Small and the Corona Virus

It’s difficult not to become panicked about the Corona Virus. Even if you remind yourself to remain calm, repeat that you are doing what you need to do, somebody around you fires up, and you’re off and running: Did I remember to use sanitizer after I opened that door? Should I have worn a mask when I shopped at Trader Joe’s? Oh my gosh, I just touched my eye, and I’m not sure that my hand is clean!

As well, I keep receiving emails asking what precautions Steve and I have decided to take. Have we cancelled our trip to France in May? Did we go to the Joffrey Ballet performance last Saturday? Are we still hosting a small get together next weekend?

Nobody has ever accused me of remaining too calm in any situation. In fact, I don’t think anybody, in any situation, has ever described me as calm. As I often admit, I’m quite reactive, though I’m learning, after my initial upwelling of adrenalin, to settle down much more quickly than in the past.

By now you understand that it’s not easy for me to remain calm in the face of everything I’m hearing and receiving about the virus. But this week, I realized that the impending spread of the disease in California was an excellent opportunity to think small. Instead of keeping track of everything I’m supposed to be doing to fend off, or minimize the virus, I decided to concentrate on one preventative behavioral measure every few days, and I immediately felt calmer.

Since learning not to touch your face seems to be the most important change, I broke the behavior down into separate elements.

First, for several days, I switched most touching activity in public to my left hand. I tried to remember to open doors with my left hand (if a hand was necessary), pick up products from shelves with my left hand, pay at cash registers as a leftie, etc. Since it is my right hand that flies most frequently to my face, becoming a southpaw in public seemed a sound idea. As well, it would be great exercise for the right side of my brain.

The shift left went smoothly, so now I’m trying to remember not to touch my face. And if my hand begins moving upward, to turn the back of my hand toward me, so contact will be much less germ infested.

Once I see that I’ve mastered these two small shifts, I’ll move on to diminishing my public exposure. So far, I have not avoided the outside world, nor have I stayed away from crowds. We did attend the Joffrey Ballet performance last weekend—though we swabbed down our seats. And I have eaten in restaurants. Most likely the next exposure to eliminate will be restaurant eating. And that decision will provide a silver lining to my pocketbook. However, I’m not there yet; and another aspect of thinking small is to concentrate on my focus for today, and not begin thinking about the futurel

So far, I’m finding that thinking small about the latest crisis works. In the first place, it’s so much easier to spend several days learning a small new behavior than trying to shift globally. Equally important, knowing that I’m working on prevention helps contain my anxiety and allows me to remain calm, though concerned, about what the next weeks will bring.

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