At the time of this writing, it’s March 2020. Maybe you’re reading this at some distant point in the future, and you’re struggling to remember what significant thing happened in March 2020 that would warrant a blog post about times of panic.
But if you’re reading this any time even remotely close to March 2020, I’m sure I don’t have to explain it to you.
We’re in the midst of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. At this point, over 130,000 people have been infected, and nearly 5000 people have died. And the numbers are climbing.
While most of those cases have been outside of the United States, the current climate in our country is one of widespread confusion and desperate preparation.
There may be a nationwide shortage of toilet paper, but worry is one thing that is certainly not in short supply. Grocery stores are packed with people and not food, the stock market is plunging, public events are being canceled, and the threat of serious illness to vulnerable members of our population is very real. Sadness, concern, frustration, anger, impatience, fear, and yes, panic, are rampant.
Have I felt scared during this whole thing? Yes. Have I been concerned about how this is going to impact my family, my community, and my world? Yes.
But as someone who has dedicated a good amount of time into studying the science behind happiness and our ability as human beings to control our thoughts and design our happiness, I believe that we can be happy no matter what. Truly—no matter what. It’s possible to find peace, right now, in March 2020 (or whenever you’re reading this). Even widespread panic does not erase the possibility for happiness.
So how can you find peace and happiness in a time of panic?
Look, I’m not going to tell you to sing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” until you feel better (although a happiness playlist isn’t a bad idea). The truth is, ignoring the problem isn’t really going to help.
The Serenity Prayer, attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, says, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
In a time of crisis, there are some things you can control, and some things you can’t.
You can’t control the symptoms or severity of this virus. You can’t control other peoples’ responses. At this point, many people won’t be able to control whether or not they contract the virus, as they may have already inadvertently been exposed to it.
At the same time, there are things you can control. You can follow the instructions the CDC has given to wash your hands often, stay home if you’re sick, practice social distancing (stay at least 3 feet away from other people), avoid touching your face, and so on.
In times of panic, many people tend to waste valuable mental and emotional energy worrying about things they can’t control. Don’t torture yourself like that. Recognize what you can control and what you can’t, make peace with it, and act accordingly.
Avoid the hysteria.
Part of being wise in a crisis is staying informed. Unfortunately, in the age of social media, trying to stay informed can often lead to being misinformed, as misleading statistics, anecdotal “evidence,” and panicked reactions can spread like wildfire.
Here’s the good news: you are in control of what you take in. Do you have a friend that is posting about nothing but the coronavirus? Mute or unfollow them for a while. Does scrolling Twitter make you feel like crawling into bed and staying there until this whole thing blows over (possibly speaking from experience here)? You can deactivate your Twitter account for up to 30 days before all your data is deleted. And so on.
Manage your social media. Manage your news sources. If you want official, reliable, researched information, stick to credible health organization sources, such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control. Avoid clickbait headlines about things you can’t control, and stop reading an article if it’s making you feel stressed.
Don’t allow yourself to become obsessed with the news. Inform yourself responsibly. It might be a hard shift to make at first, but it’s something you can control when you’re trying to find peace and happiness in a time of panic.
See the good.
Even while the headlines scream panic and fear, remember: there is always good to be seen in the world.
(There’s even good news to be read about the coronavirus itself. Check out this Instagram post for some of the happy facts that somehow don’t make it into the news.)
Here are some easy things you can do to help yourself see the good that still exists in the world:
- Keep a gratitude journal
- Follow positive news accounts on social media (like Upworthy, Good News Movement, Spread Love Movement, etc.)
- Pause and enjoy peaceful moments
- Take in books, movies, art, or music that uplift you
- Start a group text with friends or family that is centered around sharing good news or positive updates
- Collect uplifting quotes and reference them often (Pinterest is a great way to do this digitally)
You see what you look for. Look for the good, and you’ll find it. I promise.
When it comes to happiness, relationships are key. Relationships are scientifically shown to have a positive impact on your mental, emotional, and even physical health (double bonus in the time of a pandemic, right?).
When we’re being told to practice social distancing and stay home as much as possible, it might seem like we’re doomed to a period of disconnection. But that doesn’t have to be the case at all.
We live in a time when connection is easier than ever, as long as we use the right tools in the right way. Here are some ideas for using technology to stay connected:
- Share personal updates, thoughts, feelings, and reactions on social media. Remember to share the good along with the bad.
- Use video chats to have face-to-face contact with friends and family when you can’t meet in person.
- Send brief, thoughtful text messages to friends and family throughout the day.
- Ship gifts or supplies to a family who could use them.
Additionally, in-person connection is vital, when you can get it. When it comes to the people you are with, make the most of the time you have together (especially if you end up being quarantined). Try things like:
- Sharing your feelings frequently and openly
- Expressing gratitude and love for the people around you
- Planning activities you can do together
- Encouraging each other to stay positive
- Spending quality time together on hobbies or projects
As human beings, we’re hardwired for connection. We need each other. And in times of crisis, we need each other more than ever.
It may feel like the world is grinding to a screeching halt, but that doesn’t mean you have to hit pause on your life. While taking all necessary and recommended precautions, you can still keep functioning at a productive level that will help you maintain a sense of normalcy.
The biggest threat to this would likely be a quarantine, which is an unfortunate reality for some already, and a very real possibility for many others. While the possibility of a quarantine may be daunting, there is still plenty you can do to keep yourself involved and active.
- Set up a comfortable and productive workspace at home, and invest in any tools you might need to make working from home a viable option.
- Find an activity you enjoy that is low stress and keeps you occupied. Think: puzzles, coloring, drawing, baking, sewing, reading, writing, etc.
- Take the time to organize your home (you’ve always meant to do it anyway, right?).
- Catch up on movies or TV shows (even better if you watch with someone else).
- Plan your next vacation (or your dream vacation).
- Clear out old/unwanted pictures on your computer or phone
Additionally, remember to take time to pause and rest. Meditation, prayer, or other spiritual activities can help you feel grounded and connected to your higher power. This can give you a sense of purpose and meaning that is crucial to thriving during a stressful time.
Choose love over fear.
Ultimately, finding peace and happiness in a time of panic is an inner battle. And in my experience, most inner battles boil down to love versus fear.
Are you approaching the situation from a place of fear—desperately trying to avoid the sickness, constantly worried about your loved ones, and fearful about your family’s financial situation?
Or, are you doing your best to handle the situation from a place of love—seeing the good, practicing gratitude, doing what you can to reach out and serve others, and showing love to yourself along the way?
Fear will breed despair, discouragement, and disconnection. Love will foster togetherness, hope, and positive, wise action.
Finding peace and happiness in a time of panic can feel impossible. There are always scary things going on in the world. There is always uncertainty. It can feel like our whole society is a house of cards that could come crashing down at any moment.
But you are not alone. You are not without hope. You’re not without power. And no matter how long it takes the world to recover from this, and no matter how uncomfortable things might get along the way, there is always peace and happiness to be had. If you’ll just do what you have to do to find it and create it for yourself, you can be happy, now and always.
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