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How To Stay Resilient And Mentally Healthy During The Coronavirus Outbreak47:19
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Fears of coronavirus or COVID-19, the disease that has sickened more than 100,000 people worldwide and has killed more than 3,400, has led nervous residents to frantically stock up on canned food as well as cleaning and hygiene products. California prepared to disembark passengers from a virus-hit cruise ship as officials played down any risk to local communities. (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
Fears of coronavirus or COVID-19, the disease that has sickened more than 100,000 people worldwide and has killed more than 3,400, has led nervous residents to frantically stock up on canned food as well as cleaning and hygiene products. California prepared to disembark passengers from a virus-hit cruise ship as officials played down any risk to local communities. (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

Editor's Note: This hour discusses anxiety and other mental health issues. If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741. 

Coronavirus and collective stress around the world. Why is this moment so anxiety-producing and how can we stay resilient in the face of it?

Guests

Jonathan Kanter, director of the Center for the Science of Social Connection at the University of Washington. (@UWPsychology)

Elissa Epel, stress scientist and psychiatry professor at the University of California, San Francisco. (@Dr_Epel)

Interview Highlights

Shutdowns. Social and physical isolation. Quarantines.

Because of the coronavirus, we're living in stressful — and unprecedented — times, forced to change our daily lives in isolating and anxiety-producing ways.

"Many different fears right now are converging all at once on people in a way that is really overwhelming, and confusing and hard to sort out," Jonathan Kanter, director of the Center for the Science of Social Connection at the University of Washington, told On Point's Meghna Chakrabarti.

And it's not just the coronavirus we're afraid of. It's also the changes the coronavirus is causing, Kanter says.

"The fears of being confined, being isolated, of being alone, of losing our routines, of losing our normal sources of social contact," he says.

It's a lot. But there are ways for us to deal with our stressors. Dr. Elissa Epel has some tips.

'Try to connect with people': Ideas for managing anxiety during the coronavirus outbreak

On staying positive

Dr. Elissa Epel: "I think it's so important for us to see our faces and see when we smile. I'm on the phone every day about COVID coping calls for our university, our psychiatry department. And it's very serious. And when someone makes a joke, it's such a relief to see their face on Zoom, laughing. It makes me laugh. It's just instant relief. So the quick answer is ... use this science for good. Spread smiles when you can, spread calm when you can."

On going outside

Dr. Elissa Epel: "My dog walk has become one of my most sacred times of the day. To get into green areas and just see dogs play. Luckily, we think dogs don't transmit it. And so, you know, seeing children play, really brings this joy and makes us laugh. So right now, I'm really using puppy play."

On adapting to changes

Dr. Elissa Epel: "Health behaviors, and amp them up if you can. Sleep will be disturbed for a bit. Try to not panic about that. We are all going through this together."

On breathing and meditation 

Dr. Elissa Epel: "You always have your breaths. And you can be with it. You can slow it. And it changes your mental state immediately. At UCSF, we're going to be distributing links to these meditations apps. Many of these companies are making them free to us and they really do give our bodies a break. So I recommend that people try one."

And one last note of encouragement from Jonathan Kanter ...

Jonathan Kanter: "We can find ways to notice our tendency to distrust others, sort of breathe into that gently and then instead do the opposite. Try to connect with people."

From The Reading List

The San Francisco Chronicle: "How to turn the coronavirus anxiety into something positive" — "Most of us alive today are novices to experiencing global pandemics, so we could benefit from some insight through a science lens of human behavior under threat.

"There’s a lot of controversy about just how much we should be anxious and panicking. Science has an answer. Anxiety is helpful, panic is damning: Anxiety drives us to mobilize together, stay clearheaded, and do what is needed for the common good.

"Panic is highly contagious, throws us into irrational and catastrophic thinking, and drives us to toward lousy human behaviors that can exacerbate our crisis — greed, excessive hoarding, stampeding. Panic is highly contagious and infects those around us. The difference between anxiety and panic is critical to understand, so we can strike the right balance."

The Conversation: "Social distancing comes with social side effects – here’s how to stay connected" — "To fight the spread of coronavirus, government officials have asked Americans to swallow a hard pill: Stay away from each other.

"In times of societal stress, such a demand runs counter to what evolution has hard-wired people to do: Seek out and support each other as families, friends and communities. We yearn to huddle together. The warmth of our breath and bodies, of holding hands and hugging, of talking and listening, is a primary source of soothing. These connections are pivotal for responding to and maximizing our survival in times of stress.

"Priority number one is to follow the recommended social distancing guidelines to control the virus. The cure is definitely not worse than the disease – experts’ projections of disease spread and mortality without strong intervention make this clear."

Wired: "Don’t Go Down a Coronavirus Anxiety Spiral" — "The past few days have made clear how serious the escalating coronavirus pandemic is for many people in the United States. Schools and workplaces across the country closed, major events were canceled, and testing delays made it impossible to confirm how many people were infected.

"The stock market had its biggest decline in decades, Sarah Palin rapped to “Baby Got Back” dressed in a bear suit—it feels like the world is unraveling. There is so much going on, and so much uncertainty, it is all too easy to get trapped watching cable news or scrolling through Twitter all day.

"If all this news is making you feel stressed, you’re far from alone. Many people are sharing their worries online; there’s a whole subreddit devoted to coping with these feelings. Experts say overloading on information about events like the coronavirus outbreak can make you particularly anxious, especially if you’re stuck inside with little to do but keep scrolling on Twitter and Facebook."

Seattle Times: "A cough, and our hearts stop: Coping with coronavirus anxiety and fear" — "We are you. We are mothers, daughters, students and teachers. Yet we are also clinical psychologists who spend our days researching and treating pathological anxiety and fear. With the near constant news of the spreading coronavirus and fatalities, our personal and professional identities have dramatically collided, forcing us to consciously live consistent with the scientific principles we know well.

"This became very real for one of us on March 1, as two young children developed sudden, unexplained fevers. As they lay uncharacteristically quiet on the couch complaining of sore throats and headaches, fear set in. What followed was 24 hours of worry, internet searching, repeated calls to the pediatrician, and constant self-reassurance — kids are unlikely to develop severe symptoms, coughing and breathing difficulties are primary symptoms — but anxiety persisted.

"In the end, the two kids were diagnosed with strep infections, and anxiety subsided. In Seattle’s elevated threat environment, anxiety processes are playing out in our daily lives."

This program aired on March 18, 2020.

Related:

Anna Bauman Associate Producer/Director, On Point
Anna Bauman is an associate producer at On Point.

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Meghna Chakrabarti Twitter Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.

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