Coronavirus diary 14/4/20 – handling big distress


I’ll be blogging my way through the Coronavirus period, with a focus on the psychological impacts and how to keep yourself and the people you care about safe and mentally healthy.

Look after yourself peeps..

Dr Gareth Furber

How was everyone’s Easter? Did you tackle those awkward feelings with chocolate?

I tackled them with art (and chocolate) and binge-watching of TV shows (primarily, Westworld – that show has a disturbingly large amount of genitalia in it). There may possibly have been wine as well, but we will speak of that no further.

I was deliberate over the weekend to not do any work, although I was tempted to multiple times.

You see work is my main defense against that underlying sense of dread that many of us find ourselves feeling at the moment.

Now to be clear, that sense of dread or anxiety or worry, or whatever you want to call it, is perfectly normal. It isn’t necessarily pleasant, but it is perfectly normal.

As a species, we didn’t develop anxiety and worry for the hell of it.

We developed anxiety and worry because they are motivational states designed to push us to try and solve problems and establish some order and control in situations of high uncertainty.

And we are in a situation of very high uncertainty!

We have a highly contagious virus that we need to contain, to save lives. But to do so means shutting down large aspects of our lives which has serious practical, economic and social consequences. Many of the things we took for granted are not so certain anymore: jobs, careers, education, social activities, economic security, the typical day, our future. And we don’t know how long these disruptions will last.

And to make it more difficult, the amount that any given individual can do to fix the situation is limited. Fixing the situation requires collaboration on a global scale. It requires trust in those individuals and groups who do have relevant knowledge and skills (e.g. medical professionals, researchers, governments, economists etc) to collaborate to generate a solution. It requires individuals to act in the interests of the community/society, not themselves. It requires a significant shift of resources from those who do have them, to those that don’t.

So for any given individual, the current situation is the ‘perfect storm’ of worry. A dangerous situation, that most of us have never encountered before, the solution to which is highly disruptive, and that needs to be iterated constantly and relies on us all working for the communal good.

So if you were under the impression that I don’t have hours or even days where I am freaked out, then you would be wrong.

But what is it I do with that distress?

I’ll be honest. Sometimes I handle it badly.

  • I drink a little bit more than I should.
  • I try to bury my head in the sand and pretend it isn’t happening, by watching loads of TV shows or YouTube.
  • I console myself with online shopping.
  • I dive head first into that big bag of chips that I bought from the supermarket.

If you aren’t always proud of how you are handling the stress, then it is OK. Give yourself permission to ‘drop the ball’ every now and then, in terms of how you are coping. We’re all freaked out. We’re all making some bad choices and decisions at times. They aren’t a sign you’re broken, they are confirmation that you are human.

But also be open to the idea that you will find healthy and adaptive ways of coping and probably already are.

For example, I’ve noticed the ways that my brain is coming to terms with the worry, by solving little problems at a time:

  • I re-do my budget, so I am putting aside extra money
  • I make sure I go for a walk each day
  • I’ve kept up my weights training
  • I meditate regularly
  • I try to follow a regular schedule for workdays
  • I eat my veggies
  • I try to help my colleagues adjust to technology of working from home
  • I give extra to charity

None of these individual acts fixes the big problem, but each of them contributes to me adapting to it, by creating some degree of control in my immediate environment. That is the part of the picture that you can control: whether you are looking after yourself, whether you are looking after those you love, whether you are making your home space clean and inviting, whether you are continuing to invest in your future self.

That last one is relevant to you as students.

Before this whole Coronavirus situation kicked off, you had made a decision to expand your mind and skillset through university study.

That decision, whilst it might seem less relevant now, is actually still incredibly important.

When things return to some kind of normality (and I believe they will), the world is going to need skilled people, across all domains. We will be rebuilding – psyches, communities and economies. People will need help. The echoes of this global pandemic will be felt for years. Even if you are just at the start of your degree and it will be a few years before you get to apply your skills in the workforce, trust me, the impacts of the Coronavirus will still be there.

The investment you decided to make in your future self, through education, is as important an investment as ever. Yes, the vision you had for your future self might seem a lot hazier now. You might be confused as to exactly what kind of world you will graduate into. But the commitment to meet that world a smarter and more capable version of yourself is still as good a decision as you ever made.

So, if your situation permits, continue with your studies.

Solve all the little problems that might be getting in your way of connecting to your studies one at a time:

And remember that the world isn’t always going to be like it is now. But your education will always be useful. My psychology degree not only made me a psychologist, it made me a better thinker. And that is the case with all degrees. They make you better thinkers. And your thinking and problem solving is what will help you adapt to whatever comes next.


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