“We Are Incredibly Resilient. This Is a Really Big Challenge. And We Will Get Through It.”

We are all feeling confused and anxious about the coronavirus threat. How best to cope with these concerns and the mental-health stress raised by the pandemic? We spoke with our Natural Mental Health columnist Henry Emmons, MD, who is an integrative psychiatrist. He’s the author of The Chemistry of Joy, The Chemistry of Calm, and Staying Sharp; and cofounder of Natural MentalHealth.com. Here’s what he had to say.

Experience Life | The coronavirus epidemic is perhaps unprecedented in most of our lives: Are there things we can do to help ourselves and others cope?

Henry Emmons | I think it helps knowing that we are all in this together, and though it is unprecedented, there are things that we know we can do to reduce our risks and the risks to the community. Given that the infection is already subsiding in some countries, we know that its spread can be controlled with adequate testing, good hygiene, social distancing, and self- quarantine after exposure. 

I think one of the most difficult things about this is that there is so much unknown. The mind doesn’t do well with uncertainty, and this is a perfect storm in that regard. Yes, it is normal to feel stressed, confused, or upset. It’s best to acknowledge whatever you are feeling at times like this, but also not to allow those feelings to take over. Fear can be every bit as destructive as the illness itself, as we are seeing in the financial markets. We can feel fear, which is a natural reaction to this, but we can also let the fear response go and return to what we can do about it, knowing that it will pass. We will get through this.

EL | A threat such as coronavirus can potentially divide us: There’s scapegoating, there are questions about what’s true and what’s misinformation, and there are worries about leadership. Any thoughts on how to make sense of all this or calm the anxiety it induces?

HE | Unfortunately, we’ve seen the effects of denial. Minimizing something as real and serious as this does no good, and it leaves us unprepared. The coronavirus is a big deal and should be treated as such. That doesn’t mean we need to be swept up in fear, though. We need leaders who can calmly face this challenge and make reasoned, wise decisions that are based on science. We need to look to the real experts and believe what they are telling us is best to do. They are the scientists and trained public-health experts, not the politicians or officials who may not always heed the advice…

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