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October 28, 2020
 

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Regulating our emotions during a pandemic

2020 has certainly had an emotional toll on us all.

By Christian Steiner, MD 

Psychiatry Center of Northwest Ohio 

How do we regulate our emotions in times of uncertainty? 2020 has been a year that many of us wish would come to an end. A pandemic that has people fearful, neighbors arguing and everyone forced to socially isolate. Watching a volatile market take staccato breaths while playing with our life savings and retirement.

School and sports are either canceled or placed on some form of special schedule. The certainties that we take for granted are all uncertain. 2020 has certainly had an emotional toll on us all.

It is human nature to want to have control. A lack of control is, by definition, chaos.

This reminds me of our human relationship with fire. Wildfire can tear through vast swaths of wilderness and cause destruction and death. When we finally get a grasp on uncertainty, we finally feel comfort.

Control of chaos can bring us comfort.

This brings to mind my Grandfather's wood stove in rural Hancock County. He would work and sweat, cutting down dead and dying trees all year long. We would stack the wood to season and dry and then transport it from the woodshed to the house. Throughout the day, he would tend to his fire, throwing logs in while a cloud of embers and ash flew about in the firebox.

Grandpa's firebox can be symbolic. Much like fire, fear, when not contained, can be destructive and hazardous.

How do we put fear in a firebox? Realize what we do have in life and work on that. Understand that pandemics move in more of a slow, glacially destructive fashion rather than a rapid tornado. Use common sense, wash your hands and wear a mask when out and socially distance ourselves, to help stop the spread of a droplet born disease (the same reason surgeons have worn masks in the operating room for over one hundred years). 

If the television news networks keep showing flashing headlines with clanging sounds stating, "Breaking News," they are exploiting our fear and interest, so we won't change the channel and sit through another advertisement that brings them revenue while reinforcing fear within us.

If we feel we are in news overload, perhaps it's time to turn the channel and watch something else. Or better yet, go outside and enjoy nature, go for a walk, read a classic book and disengage from the chaos.

Pandemics come and go. But unfortunately, so does life. We can be like Sir Isaac Newton, who discovered calculus and many elements of physics during the plague, or we can sit in front of the television and wait to see what the latest "Breaking News" is. Fear can be powerful, like fire can be powerful. 

The challenge is to control it well enough that we can warm our wet, cold feet next to it instead of running in panic from it.