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Coronavirus 5 Step Action Plan for Psychological Health

Last updated on March 20, 2020

I’ve been trying to write something comforting and helpful during these COVID times. I personally don’t need to see another IG inspo post that “everything is going to be okay.” Because the reality is, things actually aren’t okay right now, and they aren’t going to be okay for a lot of people.

I received this email from Neil Strauss, and found it useful. He suggests the following 5 step action plan to keep you psychologically healthy during this pandemic:

Step One: Prepare, don’t panic.   

There is a big difference between preparing and panicking.

If you’re preparing, you’re logically evaluating a situation, taking the necessary steps keep yourself safe, and monitoring for any major developments.  If you’re panicking, you’re probably not prepared, and likely won’t be able to prepare intelligently either. You become a liability to yourself and others. 

So avoid the anxiety of feeling unprepared by actually preparing. Do your research, make a list of what you need, obtain those items, and create protocols to keep your home and surroundings (including workplace if applicable) a safe zone at all times. 

Once you have this set up, and you can do it in half a day or less, you can move on to the next step:

Step Two: Operate in reality, not anxiety. 

Anxiety is an exercise in future projection, according to the leading neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux. It takes place in a different part of the brain than fear.

Fear is an instant response to a present danger. 

Anxiety is an exercise of the imagination.

And some people are imagining the worst. 

So here’s a fact that may help those who have major concerns about the economy, which is likely just about everyone. 

During the Great Depression, there was no uptick in deaths. In fact, mortality rates actually improved. So people survived financial devastation. And we will survive the economic consequences of this. 

However, there was one distinct category during the Great Depression where there were more deaths: Suicide. 

Some people thought they lost everything when what they really lost was their savings, their investments, their businesses. But if you have your self, the people you love, and you all manage to stay healthy through this, you have everything.

The rest, while painful, can be rebuilt, just as it was built from nothing in the first place. If life gets very tough and we have to struggle, it will make us stronger, it will make us more grateful, and we will bounce back.

The number one priority is to care for your health and your immunity, and adding unnecessary stress hurts both of those. So do the inner work to have inner calm during all this. 

You cannot control every event in the outer world, but you can control your reactions to them.

Event + Reaction = Outcome

One half of that equation is fixed. Now is the time to dial in the other half of it, work on your reactivity, and balance your inner world. 

This leads us to: 

Step Three: Create a self-care regime 

While we are disconnecting from others during this time, the social implications of which are going to be staggering, what is going to come up is a lot of the feelings that we medicate through work, sex, the gym, socializing, and generally keeping busy. 

The biggest challenge for many is to sit alone with themselves; for others it’s to sit cooped up with their families pressing the buttons they haven’t worked to remove yet. So your main job is to really take care of yourself, inside and out. 

Make yourself a schedule and stick to it. 

Don’t have a morning routine? Time to start one.

Don’t eat healthy meals and supplementation? Time to be the healthiest you’ve ever been. 

Don’t have a meditation practice? Time to find one. 

Don’t exercise? Find a great resource online and do it daily. And get outside or get fresh air while still social distancing.

Feeling depressed, alone, or anxious? Feel deeply into it, notice it, observe it, and get curious about it. When have you felt it before? What’s it really about? Our neuroses will attach to this new situation. It is a great time to feel in order to heal.

News getting you worked up? Download Freedom or a similar app, and only give yourself access to news and/or social media sites for two small windows of time during the day. 

The real goal here is not to sink into malaise or lethargy, but to leap into motivation. So many people I talk to say that their job gets in the way of their passions. Well, here’s your chance. Many of you can use this time to work on living those passions. 

And I can guarantee one other thing, if you do not use this time productively, but instead fritter it away compulsively checking Twitter and the news, you will deeply regret having wasted a precious opportunity. 

And before a few of you email saying that’s not possible for you because of this or that reason, read the next step. 

Step Four: Adapt and Flourish

I’ve seen two responses to the shift we are all experiencing. 

Response One: All these things are gone now, I’ll have to live without them and wait it out. 

Response Two: All these things are gone now, I’ll do other things instead. 

The first response is fixed mindset, the second is growth mindset. 

The world we once knew is gone for now. We are in a new reality. 

And to survive it, we must use the trait that has enabled our species to survive for so long: adaptability. 

If your business model is suffering, pivot to something that people need now. If you lost your job, look at where the needs are in society right now. Now’s the time to get proactive and start a new life. Amazon, for example, just announced it was hiring 100,000 people. 

If you’re upset that you have to put your social plans on hold, then figure out how to socialize in this new world. My in-person game night became a fun game night using multiple-player app-games with everyone on video conference. 

Can’t go on dates? People are lonely. Now’s the time to build a deep connection with someone new, and just treat it like a long-distance relationship.

Switch from the fear and scarcity brain to the problem-solving and abundance brain. 

When your back is against the wall, it’s a good time to find a new door.

But always remember…

Step Five: Service 

A lot of people are suffering, and more will likely suffer and worse. Part of this opportunity for you is service. A chance to give back.

If you have the economic means, see if there’s a helpful initiative you can donate to for your community, or the elderly and other high-risk populations. Is there anything materially or physically you can do? Spend a day thinking of ways to be of service, then add that to your self-care regime.

After all, one of the best way to get out of your own emotional lows is to help others with their lows. Love, compassion, and community is the best medicine. It lasts longer than laughter.