Fear Vs. Caution: On COVID-19 and Why Fear Can Kill You Just As Easily

If you’ve been on the Internet of  late, you’ll likely have been seeing a slew of cancellations of events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet it seems to me that the reaction is beginning to be defined much more by fear than by caution. The difference between those two is key, and directly impacts our responses to the virus and our ability to survive it.

Fear is inherently self-interested–even when you’re fearing something will happen to someone else, it often has a component of fearing the pain that YOU will experience if something happens to that other. Fear, on a neurochemical level releases cortisol into your system–which is fine in the short-term but prolonged elevated levels of cortisol has been associated with a number of negative health effects. Caution, on the other hand, recognizes that there is a legitimate danger and takes steps to prevent or mitigate the danger while at the same time recognizing that we are human and that we are not all-powerful. We can and likely will get sick, and loved ones may indeed die–but we will do what we can to survive and we will mourn those who are lost and care for the grieving in the aftermath.

I get the logic behind cancelling events, and I understand why social distancing is being recommended—and yet we, as human beings, crave connection. Putting life on hold is NOT a good response, and may cause more harm than good. Loneliness, depression, anxiety–all of these weaken our immune systems and leave us more at risk. The Chief Medical Officer of Ontario recommended cancelling events of over 1000 people, and consulting with your local public health office for events of 200 or more. Yet a lot of events that have at most 100 people, or even smaller, are being cancelled as a result of this virus–which is fair for at-risk populations, but is not always the best response.

So my advice is this: take care of your mental health because it DOES have a direct impact on your physical health. Here are some practices you can do even with event cancellations:

Get outside! This is perhaps the top one. Go for a walk or a run, or just sit outside in the sun and breathe some fresh air. Being in nature is associated with both good mental and physical health, and the UV from the sun may have some effect on the virus. Also, the virus doesn’t spread via the air so you’re fine to be outside.

Exercise! This is also one of my top recommendations. Exercise boosts the immune system tremendously and will increase resilience in your body while helping your mental health. A lot of fitness studios with small classes are still perfectly fine to attend as long as you’re smart about it.

Keep hanging out in small groups. One of the big things that worries me in the responses I’ve seen so far to the virus is how many social outlets are being cut-off for people. This is less of a big deal if you live with loved ones, but it’s a huge deal if you’re already socially isolated. You can still meet up for things like coffee chats–again, just be smart about it. If you’d normally hug a friend upon seeing them, maybe refrain from that–but chatting with a friend over coffee isn’t going to transmit the virus to them, especially if you’re also conscientious about washing your hands.

Meditate/Pray Make sure you get some meditation or prayer in–these will help your mental health and help you keep the stress levels down. Breathing techniques like square breathing may be especially good to practice–square breathing is good for building up lung capacity, which could definitely be helpful with a respiratory virus.

Check in with your loved ones: If you can’t meet in person, call, text, message, etc. your loved ones. Let them know they’re not alone, see how they’re doing, and see what you can do to help.

In conclusion, don’t give into fear. Be cautious, but keep hopeful. Be loving to yourself and others, and take care of your mental health. Know that we will get through this, and resolve to learn from this experience to advocate for socioeconomic reform so that we’re better able to meet things like this in the future.

Published by Devin Hogg

My name is Devin Hogg. I was born and raised in Carnarvon, Ontario, Canada. I moved to Guelph, Ontario, Canada in 2009 for university and lived here ever since. In my free time, I enjoy reading, watching TV and movies, going on long walks, swimming, and practicing Chen style Tai Chi. I love to write poetry and blog regularly about topics such as mental health, sci-fi/fantasy series, faith, sexuality, and politics.

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