A crisis of control: On coping with Corona

Mental Health and Society

I don’t get it, even what’s happening here. All official proclamations begin with, “No cause for panic, don’t panic”, and then all that they tell you is reasons to panic.

Slavoj Zizek

At first I really didn’t want to write about this topic. Like, I really didn’t want to. I mean, what more can be said? Everywhere you look it’s there. You turn on the news and get the distinct impression that absolutely nothing else is going on. It would seem that, the year 2020, is the year of Corona. I would now insert a joke about the beer, but well, it’s all been said a thousand times already.

This is why I wanted so badly to avoid this topic. It seems that we have been so submerged in discourse on the not so “novel” corona virus, that there is nothing of worth left to be said. But this is exactly why I have to talk about it!

The fact that it has taken over our lives almost entirely, the fact I can’t look on social media without an explosion of related posts, the fact the country has gone so fucking crazy over corona that I’m having to buy copies of the Daily Mail just for something to wipe my ass with shows I need to talk about it. Yes. It’s that bad.

In fact, one only needs to look at the pie chart below to see just how bad it has gotten.

The blue in this chart represents the proportion of conversations I have had the past week that mention corona. You may notice there are no other colours. Well you see, this is because there have been no conversations in which it wasn’t mentioned. Well actually there was one with a child I work with. He was asking about some new trainers he wanted us to order in for him. Sadly, I then had to explain they wouldn’t be coming as Amazon has stopped delivering due to… Fuck.

Never in my life has anything taken over quite like this. Nothing has caused people to react like they have to Covid 19. But why? Why is this so different? Well that’s simple.

We’re all afraid.

Craving for control

Almost every reaction speaks hugely of how afraid we are as a country. We have been told both not to panic, but at the same time just how serious this is. We have stories coming through from Italy of a country in complete disarray. And as you can imagine, it’s left us terrified.

But why is this? Why is this seeming so much worse than say 9/11 and the war on terror?

I believe we can find the reason by looking at just how people are reacting. One of the major reactions is panic buying. Huge swathes of the population are buying a metric shit ton of paracetamol, rice, tinned food and toilet roll. Everyday it seems like a new item is added to their lists. Some are even ordering in medical equipment, hogging masks that are greatly needed by our medical professionals but in short supply.

I can’t wait to see this explained in the history books…

Here is where I have to put my counselling head on and try not to judge them. Yes. It is tempting to just call them all idiots and move on with my day, but that just isn’t the case. Our reaction to corona is nothing to do with our intelligence. There is nothing logical about it. These are symptoms of fear. This is a heightened, nonsensical, and emotional response. This is an international neurosis.

So why panic buying? Well, as is well documented, we – as humans – hate things that our out of our control. We fear that which we can’t understand. So it is only understandable that, when posed with a situation out of our control, we will do whatever we can in order to regain some semblance of power over it.

“Argh shit! I can’t control whether or not those germs will get me. Whatever can I do? I need some kind of plan. What’s that? Everybody is buying up toilet roll? I better do that too. Yeah, I can stock up. I’ll do that. Fuck yeah. I have over thirty rolls. I’m so fucking ready!”

Our neurotic brains

Obviously, this response isn’t good. But it is understandable from a psychological perspective. But this isn’t the only method of reaffirming control. There is another, and despite how it may seem, it is just as dangerous.

You see, for every individual buying Tesco’s entire stock of Charmin, there is the vocal contrarian stating just how stupid they are. There is a small but loud contingent making it clear that they feel the whole thing is overblown, and that they are going to go about their days as normal. Screw the advice. I am going to go out and shake hands with whoever I damn please! These people would never admit they are scared, but their reaction says otherwise.

You see, whilst it is not quite as obvious as them ordering a box of two hundred face masks, they too are clamouring for some feeling of control. By saying no, life is normal, I am going to do exactly what I normally do, they are forcing the status quo. They are clinging to normality.

The issue is, this is denial. Things aren’t normal. To deny it so vehemently is foolish. This is to ignore the facts given by millions of experts across the planet. It is equally neurotic.

When I say this, it is not supposed to be insulting. I am not attacking anyone. You see, this is an exceptional situation and these are both normal responses to fear.

But why Corona?

So why is it Corona is causing so much fear? We have so much going on in the world such as global warming, why is this hitting us so much harder?

I think, based on people’s responses, the answer is clear. It is the lack of control.

Out of all the things going on, very few directly impact our day to day lives. Our rituals. You see, whatever horrific shit is going on across the world, we always have our little day to day habits to fall back upon. The repetition of going to work, walking our dogs, stopping at the pub etc. It is all a comfort to us. Despite the scary things around us, it’s our constant.

Corona has threatened this. It has thrown our coping mechanisms into disarray. As a result, it not only seems more tangible, but we are not able to cope as we normally would.

Take for example your average gym goer. Perhaps, whatever is happening in their life, they are able to use the gym to unwind. They’ve had a particularly awful week at work? Never mind. They know they can go to the gym, get back into routine and push it all aside. With Corona we are told we can’t do this. We can’t go to shops, or clubs, or pubs. No. We must stay indoors. Self isolate.

All those coping mechanisms. Nah bruv. Deal without them.

This is why it is so terrifying. All those things we use to feel a bit of control in our lives… They’re gone. The rug has been pulled.

So what now?

So what can we actually do?

Well first, we need to realise that it is okay to be afraid. It is normal. If we are going to cope in a sensible, reasonable manner we need to accept this.

Then we need to understand why it is we do things. To understand that, when I go to buy forty eight loaves of bread, that I’m doing it because of my fear. Because I feel I am losing control.

Once I have realised this, I can step back and think more clearly. Is this best way to cope with this? Is there a more productive way of keeping that feeling of control?

Because yes, there are plenty of productive ways to maintain that feeling: you could donate to a food bank in order to help those who are older or out of work, you could offer to assist those isolated local to you, or you could simply realise that, staying in is your way of helping. That by doing so, you are doing your part.

Expressing your power to take control.

The thing is, we never have any control over the world around us. We are just good at fooling ourselves into thinking we do. We have structured our lives in maintaining this illusion. The best way to cope now, is to realise that we don’t control the world around us, but we can choose how to react. We can’t try and restore normality. No. We must learn how to react with what what we’ve got. This is the only way of getting through this.

And now some good news…

With everybody losing their collective shit, I did want to end on a positive.

Yes, whilst this is bad, some good has come from this. We have come out of five years of non stop bickering. People arguing almost constantly over politics, Brexit and whether or not the latest Star Wars is shit. Society has become more and more divisive in recent years. Everyday it seems like there is more that divides us than brings us together.

Having said this, in the last few weeks I have seen people reach out to one another, offering help in whatever ways they can. I have seen teachers offer their services, local businesses reach out to those in need and the outstanding men and women of the NHS do their utmost in keeping our most vulnerable safe.

In having what has been considered normal taken away from us so suddenly… We are offered an interesting opportunity. One in which we can readjust, and reconsider how we act as a society. It is like the slate has been wiped clean.

From here, we have a chance to create a new, friendlier normal.

All the best,

Shaun.

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At this time, with many out of work and struggling to get by day to day, it is only normal for things to be hard. For those that may find it too much, or need a helping hand, remember you are not alone. Here are some numbers you may wish to call:

There is CALM (Campaign against living miserably) who you can call on  0800 58 58 58. They are there to help any who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide or depression.

Samaritans can be called on 116 123 and will talk about anything that is upsetting you.

Youngminds can be called on 0808 802 5544 for any young people hurt by the disruption caused by recent events.

Published by BeBetterShaun

A keen ultra runner and trainee counsellor and psychotherapist. I am looking to promote a positive well-being and looking after one's mental health whatever your situation. "Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." Carl Jung

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