How to Stop Freaking Out About the Coronavirus But Stay Safe

Strategies in the age of misinformation to help you stay informed and alert but calm.

My brain hurts.

Like a lot of you, I’ve been flooded with endless messaging about the Coronavirus.

Some of it factual and helpful, and some of it…well, inaccurate and designed to fuel anxieties. And I don’t even suffer from clinical anxiety.

I found myself getting overwhelmed. I devoted significant time to not just learning about the virus, but sorting what’s real from what’s not.

I know I’m not alone.

My friends, particularly those with anxiety, are suffering from high stress, loss of sleep, fatigue, and other such issues. Social isolation may be making it worse. There is nothing stopping them from obsessing about the Coronavirus online.

Motivated by Tim Denning’s article about writing your problems out, I decided to share what helped me stay informed, take the right precautions, but remain calm.

Here are strategies to stay safe and calm during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Note: If your anxiety is overwhelming you, please reach out to a mental health professional. If you’re already infected with the Coronavirus or think you may be, please get medical attention.

For the rest of you…

Know what you can do.

Apart from social distancing, washing your hands, and not touching your face, there’s little else you can do.

Stick to 2–3 reliable sources of information.

The good news is that there are many sources of good information about the Coronavirus. The bad news is the exact same thing. There is information overload from too many sources. Pick 2–3 of them. If you find a new one you prefer, try to drop another. It’s the only way to stay sane.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a tremendous amount of information about the COVID-19.

I’ve decided to get my information from the UK’s National Health Services, the World Health Organization, Reuters India (I live in India), and a local newspaper that offers insight into my specific city and state. This is already a ton of information. You can pick any 2–3 that work for you.

Unfollow, unsubscribe, and remove notifications.

  • You know those friends or family members you love to hang out with in person but their Facebook posts upset you? Well, Facebook has a delightful feature — the Unfollow button. Click on it and you remain connected but you won’t see their posts on Facebook.
  • Once the Coronavirus news subsides, you can go back to enjoying all their posts about hating Mondays and needing wine.
  • If you subscribe to a news aggregator app or receive notifications from news apps, disable them.
  • Whatsapp has a mute button to stop receiving notifications from groups. It’s not as effective as Facebook’s unfollow but it’s the best available option short of blocking someone.
  • I’m even staying away from Linkedin unless necessary for work.

Try this detox for two days and you will be back here thanking me.

If you have free time, you might just learn a new skill, begin that bestselling novel, develop an app, or finally stop overthinking it and publish your first Medium article (like me).

Be aware of agendas driving content — hidden or otherwise.

Understand that the Coronavirus has become politicized. In these times, almost everything is. This is universal and not specific to any one country.

People in power will highlight what they do, and the opposition will oppose them. The media, both left- and right-leaning, have ad revenues to generate from their target audience. They are incentivized to keep us glued to their content on our screens.

It’s just the way things are.

In the age of 24/7 news cycles, there is only so much to report — the rest is to entertain. This is why some call it ‘infotainment.’

Just remember, every business knows you are probably stuck at home right now and that it’s a great time to generate content to keep you engaged.

If your brain is merely entertained by all the Coronavirus-related content, by all means, go ahead and enjoy it.

If you are losing sleep, feel your heart racing, become too obsessed with the news, and can’t tear yourself away — maybe it’s time to take a break and stick to reading the news in two short and timed intervals during the day.

Ask your loved ones for help. Friendly-threaten them if they don’t listen.

  • Use the 80/20 rule to shut down incoming Coronavirus-related traffic.
    80% of your anxiety-inducing information is being sent or fueled by 20% of your sources. Tackle those first. There are usually less than five people in your friends and family circles responsible.
    I reached out to some of them in my immediate circle and told them how too much information was overwhelming me. Some of them expressed regret and stopped. They truly believed they were helping by sharing every single piece of information they received.
  • What about people who don’t listen and keep sending you endless junk about the Coronavirus?
    I’m not proud of this (really, I am) but I told these people I’ve got them on my Coronavirus (s)hitlist. As a passive aggressive joke. It’s kind of like the movie ‘Kill Bill’ where Uma Thurman makes a list of people who wronged her and then proceeds to kill them. Except way less hot. I told my repeat offenders that if I got the Coronavirus, I would visit them, cough on them and only then, turn myself in. Psst…don’t tell them I’m only kidding.

Change the conversation.

If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation. — Don Draper, Mad Men.

First, set yourself up for success. Gather buy-in from a few others in your group or circle and change the conversation. Talk about a funny show you watched, a new scientific discovery, post-Coronavirus travel plans, or celebrity gossip (except about Tom Hanks and Idris Elba getting the Coronavirus. Come on now. Literally anything else).

Use this time to catch up with friends and family you’ve been meaning to call. I had quite a few fun conversations and laughs with cousins and friends across the world. Some gave me recommendations for books to read and shows to watch (I’m currently obsessed with ‘Succession,’ on HBO in the US and Hotstar in India).

You can use Facetime, Whatsapp 4-way video call (yes, that’s a thing!), Facebook Messenger, or even this wonderful app I recently found out about: House Party. You can video call and play online Pictionary, Heads Up, and other games with each other.

Distract your lizard brain.

Clean that closet, learn to sketch, bake with your kids, join a course online, learn origami, share a few fun stories from your childhood with your kids or grandkids, do a home workout, read that book you’ve been putting off (if you still can’t get through it, just accept it’s not for you and move on to another one). Watch a movie (not Contagion, and not about a zombie apocalypse started by an unknown virus).

I just started a new challenge: to publish at least two articles on Medium a week till the end of the year (on either my personal or business accounts or both).

Worried that curfews or sold-out department stores might stop you from getting what you need?

You are not crazy. You are not paranoid. All the countless images of empty shelves at grocery stores can make us worried. I’m assuming you’ve already bought a bunch of stuff. Now you’re wondering if it’s enough?

  • Check with local stores about delivery options
    Ask your local store if they can deliver home or notify you when they stock up so you can pick your orders up. Learn about online delivery options. If you can afford it, it’s ok to pay for the extra shipping charges in times like these. Milk powder, canned goods, pasta, rice, soap, toothpaste, and a few other non-perishables go a long way.
    Just remember that curfews are in place for non-essential gatherings — not to prevent people from buying basic supplies to survive. You’ll be fine.
  • Rely on the power of community
    Ask good friends and neighbors if they need anything when you go to the store. Most of them will repay the favor when they go out themselves.

Remember, this too shall pass.

Control what you can, and let the rest go.

Do you really need regular updates on how many people are affected in another country across the globe? Do you need to know minute-by-minute updates about the virus’s spread across the world? Do you need to read every doomsday article about the economy? Every conspiracy theory floating around?

The answer is, not really. Not if it’s upsetting you and you spend a lot of your waking moments obsessing about the Coronavirus.

Ask someone you trust to alert you when necessary.

Until then, stay indoors, wash your hands, take a deep breath and remember, this too shall pass.

Edited on 03/25/2020 with the following updates:

  1. Listed and linked CDC.gov as a resource for readers in the United States (and around the world).
  2. Added video conferencing information — Facetime, Whatsapp 4-way group video calling, Facebook Messenger, and House Party app.
  3. Added the advice, “stay indoors and wash your hands” to the last line.

The informal and sometimes silly musings of a professional writer and marketer.