We catastrophise when we worry, leading to less measured responses.

There is a clear threat that we all need to think about, with three inter-linked key issues that require plans:

  • how you will appropriately protect yourself and others;
  • what you will do if you worry too much;
  • and how you will look after your psychological well-being.

Ideally, rather than let it swirl around your head too much, put the ideas down on paper and chat to people you trust about the best responses.

Recognise that knowledge is power, and make sure you get your information and advice from the very best sources. Use that advice to make a plan for your daily life. If possible, treat the challenges as problems to be solved. Define each problem as specifically as you can; think of a range of possible solutions; weigh up the pros and cons of each possible solution; and choose the solution you think is best.

You’ll also have to keep checking in to make sure your plan fits with the expert advice. There is an obvious temptation to seek out information all the time, but although this may be helpful as you first orientate yourself to what is going on, there comes a moment when you need to put limits on it.

Armed with a clear plan it is easier to deal with the anxious thoughts that pop up. After all, we have formed our response and know what to do. A little time worrying isn’t necessarily a problem, as it may alert us to modifications we need to make. But too much time spent worrying skews our thinking. 

We catastrophise when we worry, leading to less measured responses. It is best to constrain worry to one or two set periods each day. When worry comes at other times just note the thoughts down, then don’t fight them but let them go. Notice the worry, acknowledge it, but don’t let it distract you. Stay as calm as you can, focus on what you’re doing and not what you’re thinking, and watch the worry recede into the distance.

A tried-and-tested technique to tackle negative thoughts and feelings is to write about them. For twenty minutes, three or four times each week, write about your experiences. The trick is not to analyse your thoughts and feelings, simply describe them so that they are robbed of their power. 

You don’t have to become a paragon of psychological virtue but there are things you can do to boost your ability to cope in these uncertain times. Our lives are becoming much more restricted, so it is absolutely crucial that we have enough activities that we really want to do. Ideally these activities will be meaningful to us and build on our strengths. 

We may need to think about new ways to connect with and support our friends, family, and neighbours. In these times, our relationships with others become even more important. It is also a time to check in on your diet, exercise, and sleep. Aim to introduce one positive change in each of these areas if needed. 

Most of us are wary of uncertainty. We want stability. We want predictability. We want to be assured that the way our world looks when we get up in the morning is the way it will look when we go to bed. And if change occurs, we prefer it to be on our terms. It seems, life, however, tends to have other ideas. We have to come to terms with such uncertainty. We have to accept that no action is 100 per cent risk-free, and that we can’t totally control events, not matter how much we try.

No matter how much we worry, we can’t know what’s in store for us. And we can’t prevent problems happening just by worrying about them. In the end, it is best to concentrate on what is meaningful in our lives.

Author: Daniel Freeman, a Professor of Clinical Psychology from Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry, shares his thoughts on how to stay calm at this time.

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