How To Stop The Panic


Everyone is on edge. We’re all scared. Worried. Tired of staying home.

It’s important to know that it’s ok to panic and feel overwhelmed. That’s part of being human. You don’t need to feel bad about that.

When you’re facing a crisis or a panic moment, this is where you need to focus. On your circle of control.

This can bring you out of panic mode because those are the things you can be confident about what the outcome is going to be.

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Full Transcript

So, quick story …

A few nights ago, I had a bit of a panic moment. I thought the worst had happened, that the dreaded COVID19 virus had broken into our home.

Ben was sitting quietly in his wheelchair and out of nowhere he started showing a painful look on his face and really unhappy sounds were coming from him, almost like a cry. He never cries, only when he is sick.

I felt his forehead. It felt warm.

I tried not to let on to his caregiver that I had this gut-wrenching awful feeling building inside me. If Bed had the virus, that would be absolutely horrible. I don’t think I have to explain why.

In that panic moment, the biggest thing I worried about was the intense shortness of breath and suffocating feeling that so many people have talked about. And how terrifying that is. And how that would affect Ben.

And then I thought, even if the virus doesn’t affect him in a bad way, we’d still have to go into quarantine, and lock out his caregivers for the next 2 weeks. And they’d have to quarantine themselves to not expose their families.

And if they weren’t around and either Jan or I got sick, what would we do?

And then what if we had to go to the hospital at some point? It’s one thing to spend a night in the ER pre COVID19. But going to a hospital today would be absolutely horrific. PPEs all around. Just like in the movie Contagion.

Because, of course, when the top health experts in the world like Dr. Tony Fauci and Dr. Theresa Tam tell us there is no real treatment, that’s a nightmare scenario. That makes me want to throw up.

During those briefs moments of my mind spinning out of control, I also had the pain of guilt that we had somehow failed Ben. He relies on us for EVERYTHING, including his safety.

As he lay in the bathtub, I was able to get control of my irrational mind. And realized that he had NOT contracted COVID19. He was actually having severe muscle cramps in his legs and shoulders because he hadn’t been able to go to his weekly physio appts for the last several weeks.

So, no, he wasn’t sick, thank God, and neither is anyone else in household. But for those 20 to 30 minutes, the fear and anxiety was all consuming.

Then, earlier today, I read a FB post from a friend where she talked about her pandemic reflections, and how she has been waking up in the middle of the night, and the fear that comes along with it.

In a way, my panic attack was to be expected sooner or later. I mean, everyone is on edge. We’re all scared. Worried. Tired of staying home. Even Chris Cuomo, a prominent CNN journalist, somehow contracted the virus and the other night he told his audience how awful it was and how scared he became.

Now whether you like Chris Cuomo or not, doesn’t matter. The important thing is to understand that this virus cares nothing about your name or where you live. That’s why it’s so scary.

It’s also important to know that it’s ok to panic and feel overwhelmed. That’s part of being human. You don’t need to feel bad about that.

Ok, so why am I telling you all this? Well, here’s what I’ve learned that I think can help.

First, if you were to list all the things you care about or are concerned about it, the list would be quite long, I bet. You’d probably throw in COVID19 into that list.

Then there are the things we care about that we can actually influence. That’s a smaller list.

And THEN there are the things we can actually control. Those are a lot fewer in number but they matter a lot, because they’re under our control.

Now, instead of lists, let’s look at them as circles within each other. The biggest is your circle of concern. Then inside that is your Circle of influence. And smaller still is your circle of control.

You see, when you’re facing a crisis or a panic moment, like I did the other day, this is where you need to focus. On your circle of control. This can bring you out of panic mode because those are the things you can be confident about what the outcome is going to be.

What does all that mean, anyway? Well, let me give you a few examples.

A few weeks ago, when the stories got more intense and more worrisome about the virus spreading worldwide, until it was finally labeled a worldwide pandemic, we realized that the priority was to protect Ben from getting it. So we did 3 things that were inside our circle of control.

The first was deciding to limit who came into our home, that included caregivers and family members. Ben’s team of caregivers, which we call Team Ben, includes 6 people. We knew it didn’t make sense to have all 6 people coming and going – I mean you’ve seen the graphs how the spread grows exponentially, right?

So we decided to only have 2 members of Team Ben care for him, at different times, even though everyone was healthy and feeling fine. We needed to control who came into our home, and who didn’t.

That would mean there would be a minimum number of interactions his team would have with others outside of our home which would reduce the chances of anyone bringing the virus to him. And Ben is the only person they care for. So that’s the first thing.

The second controlling action we put in place was being super diligent, to the point of being annoying, with what we call “extreme sanitizing”. That meant that every time anyone entered our house (and that included me & Jan), they had to do 4 things:

1. They had to hang up their outerwear at the back door, so it didn’t enter the house.

2. They had to change out of their “outside” shoes into their “inside” ones, which they left at our house.

3. They had to wash and scrub their hands for at least 20 secs – I had posted a really good video on the Team Ben FB page on how to do that.

4. And last, they had to clean their cell phones, wallets, purses and anything else they brought in with sanitizing wipes and then wash their hands again.

Sounds extreme, I know? Oh, I left out one other step.

We got rid of our hand towels and now only use paper towels to dry our hands, and to wash and dry dishes, so we can discard them easily.

You see, protecting Ben is IN our circle of control. That’s our priority right now. We can have control over that.

And the way we chose to do to that was to do everything we could to stop the spread of the virus at our back door, short of locking the doors to everyone until the pandemic was all over.

Now maybe you’re asking but what if his caregivers actually have the virus and are asymptomatic? Shouldn’t they wear a mask so they don’t expose Ben to it?

I suppose that’s true. But at the same time, we know that Ben’s caregivers are minimizing their exposure to the outside world just like we are. And in our city, most are adhering to self-isolation and physical distancing.

But isn’t it also possible that if Ben did get the virus, that he could be asymptomatic too? I don’t believe any expert knows why some people are and some aren’t.

There are no guarantees, of course, but if we’re all staying away from people and washing our hands really well, the risk of getting it should be quite low.

But you see what’s also happening here, kind of indirectly.

By enforcing this extreme sanitizing regimen, we’re actually influencing a change in Ben’s caregivers’ behaviour. Not that they weren’t focused on their hygiene before. They were. But now it was THE MOST important thing in their mind as soon as they walk through the door, whether they like it or not, because they know how important protecting Ben is.

And taking it one step further, by changing their behaviour, we’re actually having an impact on the things we care about like slowing the spread, which is in our circle of concern.

Quick sidebar … if you want to learn more about these circles, check out Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People under Habit 1.

You see, focusing on your circle of control is part of “winning the next shift.” If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just go to the Soaring Families website and you’ll find a short video all about the 4 coping strategies we’ve learned over the years that work no matter what.

So, bottom line, when you sense those panicky feelings start to take over, always remember that there are things that in your control. Figure out what those are. And by focusing on those, you can almost always pull yourself out of that downward spiral.

Take care. Be well.


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