The 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) originated in China at the end of 2019. It was declared a global pandemic on March 11, 2020 as it infected 118,000 people in 114 countries. By March 2020, it was declared a national emergency in the United States as the number of COVID-19 cases, and the death toll rose exponentially. By May 2022, COVID caused over 6.3 million deaths (over 1 million in the U.S. alone)! The pandemic created a major health crisis, an economic crisis for many families, and potentially a global financial crisis. Medical care facilities were overwhelmed, whole industries were brought to a standstill, millions of people were out of work, the human social fabric was ripped to tatters, and many critical items were in short supply.
The following summary published on March 27, 2020 in the Cape Breton Resource Page sums up well the impact on the human psyche:
We slept in one world and woke up in another.
Suddenly, Disney has no more magic, Paris is no longer romantic, and the Chinese Wall is not a fortress anymore.
Suddenly, hugs and kisses become weapons, and not visiting parents and grandparents becomes an act of love.
Suddenly, we realized that power is not that valuable and money is not that powerful.
When faced with this type of unprecedented situation, people become confused about whom to listen to for advice, what actions they should take to avoid being infected, how they should best care for themselves and their families, what they should be doing about their life-long savings, and when it will all end.
The resulting impacts on people everywhere are mind boggling:
· boredom from forced quarantine
· family tensions due to new dynamics of home schooling and work-at-home
· susceptibility to inaccurate information and various scams
· confusion due to inability to deal with conflicting information
· cognitive overload whereby your mind is not able to process, and your memory is not able manage, the flood of information you are receiving.
In terms of the Inner Voices model, your Memory voice is trying to make sense of all the information provided by television reports, newspapers, internet sources, and social media. It has reached a state of cognitive overload; leading to confusion, anxiety, and reduced mental performance.
Your Darwin voice is expressing fear. Since there is currently no physical enemy to fight, the only other choice is flight. In other words, people are retreating to their homes and building defenses such as stockpiling essential food and supplies. The battles for critical life-saving equipment are being fought by government officials at various levels. However, if the crisis continues to expand such that items more critical than toilet paper (e.g. medicines or food) become in short supply, it could escalate into mass hysteria and violence. A sign of this dangerous escalation is that gun sales are spiking across the United States. Even though restaurants and most non-essential business activities have been curtained, some local governments are loosening restrictions on purchasing and carrying guns as well as sales of alcohol!
When people are desperate to protect themselves and their families, they are more susceptible to fall for scams or believe in false and sometimes dangerous remedies. Some examples include:
· Ordering personal protective equipment or COVID-19 test kits online from disreputable companies.
· Using a hair dryer to blow hot air into your nasal passages to kill the virus before it enters your system.
· Taking chlorine dioxide (bleach) as a miracle mineral supplement to wipe out coronavirus.
· A rumor was spread by Iranian social media falsely suggesting that a British school teacher and others cured themselves of the coronavirus with whiskey and honey. Due to reports on the effectiveness alcohol-based hand sanitizer in combatting coronavirus, many started to consume industrial alcohol in the belief it would protect them. Dr. Hossein Hassanian, an advisor to Iran’s Health Ministry stated that “in some provinces, deaths from drinking methanol has exceeded the number of deaths by the new coronavirus”.
· An Arizona man died and his wife was hospitalized after they self-medicated with chloroquine phosphate, a chemical used to treat fish for parasites. The couple, both in their 60s, listened to President Trump tout chloroquine as a very promising treatment for COVID-19.
Your Belonging voice is hungry for connection to your normal groups: e.g. work group, close relatives such as parents in nursing homes, social groups that provided support for physical fitness, education, entertainment, and dining out. At the same time, the unaccustomed closeness within the home can accentuate prior relationship issues between spouses or between parents and children. Playing and watching sporting events has become a very popular outlet for the tribal behaviors from our distant past. Rather than fighting for hunting grounds, we cheer as members from our tribe (i.e. school, city, or country) fight over yards on a football field. Rather than teaching our children how work together to trap animals and throw spears, we teach them how to work as a team to throw balls through hoops or kick them into nets. When these activities are curtailed, and even the Olympic games are canceled, how will these behaviors be channeled? Perhaps maternity wards should be planning to re-deploy the ICU beds once the pandemic crisis is over.
Your Id voice, that operates in the unconscious part of your mind and is responsible for your auto-immune system, has no knowledge of the COVID-19 virus. All it can do is wait until a vaccine is available or you contract the disease and it can start to produce its own antibodies.
Your Watson voice is responsible for your DNA. As described in “Inner Voices: Making Mindful Decisions”, your DNA is not your friend! It is only using your current body to propagate more and better copies of itself: i.e. to continue driving the evolutionary process. So, even deeper in your unconscious mind, Watson is cheering on the sidelines for COVID-19. To speed up natural selection, it needs environmental pressures. More diabolically, to ensure survival of the fittest, it needs to “cull the herd” periodically to free up resources for the strongest and brightest of the fertile population. That is precisely what viruses such as COVID-19 evolve to do.
Meanwhile your Morals voice is conflicted on how far you should go to protect yourself and your family vs helping others who are immediately and seriously impacted by the pandemic. A clear example of this dilemma is groups of college students partying on the beaches during their spring break while officials are recommending personal isolation and social distancing in the desperate hope to slow down the spread of the virus and avoid overloading the health care system. How much are you willing to give up of your personal freedoms in order to reduce the chance of spreading the virus to more vulnerable people who may die from it?
Your Narrative voice is going wild. This is the part of your mind that drives your imagination and spends much of its time looking for solutions to problems and worrying about future scenarios. It hates unknowns, and is perfectly willing to believe in almost anything that will fill the gaps in understanding. For example:
· Avoiding taking ibuprofen because some doctor has reported that the majority of people who have died from the disease took the drug. This is an example of a common fallacy: confusing cause and effect. The reason the patients had been taking ibuprofen is that it was prescribed to them in order to reduce the know symptoms of headache and fever. It was not a contributing factor in their death.
· Jumping at false hopes such as that warm weather will stop the spread or that some available drug will provide a quick cure.
· Trying to assign blame as to how the virus originated. Unsubstantiated theories include that it was: a) Chinese practices for handling and eating wild animals; b) A Chinese defense minister hinted that U.S. Military may have created the virus because tariffs weren’t working to slow down Chinese industrial dominance; or c) The Chinese created it in a lab and it was accidentally released into the environment. Belief in these type of conspiracy theories is fueled by simple minds that need to explain an unknown. This is similar to the way that ancient humans created images of supernatural gods to explain various environmental phenomena that they could not understand or control.
Your Psyche voice, which is responsible for your wisdom, intellect, and spirituality, is very confused. It has no experience with such a wide-spread disruption of life. Its basic standards of logic no longer seem to apply. Its spiritual foundation has been rocked and, with churches closed, has lost touch with its support system. How could God let this happen?
Continuing with our primary school analogy, the children are alarmed and seeking consolation and answers, but the teacher has neither to offer.
There are many things we could do to alleviate the symptoms listed above.
Let’s start with the power of religious beliefs to give us hope in a better future. Rabbi Gellman issued a much-needed response to that question “How could an all-loving, omnipotent God allow such widespread suffering?” in his God Squad article dated 3/19/2020:
There is a biblical verse that tells the real truth about God and God’s relationship with the world and that verse is in the Book of Isaiah (45:7).
“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.”
If Isaiah had the courage of faith to believe in a God who creates everything and challenges us to solve the problems we can solve, and to hope in God’s love that in time we will solve more problems and find greater love and health and justice among us, all the while knowing that God is with us in our growth to higher virtues — if Isaiah can believe in such a God then we can too.
The promise from God is that when we confront the evil in the world we will not have to confront it alone. I believe that this is a biblical vaccine against panic, and is the most important vaccine we need right now while we await the medical vaccine that is still many months away. Just as God made Adam alive with the breath of life, let us remain alive with the breath of hope that comes from the same source.
Other methods to manage your stress in a crisis situation include:
· Limit the time you spend watching various news sources. While it is important that you keep up with the latest recommendations and efforts to control the crisis, don’t feed the fear by overwhelming your senses.
· Sit down with your immediate family and make a detailed daily schedule of activities. This will help to instill a sense of order and normalcy to counter the chaos going on outside.
· Contribute to the containment efforts by ensuring that you and those around you adhere to the guidelines for isolation and social distancing.
· Don’t allow primal fears to drive you to resort to panic buying or hoarding of items. Stock up on items that you can reasonably consume in the recommended quarantine or isolation period. This will also help your Moral voice to feel part of the solution rather than contributing to the problem.
· Find innovative ways to stay connected with your work, family, and social groups by utilizing the vast array of communications tools that are readily available today.
· Don’t fall into the trap of seeking quick solutions or assigning blame. We are all in this together and should focus our energies on preparing for the future rather than dwelling on mistakes of the past.
· Take care of your health by eating well-balanced, regular meals, exercising, and getting plenty of rest.
· Take advantage of the additional spare time to build closer relationships with your family members. Playing games is a great way to interact and educate.
· Plant a garden. This activity can have many positive benefits: a) good recreation activity that you can in or around your home, b) potential educational opportunity for the children, c) life-affirming by cultivating new growth, and d) chance to produce fresh, nutritious food for you and your family if the shelter-at-home period is extended.
· Make sure that you reserve some “me time” as well. You can reduce the added stress by reading books or listening to music, or improving your mind by learning a new skill.
· Take some time to perform activities that provide comfort and enable you to assert control. Many people find comfort in regressing to an earlier time in their lives by watching television shows or listening to music that were popular in their youth. Others enjoy playing games such as Solitaire or Sudoku, or building jigsaw puzzles that enable them to create order out of chaos.
· Practice relaxation techniques as described in the previous chapter.
Unfortunately, there is very little we can do as individuals to solve the global health, financial, and social problems brought on by the pandemic. However, there are several things you can do to ensure that you will survive the crisis and hopefully come out stronger for it.
· If you were unhappy in your previous job or feel that your previous job will not exist after the crisis, use the time off to learn a new skill or assemble your resume to apply for a better job when companies start to re-hire.
· Ensure that your finances are managed in a way that will protect you from major market downturns and economical disruptions. Solid financial advice includes maintaining a liquid source of funds to pay your standard living expenses for a period of at least six months. If retired, at least 20 percent of your income should come from guaranteed sources such as Social Security, pensions, or annuities.
· If there was a pattern of domestic abuse prior to the crisis, put in place plans to defend against potential escalation. For example, arrange for a code word or phrase that will trigger a close friend to call emergency services if needed. Also, assemble an escape kit and plan.
· Living through a crisis has a way of focusing our attention on the things that are really important to us such as family and close friends. So, make a conscious decision to realign your priorities to spend more energy on strengthening those bonds rather than falling back on old habits such as being constantly distracted by chasing material things.
Potential benefits for the future of mankind:
· The coronavirus pandemic is providing a real wake-up call for mankind. If something as minute and simple as a virus has the power to shake the very foundations of our lives, our social structures, and our financial institutions, what will be the impact of major crises such as climate change or potential threats coming from outside our solar system? We need to work together as a unified human race to assess the potential threats and develop plans to implement protective and corrective solutions.
· We need to re-think our end-of-life strategies. The prevailing strategy today is that life is sacred and should be extended as long as possible, or at least as long as the dying person desires. This creates a huge burden on health care resources, especially at this time as the baby boom generation is “aging out”. As the pandemic causes overloading in critical care centers around the world, some have decided to implement do-not–resuscitate orders even if they conflict with Advance Directives of patients and their families.
Be safe, be healthy, be kind, and be prepared.