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Becoming more virus-resilient: tips on dealing with the COVID-19 coronavirus situation - Professor Hugh Koch

05/06/2020 UPDATE: Living through lockdown and beyond

There are many ways to cope with lockdown, some positive and some involving distress and anxiety – there is no one way of managing these.

In the past month or two, I have spoken to several friends, colleagues and clients, who have expressed their own concerns and difficulties – these have included:

· Nervousness with the whole uncertainty of COVID-19

· Over-eating and alcohol misuse due to enforced social isolation

· Concern over social distancing for grandparents, parents and grandchildren

· Worry over work and school viability in many different forms

· Increased frustration with partner due to greater time together

· Poor sleep and vivid dreams

In contrast, some friends have been aware of several positive experiences including extra quiet time with partner or children, more relaxed day-time timetable, opportunity for exercise, ‘how are you’ texts resulting in greater kindness and friendship, and listening to calming or energising music.

However, as we move towards a partial releasing of lockdown, many are experiencing and voicing their anxiety about leaving their house or flat as they schedule short visits to shops, hospital, clinic, workplace, schools and neighbours. This ‘re-entry syndrome’ of feeling nervous and a bit on-edge about returning from social isolation to ‘new normal’ activity and expectations need to be self-managed by positive thinking, nervousness-calming and reinforced by mutual support to and from each other, which involves gradually getting closer to people you know again.

Small active steps we can consider at this time include:

· Give yourself positive self-messages about your confidence and resilience to copy with ‘living through lockdown’.

· Take small steps to widen your exposure to the ‘outside world’ e.g., short journey (pedestrian, car), small shopping list for a 15-minute shop.

· Reinforce your efforts – a pat on the back is OK and helps. We all need that. Tick off when you have completed a job.

· Keep a positive perspective for how today and the rest of your week is going to go.

· Schedule small, relatively easy day-time trips away from the house.

· Use distraction with favourite music or engrossing book or article.

· Put a small card with a calming word like ‘relax’ where you can see it.

Key phrases like ‘bit by bit’, ‘one active step at a time’, value what you do do, minimise guilt over tasks not done, and generally have a ‘bias for action, both psychological and practical’. It’s been and still is a hard road but we can get there. We will eventually “wash our hands” of this pernicious virus.

Professor Hugh Koch

01/06/20 UPDATE: It’s still going, on and on... how can we keep our motivation and routines going?

As we enter the next phase of battling this pandemic, we need to keep our proverbial eye on the ball.

We need to maintain our purpose in terms of social distancing and not doing anything which risks increased infection or infection rate.

  1. We need to maintain our sensible routines which have helped to stabilise infection so far.

  2. We need to maintain our positivity and connectedness within our family and social circle.

  3. We need to keep optimistic about our work or study situation and prospects, planning our finances and potential borrowing requirements.

  4. We must be vigilant about any physical symptoms, virus-related or not.

  5. We must take care of our mood variability and anxieties, again virus - related or otherwise.

Each one of us will experience and interpret these six objectives in different ways, with differing degrees of confidence and positivity.

According to Carlos Castaneda (Perdue, 2020), the trick to maintaining positivity is “in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same”. Many may say this is easier said than done, but an optimistic outlook and perspective each morning as one starts the day is very helpful and energizing.

I am aware of friends and colleagues around me who are struggling with health issues, business and financial issues and generally trying to keep their mood and wellbeing on an even keel...we all have difficulties in some aspect of our pandemic-related lives. Remember giving or receiving a kind word, text or call, does wonders for keeping a strong feeling going.

I rarely get a large postbag of emails about anything, but I have been aware in the last week of a significant level of frustration with recent political events. Trust, credibility and transparency in all we do is crucial. If I say or suggest one thing to others, I must try to ensure I do likewise. If I want to do something that might be construed as inappropriate by others, I need to consider and reconsider my potential actions before I make them. Maintaining trust is linked to maintaining positivity and social cohesion. As we start the next phase of virus management, we need to be able to trust each other. According to the stoic Epictetus (remember him?) in 50AD, “your actions should correspond to the person you want to be”.

Professor Hugh Koch


22/05/2020 UPDATE:
“My background trained me to cope” – feel confident (and happy) during the pandemic

Coping with all the effects of this pandemic has been and continues to be a tall order – whatever our age or pre-existing health. We have never been involved in anything like this before. However, we all have prior experience of dealing with difficult events and these strategies are available to us now and over the next few or many months.

Coping with uncertainty

Our first challenge since February/March, has been how to cope with the uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought – looking for information and guidance has helped reduce this primary human motivation. My colleague and friend Nick Carleton (Regina University, Canada) found a clear link between uncertainty and our ability to manage anxiety and frustration – research indicates that even having certainty about what we don’t know (yet) helps our self-esteem. A good example of this being when and how a vaccine maybe found and produced – knowing that we cannot know when, yet, can be reassuring in a paradoxical way. Alternatively, the pessimistic information that a vaccine may not be available until January 2021, provides more certainty, albeit not what we want to hear.

How can we make our uncertainty more tolerable?

1. Practice relaxation and mindful meditation/thinking when you are aware of ‘uncertain’ feelings.

2. Seek better and better (reliable) information from specific, trusted sources.

3. Maintain positive attitudes and ways of reacting – ‘how’ we react is achievable (Linda Blair)

Highlight your own virtues

Florence Nightingales 200th Anniversary was remembered for her unique contribution to caring for the sick – ask yourself, how am I like her? You/we all have some of her virtues of discipline/organisation, empathy and compassion, and mindful attention to others and ourselves. It may seem difficult to be self-aware, especially of positive aspects of our behaviour, but its more important than ever to focus on our positivity and bolster up our self-esteem. This increases our motivation, creativity and problem-solving abilities, as we work out how to cope now and later in the year with virus-related issues.

We all have different circumstances as a result of COVID-19 but/and it’s OK to allow yourself to be happy and positive even when we or others are ill or out of work.

Changing our approach to psychological problems

Notwithstanding the support, reassurance and benefit many get from being prescribed antidepressant and anti-anxiety drugs, many believe that the answer to many of our emotional struggles lies in non-medical solutions. Anxiety and variable mood are often an understandable response to a crisis. We see this in ourselves and others in this COVID-19 circumstance. Positive resilient behaviour, whether this be our thinking, stress management, or our social collaboration and empathy, has many practical and day-to-day benefits – we are not ‘broken’, or ‘needing fixing’. We are in this strange temporary world together and can share the emotional load and learn helpful strategies from each other.

So, what?

So, this week’s prescription is the following: -

1. Proactive relaxation and mindful thinking.

2. Continue getting reliable information about COVID-19.

3. Keep thinking in a positive way.

4. Appreciate your own ‘virtues’ – i.e., your positive and kind actions.

5. Talk with others about what your wellbeing and resilience is based on: positive thinking, relaxation and calmness, organisation and focus, and kind communication with others.

Remember, just like Boots organise repeat prescriptions for medical conditions, you can provide your own ‘repeat prescription’ for enhancing your own resilience in these difficult times. Each week, remind yourself to update these Active Steps.

If you want to contribute to next week’s blog which follows on from last week’s blog on information reliability and accuracy, please write to me (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ).

Keep going,

Hugh Koch

Links to other websites

1) Expert Witness: -

https://www.expertwitness.co.uk/articles/news/becoming-more-virus-resilient-tips-on-dealing-with-the-covid-19-coronavirus-situation---professor-hugh-koch

2) Hugh Koch Associates: -

Www.hughkochassociates.co.uk

3) Links pending to www.kingschambers.com and www.apil.org.uk

 

15/05/20 UPDATE: Active Steps to getting accurate information

COVID-19 and our response to it is an all-consuming event. It is unprecedented, causing massive uncertainty about how it is transmitted and controlled, if that is possible. Remember ‘the flu’ is managed but not prevented. We all need personal and organisational resilience plus access to expertise and information from government, public health and scientific disciplines (e.g. epidemiology and global health) and the incisive questioning of the media holding the government to account.

General and public health messaging is crucial – to be effective it has to reach 80% of the population – both the Government and the media are critical for achieving this goal (Lang and Drobac, Public Health Experts, Oxford University).

The constructive dynamic between the Government’s information and that coming from the media and the research and expert scientific community is paramount. The Government needs to be listened to and understood then the decisions need to be put into context, explained and debated.

At some time or another, we have all been critical of the Government’s response to the pandemic e.g., lack of anticipation; variable assessment of risk; lack of preparation and action once identified. We need to encourage government, the scientific community and the media, to combine their significant skills, collaborate in investigating what is happening and provide information which is reliable, valid and empowering. Over the next week or so, this will centre on infection mode and rate, balancing health need with economic need, and its implications for our behaviour (e.g. social distancing; returning to workplace; use of public transport; enhancing limited extra family contact).

We need the encouragement to be as responsible ourselves as we can in many matters, coming from a sense of trust in those providing this encouragement, feeling that they are genuine, credible and empathic of the varied difficulties facing us.

We need to experience a balance between what our personal resources (e.g., compliance with social distancing) can produce and the resources we need from outside ourselves (e.g., furlough funds; PPE; testing). We need to constantly strive from the latter to the former, relying less on the State, when possible. As we achieve this outcome, bit by bit, we need to feel rewarded and valued, and our achievements appraised positively. In return we need to respect and reinforce those giving us information and suggestions, even when imperfect.

Similarly, where we rely on parliament and media for their efforts to report reliably and accurately, we need to provide constructive positive appraisal of their efforts. Neither function, governing or reporting, is an easy one given the cognitive and social diversity inherent in the macro tasks involved (e.g., social behaviour management, PPE, vaccination and testing), and balancing more liberal and less liberal approaches.

To digress momentarily, my day to day work in the civil justice system places me in a situation where the adversarial system(lawyers, barristers, experts on two ‘opposing sides’) encourages argument , often heated, and constructive criticism, and results in a process of logical summary and resolution, as best as the evidence allows, via the good offices of the judge and everyone’s conflict resolution skills. Throughout this process there is an underlying desire for professional rigour and duty to the court. How might these various behaviours apply to, and be extrapolated to, the pandemic issues?

Taking our current environment for learning on a day to day basis what’s going on and what we should do in COVID-19 land, we need to:

  1. Manage what IS under our control and comply as best we can.

  2. Obtain reliable information from the government/parliament, as well as various media outlets.

  3. Recognise positive encouragement to comply e.g. social distancing; phased return to work

  4. Seek and get access to resources to help us work, educate our children, look after our elderly parents.

  5. Respond to government and media with positive communication skills and reactions including:

    • Allow them to be wrong and survive!

    • Give them credit for what they DO do

    • Allow them to say ‘I don’t know’

    • Be constructively critical of specific points, comments, plans

    • Allow the media to hold the government to account

    • Tolerate different points of view

6. Have positive expectations of leaders (political and media) and their behavioural and cognitive traits expecting good attention span, impulse control, management of cognitive and information deficits. We should manage our frustration and anger, by constructive, patient and specific criticism.

7. Be active in questioning the government by, for example, communicating with your MP, participating on public broadcast, Q & A programmes and online discussion boards and social media comments.

We need to encourage a ‘bias for action’ amongst ourselves and our leaders to address lockdown and, when safe, its gradual release, phased return to work and the whole testing strategy in a constructive way. Consultation across the UK and across all communities (England, Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland) must optimise the ‘Stay Alert’ strategy and prevent a second spike. As in my civil justice analogy, impartial and balanced information, informing action, is key to our resilient approach. It is important to question government about the strategy it is pursuing of virus suppression and as opposed to collective immunity, and the degree to which its advice (e.g. use of face masks) is based on science.

Professor Hugh Koch

08/05/20 UPDATE: Effects of COVID-19 on pre-existing problems

It sounds like a truism but most, if not all, psychological and physical problems are affected by stress. This past two months is no exception. This pandemic will have added to all our stress.

I am not going to go through all the possible disorders which could be affected but most of us have: -

a) Minor or moderate symptoms of aches, pains, anxiety and variable mood.

b) Some have severe symptoms. Clinicians use a diagnostic label to identify them and provide the most effective treatment.

The stress of the COVID-19 pandemic will affect us whether our experience is mainly in category a) or b) above. Pre-existing pain, specific physical symptoms and/or anxiety or depression may all ‘feel’ worse during this pandemic due to our ruminating, worrying and being less able to distract ourselves in the usual ways.

Any symptom that is of a muscular nature e.g. Parkinson’s; Motor Neurone Disease; Multiple Sclerosis will be adversely affected by the muscular tension inherent in feeling anxious. It is also linked to an increased susceptibility to infectious diseases.

Risks of symptoms of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other respiratory illnesses are likely to make individuals more likely to experience COVID-19 complications as are diabetes and heart disease alongside any illnesses linked to underlying lung disease.

People with psychological and psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety- and stress-related disorders such as agoraphobia, claustrophobia, generalised anxiety and post-traumatic stress symptoms are vulnerable to an exacerbation of their pre-existing symptoms during this pandemic. The social isolation and its eventual withdrawal, social distancing and pre-occupation with health- and cleanliness-related imperatives can all increase anxiety and rumination. This, in turn, can exacerbate low mood and depression.

Many mental health issues often coincide with challenges that make it difficult for people to access the most basic necessities such as food, medications, housing and healthcare.

Substance use can be adversely affected – alcohol consumption can increase due to excessive downtime at home or exacerbated stress and preoccupation.

Look after your mental well-being

So … we know it’s a difficult time for us all and any pre-existing symptoms may be or may feel exacerbated/made worse during the pandemic. We need to look after our psychological wellbeing using practical ‘Active Steps’ which involves

(1) our thinking and logical perspective;

· Try and approach each day with a positive perspective

· Set small goals to start the day and get you out of bed and going

· When you complete a task, however mundane, give yourself a proverbial “pat on the back”

(2) our ability to relax and feel physically calm(er);

· Every few minutes (yes, that often) take a deep breath and relax your shoulders and arms

· Use the word “relax” in your head to prompt a quick, calming feeling

· Try putting the word “Relax” on a card and put it on your desk or bedside table

(3) our positive and compassionate contact with others;

· Monitor your language when talking to others and use positive and kind words

· Tell others when you can that you appreciate what they’ve done – a simple Thank You is good

(4) our ability to manage both home and work pressures and demands;

· Be organised about what tasks are on your today-to do list

· Set a realistic list of tasks and feel good when you achieve them

· Tell yourself you are coping well

We have all entered this pandemic with pre-existing strengths and weaknesses – be kind to yourself, feed your strengths, and manage the rest with sensible Active Steps.

Professor Hugh Koch


01/05/20 UPDATE:
Managing our Loneliness

We know that being alone can often make us anxious and then painfully lonely – loneliness is near, if not top, of the list of mental pain.

At the moment, we all exist in some sort of time warp – we look out of our window or go for our daily walk and roads are eerily empty, especially at night, we see a single figure in the distance with or without a dog on a lead, silhouetted in the street light.

Being in lockdown makes the part of us which is lonely, isolated and sad, even more so. We feel that there is “nothing to love or link with” (Philip Larkin).

This internalised psychological experience is reflected outwardly in our social world at home or nearby in our dealings with our children, our nieces or nephews, and our elderly parents – we worry about helping them remain active, occupied, healthy and well. We frequently feel helpless and then hopeless about our own family microcosm.

We can feel less isolated by a routine, a human touch, a digital connection, or in the case of one of my grandchildren touching a family photo on the fridge door. If you live alongside someone else, then a hug is invaluable. If living alone, hugs are possible “virtually” by digital and verbal connections.

Not everything in life has been permanently cancelled since March – events will be rescheduled, shops, bars and restaurants will eventually re-open, contact with temporarily estranged family will start again.

Paradoxically, the shutdown can be construed as helpful in that it may result in the lonely part of us reaching out when we see people walking or delivering post and provisions to our doorstep. We and they can mutually reach out, if only to share “hello”, “how are you”, “keep safe” and “see you next week”.

Alongside recognising and being kind to the lonely part of ourselves it’s good to be forward-looking, active with our planning and harness our hope and anticipation that we will get through this, one way or another. We will.

Professor Hugh Koch

24/04/20 UPDATE:Becoming more virus-resilient during social isolation

Most of us will have been enduring a very unusual state of affairs over the past four weeks, with partial or total lockdown. However enjoyable being at home is at the weekend , days off or on holiday , being at home full time is a different kettle of goujons.

At each of the main psychological levels- thinking, feeling ,practical organising and social- we are all having to adjust to this extra time and space being within our four walls at home.

My daughter reminded me recently that we all have different ways of coping with life at the moment and there is “no one strategy fits all”, flexibility is the key. It reminds me of the debate about whether a tidy ,clear desk beats a cluttered ‘I know where everything is’ desk.........I’m not sure about either example. I think that some tools and steps work better than others, albeit some of the time, perhaps not all.

Organising one’s home work space takes careful planning and execution. Consideration of one’s partner’s needs and space requirements is crucial to prevent milk or blood being spilt. The partnership which you love as you walk out the door each pre- virus morning needs nurturing in a different way now that you are tripping over each other’s papers ,mobile, laptop and tea cup.

Thinking for an eight extra hours under the same roof means your positive or negative thoughts may coincide or clash in ways that rarely occurred when the family routine was the pre-virus one. While you are calm with your own positive, optimistic plan, your partner may be suffocating under thoughts of dread and helplessness . At any one time, one of you may need more support and understanding than the other.

Feeling calm and relaxed is a transient ,and rarely continuous state. While he/she has found solace in some completed tasks plus a reassuring ,validating phone call, you may be feeling alone, getting uptight and tense over task overload, disrupted wifi signal and request for domestic assistance.

A partnership consists of many social relationships, some overlapping, some independent. The mélange of daily social events involving chats with each other,texts, calls, work and domestic topics, requires mutual communication , tolerance and kindness. At the very least , the ability to show compassion and 50/50% listening to each other are paramount, plus clarity of expectation whether this be not forgetting to order the carrots or showing undying affection.

So while you think about whether positive thoughts, calming techniques, an ordered or ‘everything on show’ desk, remember that you and your partner see the world at home in different ways at different times. However, telling him/her you understand this and love him/her is a good way of managing this difference in personality. The lockdown will pass and you can then share how much you miss this extra time together.

Good luck with everything you have to deal with this week.

Prof. Hugh Koch

17/04/2020 UPDATE:Maintaining our collective momentum

4-5 weeks in and, for most of us, there is a sort of stable equilibrium in our daily existence – we are either at home socially isolating, social distancing outside or essential working and being very careful. For a very small number, things are immeasurably worse with significant virus symptoms and hospitalisations. My very best wishes to this group and their families.

How can we maintain our collective equilibrium?

a) Understanding the virus more

We need to remain educated as to how social isolation and herd immunity, vaccination or other testing will be of benefit as we move into weeks 5-8. A significant problem is our uncertainty. The dilemma between returning to work and staying socially isolated is going to continue to be hard. Some level of anxiety in this situation is to be expected and normal. When confronted with uncertainty, surround yourself in facts, not rhetoric and follow best practices. Recognise that, with time, uncertainty will ultimately give way to clarity (from Prof. David DeMatteo, in Philadelphia).

b) Keeping our vigilance, compliance and healthy practices going

Whether at home or at work, we must maintain our handwashing, surface cleaning and avoidance, and social distancing from visitors, colleagues, friends and others. We must also listen to available Government and scientific advice and both understand their responsibilities and pressures, but also hold them logically to account.

c) Coping with lock down

Day 7 at home and the dog is looking at me like “See? This is why I chew the furniture!” (from Prof. Helene Hilger, Charlotte, North Carolina).

Cope with this very unusual and ongoing situation by using positive self-talk about the day ahead, physical activity routine and, don’t forget, humour and enjoy being at home, learning new skills (from Prof. Bruce Leckart, in L.A.).

Despite ‘lockdown’, it’s fun to have family together, whether extra time with a partner, play time with very young children or cooperative time with older children. If living alone, maximise digital connections and relax/meditate/eat well (from Elizabeth Seay, Wall St. Journal) – being homebound is important right now so enjoy and value co-existing more closely, and be patient.

d) Have faith in your beliefs

Amid all the anxiety, helplessness and grief, we also need to keep in touch and develop our own faith and belief. Despite our day-to-day investment in our home, our work and our finances, our belief deep down is in ourselves and those around us – even though we are physically separated from many of those we love, our spiritual or existential belief can help us feel optimistic, resilient and focus on our future – there is and must be a ‘connectivity in isolation’. Have faith in each other, however difficult the sacrifices we have to make at the moment. Tell someone you love and care for them.

e) Replace criticism with praise

We don’t learn by being told what not to do by those close to us. Whenever you feel the urge to criticise another family member or friend, pause… once you can come up with something helpful, positive and constructive that they can try, suggest that instead (from Linda Blair, London).

Also many thanks to those in the UK and USA who have contributed to this and also those who I have referenced here.

Prof. Hugh Koch

Links to other websites

Links to other websites

1) Expert Witness: -

https://www.expertwitness.co.uk/articles/news/becoming-more-virus-resilient-tips-on-dealing-with-the-covid-19-coronavirus-situation---professor-hugh-koch

2) Hugh Koch Associates: -

Www.hughkochassociates.co.uk

3) Links pending to www.kingschambers.com and www.apil.org.uk

 

09/04/20 UPDATE: 'We'll meet again'

On 5/4/2020, the Queen commented on the challenging and disruptive time we are all currently in, and pointed to our spirit, self-discipline and pride as being predictors of our common endeavour to succeed and see ‘better days returning’. At a time when it is likely that the peak in infection has not yet been reached, and the full economic and health deficits have not as yet materialised, this is a very difficult ‘ask’ - to be positive about our futures. We regularly hear about “transmission”, “new cases”, “flatter curve”, hospital admissions and worse.

However, part of being resilient both personally and organisationally, is the ability to bounce back from adversity. But what does this actually mean? Can we do this now before more ‘green shoots’ appear?

1. Acknowledge and share our helplessness and hopelessness

Before we can move on and upwards, we need to feel that our low feelings of sadness, loss and anxiety are out in the open and have been shared and acknowledged by those close to us. Martin Seligman, an American psychologist, often talks about stress and adversity being accompanied by thinking in a pessimistic way, and feeling hopeless and unable to see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. We need to share this before we can move on to “find the light”.

2. Predicting a time when this will be over

Whether you use scientific/medical concepts or a ‘finger in the air’, it is possible to make a prediction of when the major effects of this virus will be over. This prediction, of course, may not be borne out by facts but it’s a start to our forward-pointing thinking and planning. I can predict July (2020) but I don’t know.

3. Visualising what will be required

Thinking about your own particular circumstances when things start to improve, it is possible and important to do the following: -

a) Think about some of the first next ‘Active Steps’ you will want or need to take to climb your own particular ladder.

b) Discuss these steps with at least one other person (e.g. partner, colleague, friend, advisor).

c) Use logical brainstorming to generate these Active Steps in practical detail with time scales (even though these timings will inevitably be incorrect).

d) Consider financial advice to help with business interruption.

e) Consider sensible ways to support and encourage your childrens’ wellbeing and education while “school is out”.

f) Be positive about steps a) to e) above and don’t let this virus-period define you. You can move on.

4. Pool intelligence

Continue to be rational, logical and comply with the ‘best fit’ advice we are being given. Cognitive diversity, the ability to think in a variety of ways about what is happening, is important. The dynamic debate between “herd immunity” and “social isolation and avoiding infection” is one such example of this diversity. We need to pool our collective intelligence to tackle this huge challenge. This means talk about what’s best with each other. We will emerge from this in a more collaborative and interconnected way.

Many aspects of this current period are very sad and distressing but, returning to the words of Vera Lynn, echoed by the Queen, we can start to ‘meet again’. This means continuing to manage our social behaviour positively, getting beyond the infection peak, compliance with guidance, and starting to plan for bouncing back when and as soon as is possible. Start that ‘back of the envelope’ plan today.

Links to other websites

1) Expert Witness: -

https://www.expertwitness.co.uk/articles/news/becoming-more-virus-resilient-tips-on-dealing-with-the-covid-19-coronavirus-situation---professor-hugh-koch

2) Hugh Koch Associates: - Www.hughkochassociates.co.uk

3) Commentary and Guidance on the Legal and Commercial Effects of Covid-19 by Members of Kings Chambers: -

https://lawinthetimeofcorona.wordpress.com/2020/04/08/becoming-more-virus-resilient-tips-on-dealing-with-the-covid-19-coronavirus-situation/

4) Coronavirus (COVID-19) updates from APIL: - https://www.apil.org.uk/covid-19



03/04/20 UPDATE:
Managing Your Anxiety

We are doing well and most of us are becoming more and more informed about COVID-19.

We are not alone; we are working hard to feel informed, optimistic and up to date on all the issues we care about. However, the widespread information and media coverage can make us anxious. How can we deal with this?

1. Keep logical:

Have an analytical approach when reading and listening to news and media reports. Verify information with family and friends, GP and others. Continuously improve your understanding in the light of new evidence.

2. Keep things in perspective

Contracting COVID-19 will result in, typically, mild symptoms for most people. Vulnerable people, those with underlying health conditions or the older age group, must take extra precaution and be helped by the rest of us. It helps to be positive in a constructive and hopeful way.

3. Communicate and connect clearly

Honest and age-appropriate information must be given and listened to, discussed and adhered to. Maintain connection without increasing anxiety. Isolation and distancing isn’t fun but its necessary and will be time limited.

4. Continue to use pre-existing coping strategies

The COVID-19 has added stress and anxiety to those with pre-existing problems – use the coping strategies you had before this outbreak, practice and share tips that work for you.

5. Remember Anxiety is viral too!

These are very worrying times but manage your own mental health sensibly and positively. Understand and appraise the government’s responses but don’t ruminate over-critically. Now is not the time for that. We all need to reassure ourselves and be proactive. Think and talk rationally.

Many, if not most of us, are living and/or working at home – we need to follow simple rules to remain involved and productive both socially and work-related. Sensible use of social media, digital connectivity, emails, postcards and WhatsApp groups are invaluable. Workers need to plan for now, the next 2-3 months and the following 3-6 months, during which time we all hope to see improvements in handling COVID-19 and virus outcomes, and the slowing and suppressing of this outbreak.

6. Compliance with advice

Compliance with advice given is crucial and most are doing this – outside spaces are empty and social distancing is being adopted, with predominant self-isolation. A small proportion of the population are not acting rationally – they fail to grasp the bigger picture, ignoring the scale and the reality. They have misconceptions about the risks, quoting sensationalism and “crying wolf”, and they display “learned helplessness” where they may just give up and not heed the advice given. Unfortunately, one person refusing to socially distance or isolate may influence two or three others to do the same – transmitting psychological as well as infectious error.

Look after yourself, your family and friends, and your colleagues, by showing small acts of kindness – follow advice, comply with social distance and isolation, and connect positively as frequently as you can. This complex situation will get better – repeatedly tell yourself this. Please keep safe.



27/03/20 UPDATE: 
“Feeling connected but staying apart”

The Government and its experts stressed the importance of shielding ourselves. They focus especially on the most vulnerable in our communities, the 1.5 million who need to stay at home for various health reasons. ‘Shielding’ now however applies to us all. We must have a “can do” attitude and get our heads around this directive. The following tips must be reinforced:

1. Listen to advice given and keep to it to reduce the need for Government to impose greater legal restrictions on us. This means doing things differently.

2. Balance safe ‘social distancing’ with increasing remote and digital communication (i.e., WhatsApp, email, telephone and other digital platforms). Local street-specific WhatsApp groups are easy to set up and very reassuring. Whether for social or work-related reasons, home-based digital communication is essential, how long for? We don’t know.

3. Show your family, friends and neighbours your kind and compassionate actions and availability. Try and spread reassurance and confidence rather than sharing anxieties – a difficult ask, but possible. Be clear and helpful, not critical.

4. Combine getting ‘fresh air’ from pleasant walking with ‘social distancing’ from those you see on your walks – keep over 2 metres away. You can smile at them! Attractive outdoor spaces must not be crowded.

5. Whatever financial or employment advice you need, there are people who can provide this at relatively low, modest cost – reduce your worry by being well-informed.

6. Take all the advice about hand washing, surface cleaning, modest shopping routines and minimal travelling – they all make sense and will help to keep you and others virus-free.

7. To young(ish) Mums and Dads:

Families who have both school-age children and elderly parents to worry about are feeling the strain inevitably. This so called ‘sandwich generation’ are now into ‘extreme juggling’ looking after both children and elderly relatives while keeping them far apart. Coping with Mother’s Day has been a difficult task.

Mums and Dads, you will need all your organisational skills plus a huge dose of ‘taking a deep breath’, managing your anxiety about the ‘best things to do’ and telling each other that you are a good team.

8. Young student who cannot be at school, college or university, step up and keep occupied in whatever way you can. Some home-based study, some leisure hobby time and some helping your family with household tasks. Keep in touch with your teachers and advisors.

9. Unfortunately, things are likely to get worse so accept this and prepare for this. But look forward to the near future (July?, October?, December?) when we are in happier and more controllable times.

  1. Available research indicated that the vast majority of us, if we develop the virus, will survive it. Try and see the Government advice as largely a force for stability and calm. Keep positive and reassure yourself and those around you that you are doing a good job.



20/03/20 UPDATE.
 We are now one further week into the Coronavirus outbreak and all of us are being affected in some way, socially, occupationally, psychologically and to an extent, medically.

Some are being advised to isolate ourselves at home to reduce the ever-present risk of contracting the virus.

What can we add to our current strategy for coping?

a) Socially: - maintain separate-ness from most other people. Follow the guidance of self, couple or family isolation at home as appropriate. Despite isolation measures, use your phone and email to keep in contact with loved ones, friends and colleagues – you need them: they need you.

b) Occupationally: - we are still in the transition stage of some working in normal, or amended ways, and some working at home already. Make sure you have a plan now for how your working routine may/will change. Talk to colleagues and those you’re with and discuss options. Remember, although we have different work routines, we all need to support each other as best we can in this very difficult situation.

c) Psychologically: - the main feeling I pick up from colleagues and friends is their anxiety – hardly surprising. We have never, in our lifetime, been in such a stressful circumstance. To manage this: -

· Reduce your uncertainty by getting quality information from media sources so you are abreast of latest public health and government thinking, but … know when to switch off so you don’t feel overwhelmed or frightened.

· Be cautious, if not, over cautious, in your prevention strategies – short-term isolation and restricted activity is better especially it works and you don’t get the virus.

· Don’t hold on to negative information and dwell on it.

· Be positive about your own immediate future and have confidence in what you are doing.

We cannot, at the moment, control the pandemic, but we must try and control how we mentally respond to it.

I will keep you updated weekly via PIBULJ.


16/03/20. 
Key risk factors are clearly proximity to infected individuals but our own personal resilience can enhance our protection to becoming unwell... but what does this mean?

It means:

  1. Remembering and prompting self, family and colleagues to hand wash regularly and avoid shaking hands, kissing and touching.
  2. Maintain a positive attitude about one’s own personal risk of becoming infected, or one’s ability to manage the infection.
  3. Obtaining and understanding the available information about risk, severity and symptoms of Coronavirus, and being realistic and logical about these.
  4. Looking out for each other ,especially those already feeling unwell, those getting unwell or those mature in age.....self isolating can be a lonely process even though it’s needed.
  5. It’s looking like this stressful situation will last 3-4 months, at least. So it’s going to be a long haul. Use your email contacting to keep in touch with people, your loved ones, friends and those that are vulnerable.

Clearly we are in a very stressful situation that is likely to last several months. Our personal positive resilience coupled with supporting each other as best we can will help.

Professor Hugh Koch
Clinical Psychologist
www.hughkochassociates.co.uk

Image ©iStockphoto.com/Naeblys

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