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Be Aware of Self-Soothing Behaviors During Coronavirus

As we live through fairly unprecedented times and find ourselves understanding why the old phrase “May you live in interesting times” was actually a curse, it has become commonplace for folks to say quite a number of things that seem rather out of place.

I don’t mean expressing anxiety or struggle, but things that are clearly meant to describe why they need not worry too much, because they’re young, healthy, live in a remote area, etc.

I suspect many of these thoughts are tied to self-soothing. We are all dealing with shocking, sudden, changes. We are all dealing with the possibility of contracting COVID-19, or having a loved one with it. In sort, we are all worried, anxious, and struggling.

It is natural, when faced with unknown dangers, to try and soothe our concerns by finding reasons why it’s happening. This is why we still have so many issues with blaming the victim in criminal cases. Rather than learn to deal with the uncertainty of our own lives, we find a reason it happened to “them” and won’t happen to me.

I’m seeing a lot of these same sorts of statements made in regard to this pandemic. Things like blaming China for “creating” the virus, or your own government for not doing enough (granted, there are probably things every government could do better, but most are struggling with something they didn’t anticipate just as much as we are.), or dismissing concerns about their own health because “only” the elderly and unhealthy are dying, or taking to social media to blame various groups for catching the virus doing whatever activity they “should” have known would be a problem, when most of us didn’t know that at all at the time, etc.

Again, these are actually normal thoughts. We are worried about so many things right now, our brains are naturally going to try and find a reason to not worry about any new things. We are also likely to get very short and angry with people who are not cooperating with that process.

Think of it this way:

Joe works as an hourly employee at a business that is temporarily closed down. He’s worried about his job. He’s worried about how he’s going to feed his family. He’s worried about his kids being out of school. He’s worried about his wife still going to her job and bringing something home, maybe he’s even worried about some foods not being available in the local grocery right now.

That’s already a ton to worry about, but his family is young and healthy, so he’s not too worried about getting the virus. He pops on to Facebook and sees a friend posting about the virus, maybe sharing a story about the toll in Italy or Spain, and how we are headed toward that. Joe’s brain goes into protective mode, telling him this isn’t Italy, and besides most of those deaths were old people, or a result of living in small Italian apartments, etc. His brain talks to his hands and before you know it, he’s now leaving a curt comment on the post explaining that he’s not worried, because that toll is mostly elderly Italians in poor health.

When you and I see that comment, Joe seems like a jerk. What a horrible thing to say. But really, Joe is just outwardly expressing something we all do internally, find a reason to not worry about something. So it’s understandable, but that doesn’t make it alright.

Because saying something like “it’s only old people dying”, is a horrible thing to say. You’re dismissing the pain and suffering of tens of thousands of people and the grief of all of their families just to make yourself feel a bit better.

So, before you speak, I want you to do something for me. Stop and consider whether this thought you’re having is a self-soothing behavior, or if it is actually something that will be helpful and educational for people. Have you learned a new way to calm your panic attacks? Have you worked from home before and have some helpful tips? Have you seen a way for people to contribute to helping others, or seen a great story of others helping in their communities? Great, share that!

If you’re sharing nothing but negativity, while I understand that is what is helping you feel less anxious right now, finding a reason to not worry, or someone else to blame for all of this, I’m going to ask you to understand that I’ve probably also stopped following you on social media. Because I have enough to worry about without being angry at your negative comments.

We are all struggling, so I’m recommending we distance ourselves from social media “friends” who are not good for our own mental health. There’s plenty of stress right now without that.


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