We are moving toward opening up our communities once again. Like I’ve said in the past, I’m not able to give medical advice re: medical conditions. However, I can speak to anxiety and fear.
Anytime we’ve avoiding something that has us concerned, we actually increase our anxieties. As a country we’ve been avoiding exposure to a particular disease. But then our anxiety actually compels us to avoid it more. In general, to reduce anxiety, we have to approach what we are anxious about. Think about fears of public speaking – you actually have to do it in order to reduce the fear. The more you do it, the more you get used to it.
Opening our communities means that we’re going to approach things we’ve been avoiding (as in, shopping, seeing more people in person, attending church, being with unknown people at restaurants, working next to people…).
I want to give you some tricks on how to keep our anxiety as low as possible.
#1: Breathe. Breathing helps us face our fears. It helps reduce anxiety.
#2: Grab a piece of paper and a pen. Draw out a line – 1 to 10.
1 is Almost certain safety
10 is almost certain death.
In a minute, I’ll have you pause me and write out some activities, behaviors, events on this continuum based on where they fall in terms of almost certain safety and almost certain death. My kids thought that “playing with a cobra” would be a 10. I thought that “sleeping at home with our doors locked” would be a good 1.
Now – I say almost certain safety, because there is risk in everything.
And I say almost certain death, because there are safety measures in most things and you never know what rescue might come. Ok – here’s the chance to pause me and think of some activities, behaviors, events related to opening up our communities, re-entering life and relationships – and put them on the line. Based on what you know, what would be closer to almost certain safety and what would be closer to almost certain death. Ok, for real now – you can pause.
In general we avoid 10s in life. That’s ok. It’s built into us. We like life. Life is good.
We also tend to limit 1s because it’s almost impossible to live a full life in 1s.
I had a friend joke that she wanted to wrap her kids in bubble wrap. That would be living a life in 1. Unless they suffocate in the plastic… in which case, we’d have to move it up the scale.
In general, as we stay below 5, our hope is that there’s more chance of experiencing comfort and peace, less fear. As we hit 5 and above, we enter a zone that increases the likelihood of pain. Not always, but in general. In our minds we tend to associate pain with “bad.” So sometimes we start to avoid 6-9 (instead of just avoiding almost certain death).
In this event, we’ve had to not only avoid 6-9s, we’ve had to avoid things that are generally associated with the 1-5 section. Going to church, generally a safe practice, is now something we’ve avoided for a few months. Going to the park, going grocery shopping, going to work… these activities have become 9s and 10s just by virtue of the situation at hand.
The problem is, when we make an 8 into the new 10, and begin to see 8 at “almost certain death” instead of 10, we start avoiding 7, just to be safe. We’ve been behaving (because we’ve needed to) as though 3s and 4s are 10. Because of this, our lives have gotten smaller and smaller and our fear can start to get bigger and bigger – even in our effort to live more safely.
The purpose of this line exercise is to help us remember that what we are doing is not likely to be a 10. It’s to help you take steps forward, expand your life again, into reengagement without overwhelming anxiety. Going out again isn’t likely to cause almost certain death (although the “Stay home, save a life” campaign is good at making it sound like that!). The line helps us rate the risk in a more objective fashion. And then we can make decisions based on measured risk. Remember, we can’t achieve certain safety – we’re always measuring risk. There’s always measured risk. Which brings me to my next point.
#3 Focus on the Facts
I heard a report a couple weeks ago on a radio station and the reporter said, “60 out of 64 counties in Colorado have reported confirmed cases of this particular disease.” I thought that was an interesting angle – as it was pointing to the fact that MOST counties have confirmed cases. I thought it was interesting he didn’t point out that by and large MOST people don’t have this particular disease.
Do some digging to find out the most solid facts you can. Facts ground our emotions. They help to regulate our anxiety. One fact I found helpful through this time was finding out how many confirmed cases there were in my county and divide that number by the number of people living in the county. This number gives you more information to consider the risk you will decide to take. At the time I looked at the numbers, .0019% of the individuals in our county had confirmed cases. This means I’m .0019% likely to bump into one of these individuals in my day to day life. Even less likely am I to bump into them in such a way that I contract the virus. I think these facts will help you determine where on the line certain activities fall.
In the end, I believe these three things – breathing, the measuring your risk on the 1-10 scale, and focusing on facts – will help you re-enter life again with confidence and peace.
Written by Dr. Veronica Johnson