Yesterday evening, I talked to one of friends who lives by her own. She is a 70 year old lady and a role model: She worked her whole life, took care of her children and opened up her home for foster children as well. She is curious about the world, reads a lot, likes to go hiking and traveling, is supportive and mindful. Since I met her a couple of years ago, she enriched my life.
However, the time of stay-at-home develops to a real challenge for her. I think we younger ones sometimes forget that the generation of our parents and grandparents have a life of their own, too. They are used to meet family, friends, often they have a car so they are independent and can follow-up their plans and ideas. But this independence, which is a form of control, is taken by the lock-down from them. And I observe with concern, that they wrestle like us, with another form of control as well. One of the sources, that are currently attacking our control of our situation, seem to be our digital communication possibilities and people or organisations which spread another form of virus, by creating fear and panic.
My friend seems to receive – no, it looks like more a bombardement – news and video clips where doomsday scenarios seem to be the order of the day. And of course, my friend, looks at them all, being open and interested s she is what goes on in our world. The consequence is that she starts to feel depressed, anxious and can’t sleep anymore because of the ceaselessly thoughts hiking through her mind. Not exactly the best prerequisites to cope with the current situation – especially if you are living on your own and are used to take care of yourself and your problems (also meaning, that many of these people are not asking for help, even if they need it).
I ask you to be extra mindful these days towards friends and family, and maybe even persistent in offering social support. Please listen with empathy and respond with understanding and in caring ways to the concerns, show affection and interest, offer your help and reassure the other person. Solidarity maybe means in these days not only to be connected with others by ideas, goals and activities, but to identify yourself on an emotional level with the other person’s situation.
Then there are two further things we can do.
- To use our skills in critical thinking about all the news and video clips we receive these days (see figure 1 for questions). I have to admit that I myself have underestimated its value before now. If we filter information with the help of our critical thinking and just accept certain kinds of information if we use the questions presented in figure 1, then it gives us a way to increase our control of our situation. Because, according to stress theory, the more control you have, the less stress you experience.
- But we not only can reduce the amount of information, we also can take control in an additional way: By controlling the timing we take in information, especially it it’s information that tends to overwhelm our feelings. I have for example suggested to my friend, that she doesn’t look at videos or news in the evenings. Because, if you look at something that disturbs you, it usually affects your sleep quality negatively. Either you can’t fall asleep because of your ruminating or you wake up several times during the night, anxious, jittery and frightened. And maybe you have experienced by yourself such nights. And how difficult it is, to regulate your emotions during nights. Because, it is very difficult to distract yourself during nights as you usually don’t go for a walk or do some other activity that will put your focus on other things. Another, usually effective strategy to gain control over our emotions, reappraisal, is also working less effective during the night. Reappraisal means “altering one’s interpretation of the meaning of a situation so as to change its emotional impact” (Gross, 1998).
So please, why not talk to your family members and friends about these things and make a kind of psychological contract with each other right now about the things I mentioned above to support each other. Sometimes it might be enough to say after a conversation: “I care about you. I’m in this with you. We’re going to figure out this together”, sometimes we need to encourage our loved ones by not opening digital social media and/or communication applications.
Together we can lead by example.