotional deprivation? The answer begins with the realization that all of this is temporary. God willing, we will see and end to this virus, and many of the promising medical advances that we hear too little about will bear fruit. Financial experts assure us that the economy, which is another source of dysphoria for many of us, will eventually rebound. Until that happens, here are some useful and positive thoughts to keep in mind:
Treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 are being developed and tested rapidly, with the government fast-tracking research. The New York Post reports that an existing anti-malaria drug saved a Florida man from certain death at the hands of the virus. Hydroxychloroquine, a prescription drug that has long been used to treat malaria, was the life-saver, and President Trump has instructed the FDA to fast-track testing of this medication and a related drug, chloroquine, as a treatment for COVID-19.
The CDC reports that in the US, the death rate among those who test positive for COVID-19 is (at this writing) only 1.3 percent. To put that figure in perspective, there have been 473 COVID-19 deaths in the US at this writing, while there have been 23,000-59,000 deaths from the flu since Oct. 1, 2019. Many who contract Coronavirus will be asymptomatic, or have mild symptoms. The numbers are in our favor.
Finally, we must in all things look to our Maker for protection and relief. While some would mock the power of prayer in healing, it has actually been demonstrated in research. The present crisis will end, and Americans have shown themselves to be a strong and resilient people.
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!” For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper And from the deadly pestilence. …