When I was 5, my mother enrolled me in a swimming class. By 6, I was a fish. As a teenager, a competition arose among my swimming buddies which went like this: who could swim the greatest distance underwater?

Secretly, I practiced at home. Using a stopwatch, I’d hold my breath for longer and longer times. I was the undisputed underwater champion, “Scuba Dick.” But no matter how hard I practiced, there always came a point where fear overrode determination — my brain would scream: surface, surface!

For months, we’ve held our breaths under the oppressive dome of fear cast by COVID-19.

“Hold on,” we chant, “it will pass.” But this daily fear grinds down our spirit, to the point of imagined recklessness: you drive over to your daughter’s home and hug her and kiss your grandchildren; you sprint through a shopping mall with fists full of dollars; you pig out at a restaurant; your back slips down on a soft seat and you eat popcorn, as your mind is entranced by the cinematic magic of a real movie theater.

Suddenly, you return to reality and hold your breath. How can anyone survive chronic fear? Today’s article will help you answer this question. Here’s your outline:

Part One: Know your enemy — a quiz about COVID-19.

Part Two: Fear Busters

Part Three: Esprit de Corps: Restoring hope.

PART ONE: CORONAVIRUS QUIZ:

1. Which of the following explains why COVID-19 punches with fear?

A. No one alive has experienced a pandemic like this one.

B. Since the virus is new, we face the unknown — where did it come from, how does it travel?

C. No vaccines, no cure.

D. Uncle Sam has let us down. Where are the healthcare workers’ protective clothing? Where are the expansions of ICU units or ventilators?

E. Information about the virus changes daily: Don’t wear masks, give masks to hospitals, wear a mask, wear a scarf.

Answer: All

2. How is COVID-19 and the flu alike?

A. Both cause cough, fever, fatigue and muscle aches.

B. Both range in severity from mild to fatal.

C. Both are spread from person-to-person contact.

D. Both can be prevented by hand washing, not coughing on others, quarantine, physical and social distancing.

E. Both can be treated with antibiotics.

Answer: All except E. Antibiotics treat only bacterial infections. COVID-19 and the flu are viral infections.

3. How are COVID-19 and the flu different?

A. COVID-19 is caused by one specific virus — SARS-COV-2. The flu has many types and subtypes.

B. While both can spread from person-to-person, COVID-19 can leave tiny droplets in the air, which can cause infection after the carrier has left.

C. The flu has vaccines and anti-viral medications; COVID-19 does not.

D. The flu causes more deaths than COVID-19.

Answer: All except D — recent data now suggests the mortality rate of COVID-19 is higher than most flu strains.

4. The spread of COVID-19 is enhanced by travel. How many airline passengers fly per year?

A. 150,000

B. 1.5 million

C. 1.5 billion

Answer: C

5. In 2003, a new disease called SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) struck the planet. This new disease was identified as:

A. Bacterial infection.

B. Flu strain.

C. Atypical pneumonia.

D. A coronavirus.

Answer: D

6. What public health measures were put in place to stop SARS?

A. Infected people were quarantined at home with cameras installed to detect visitors.

B. Contact tracing — infected people were required to report all contact with others.

C. Travel restriction— screening was done at all borders.

D. Fever detection cameras were installed in airports.

E. Infection prevention at hospitals — disposable masks, shoes, gowns and eye protection.

Answer: All

PART TWO: FEAR BUSTERS

Since your fears about the virus are reality-based, you must find a way to alter the relationship between you and your fears. Here are suggestions:

1. Put your fears on a leash, name your dog or cat of fear and communicate this with others. During WWII, Winston Churchill suffered from debilitating anxiety and depression. On the days he could not function, this sign was placed on this door — “THE BLACK DOG IS OUT.” He did not say, “I’m too anxious to rule Great Britain.” The label “Black Dog” altered his relationship with fear, until his strength returned.

2. Life is delivered to us in a package called, “One day.” If you create two bookends, first thing in the day, last thing in the day, you may be able to achieve this small miracle — Focus on what you have, instead of what you’ve lost. Hold that throughout the day, and then at night, give thanks. I do this: “My wife, son and daughter are not in the ICU; they are alive and healthy.”

3. Meditation matters. What is meditation? Focused concentration. By learning how to focus your mind, you can power through fear. The problem is, meditation is a skill that takes practice.

PART THREE:ESPRIT DE CORPS — RESTORING HOPE

At 15, I was sent to a military academy in St. Louis. I arrived on a Friday, and after dinner, I found myself standing at attention with 20 other new cadets. From 7-8:30 pm, a lieutenant senior lectured us. My legs began to shake, my stomach was sick with fear. “I can’t handle this.”

In a panic, I looked to my right and saw Tom, my roommate, with a big grin on his face. Next, I glanced to my left, where another cadet had a smirk on his face. Suddenly, my fear drained away. I realized I was not alone — if they could make it, so could I.

Esprit de Corps is the military term for hope through connection. To fight fear, you must connect with others. Together, you will survive.

(The content of this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for treatment by a professional.)

References:

1. John Hopkins Center for Systems Science of Engineering — Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases Map, April 11, 2020.

2. “Diseases,” Mary Dobson, 2013.

Dr. Richard Elghammer is a clinical psychologist in Danville and practices at the Elghammer Family Center. He received specialty training in child, adolescent and family psychology at Riley’s Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis, and completed his clinical internship at Indiana University School of Medicine.

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