In my lifetime, our society has faced many threats.
We have seen wars, stock market collapses and mass movements of people.
On the whole, life seemed to carry on much the same as normal.
The coronavirus pandemic is different.
We not only face an invisible threat, but our financial and political systems are under great strain.
As a society we face an existential crisis.
When faced with an overwhelming threat, whether that be in our personal lives, or at the level of society, we enter an adjustment reaction.
An adjustment reaction is our nervous systems way of alerting us to an impending threat.
We become hypervigilant to new information.
Our emotions vary widely between anxiety, fear, sadness and despair as we try to figure out what the crises means for us.
And we overreact.
This is why people are self-isolating, stockpiling food and working through the practical issues of the new situation.
This is an entirely normal and adaptive reaction.
I have been following the coronavirus very carefully since the beginning of January.
Those clients who were paying attention, started their adjustment reaction several weeks ago.
For those with anxiety disorders, their anxiety went through the roof.
For most people, their adjustment reaction has only started in the last week or so.
It is perfectly normal to feel distressed right now.
It takes time to adjust to the new ‘normal’.
The clients I worry about most, are those who do not see the threat, or minimise its implications.
Denial is not an adaptive response to an existential threat.
Now, more than ever, is an important time to look after your mental health.
In an existential crisis we need to do three things.
The first is to try and be grounded as much as possible.
Meditation and social contact by telephone or Skype is helpful with this.
The second is to respond with flexibility.
In a fast-moving situation, we need to respond creatively, and not weighed down by old ways of thinking.
The third is to better tolerate uncertainty.
At the moment we don’t know how this virus will affect us and for how long.
Using strategies to ‘shut down’ this uncertainty, such as imagining the worst or over thinking, are not helpful.
Some people will find it difficult to adjust to the new reality.
These people may develop what is called an “adjustment reaction”, where they are locked in fear and dread and cannot move forward confidently.
If you are struggling to cope with your mental health right now it is important to get help.
I hope this article has helped you to realise you are not the only one feeling distress, and in fact it is a normal adjustment to adverse events.
If you need immediate social support, The Samaritans is a 24-hour helpline and can be contacted on 116 123.
Like many therapists in both the private and public sectors, I have moved my practice online.
I can help support you by FaceTime, Skype, Zoom or telephone.
Even though many of us are socially isolated right now, you don’t have to go through this alone.