As I anticipate the approach of the coronavirus, I find myself wavering between thoughts of “I can handle this” and a voice imploring me to run for the hills. With the feeling that others are looking at me, I aim for cautious prudence and measured calm. Stress is contagious, and I am fully aware that we can infect ourselves beyond viruses.
Stress researcher Sonia Lupien observes that the causes of stress fall under the acronym NUTS: novelty; unpredictability; threat (or perceived threat); (weak) sense of control.
Pandemic viruses strike all of these stressors, especially for young people, for whom novelty is higher and feeling of control is weaker. Neuroscience shows that it is adversity in life, faced with tolerable challenges and stressors, that connects the brain to resilience. We train to develop this “muscle”. So while ideally we will be spared the worst victims, economic disruption and inconvenience, there is room for more. We can use it to help us and our children increase our sense of control.
1. Make a plan… and a plan B. Visualizing how to navigate a situation activates the neural pathways in a similar way to reality. This is why airlines give the same instructions to passengers every time. Worrying is not preparation, but anticipating difficulties and making several plans to overcome them. To credit Lupian, there are few things more paralyzing than thinking that you have only one tool that doesn’t work or a road that is blocked, so make a plan B too.
2. Make a list. Putting plans, thoughts and concerns on paper can increase feelings of control, reduce the power of these concerns, and free up cognitive resources.
3. Assign something to the children. Parents want children to feel safe. But it’s better if we make them feel brave. Protecting them makes us feel better by increasing our sense of control, but goes against their sense of control.
4. Teach children where to find help. When my daughter was 5 years old, she walked away from us in a crowd. When we got together, we waited for her to calm down and then talked about what she could do if it happened again. With a plan, she felt more confident and less afraid. It was certainly not the plan for her to be separated from us again. But we also didn’t want her to be afraid, or to hang on to us even more. By engaging in this conversation, she engaged her prefrontal cortex and her problem-solving skills, calming her tonsil (her stress response) and strengthening the bonds between the two.
5. Teach children how to help. When children can see hand washing as something that helps others, not just themselves, it increases their sense of control. Hygiene becomes a super power!
6. Spread the calm. My brother, a paramedic, is unruffled in a calamity. He recently looked after a patient in crisis, and then one of the nurses at the hospital said, “It was so helpful to have you here. You were so calm, which also helped us to be calm. In scenarios where family members are understandably alarmed or panicked, he will calmly say, “Do I look alarmed?” It’s manageable. If you want, I can let you know if you should panic. We can effectively create collective immunity.
seven. Make an effort to recognize things that you cannot control. Hypervigilance is exhausting, so don’t think of everyone as a sick person.
8. Take the long term view. Studies after the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina in 2005 found that those who were older were more resilient to the disaster. According to the National Institutes of Health, “they were able to have a comparative and long-term view of their situation, often claiming that they had” experienced other hurricanes “and” more difficult times “which, according to them, were more psychological. destructive than Hurricane Katrina. “Like Katrina’s older generation, we can remember the hardships we and our families have gone through in the past. It involves our coping skills, helping us to better understand How? ‘Or’ What we will succeed this challenge if it presents itself to us.
9. Speak against your own fear in front of your children. For example: “It is really scary that so many people are sick. That’s all they talk about on the radio. But I know the news is not talking about the fact that everyone is fine, or everyone who is only a little sick. And I know if one or more of us get sick, we have a good plan and other people take care of us. “
Like my H1N1, many of those who get the coronavirus will depend on luck. But, as is the Sense of control Who colors the experience, a classic conditioned response, doing things to increase the feeling of control can be the source of future resilience. After this virus has run its course, not only will we have greater herd immunity to the virus (through exposure, as we did with chickenpox), we may have greater herd immunity from stress . And if we manage it properly, our children will too.