Coronavirus Anxiety Podcast


Carly’s Couch — This week everyone is preoccupied with Covid-19 and so I thought it a good idea to address what feelings might be coming up for you at this time and to connect with you over some helpful ideas I’ve seen floating around. Stay safe out there!


You’re listening to On the Couch With Carly. Carly’s Couch is a safe space to talk. I’m a psychologist. But I’m not you pipe-smoking, tweed wearing stereotype.

Hi this is Carly. I have decided to talk to you today because it’s on everybody’s mind, it is literally taking over everybody’s mental space. The coronavirus has became a very real thing in our lives. And I thought it would be a good idea to just to talk you about what you might be feeling, and what you can maybe do with those feelings. And to just be here with you in the experience, and to give you something that is not another information overload,Ted Talk vibe. I’m not here to give you any information about the virus, or what you can do to prevent spread, or symptoms, or looking out for symptoms or what we know from the scientific data. I think there’s enough of those podcasts, there’s enough of that information around.

Today I just want to talk to you about the feelings around the virus and the precautions that one has to take, and how this will affect our lives, and how you might be feeling right now about that. So, from where I am it is Monday, the 16th of March. And last night our president (in South Africa) informed us all that we have to do social distancing, not travel, all of that. And I think we knew that it was coming. Definitely people that I know who are in Italy and Germany are already doing that, and have experienced lock-downs and everything else. So I was aware that this was probably about to happen. But it definitely is important to reflect on the feeling that that brings. And even before this announcement, I think the feelings have already started to be circulating in the collective consciousness. So I want to acknowledge that I’ve been feeling and seeing in people, a lot of anxiety. A lot of particular anxiety kind of anxiety (we call it persecutory anxiety). The idea of something bad could happen to you. The idea that you going to be extinguished, you know. Its a very primal anxiety. It hits us in our core. And so we have to acknowledge it is going to have a big impact on us.

So, what we do see and I think you’ll probably agree that you’ve seen this in your own lives, is that people start to act a bit bonkers. And things go a bit weird, things go bit arigh. The energy in the world feels different. And that is because we’re all on high alert. It feels like we’re ants and some mean kid is holding a magnifying glass to the sun, above us and we’re scattering because we can feel the burn, you know. It’s scary because I think there are other things that we should be just as anxious about actually like climate change, goodness knows what else…. politics and everything else that has actually got some real risk to it, and could threaten our world, as we know it. But this seems more immediate, and I think that’s why we’ve all responded in a much more immediate way.

So, I just want to normalize for you what might be some reactions to these feelings. So just notice in yourselves what you are feeling right now. You might have some tension in your body, maybe just think about doing a quick body scan. Going down from your head to your toes. To look at where in your body are you holding tension, right now. And you can maybe try to relax those parts. Sometimes its best to tense and then relax, tense and then relax, tense and then relax those muscles because that really helps the muscles groups to relax. Or you can just send your attention there, and try to breathe through those pockets of tension. But I think its just important to notice, first and foremost, where we might be holding tension, to just acknowledge that this might have something to do with it. And then to look at the thoughts in our minds, and how the thoughts are connected to global news on social media, what your friend said, your mother said, whoever said.

You know, we will all have our own specific reactions to this, and its important to take note of that. What is the first thing you thought about? Who are the people you’re most worried about? What are you busy doing in your mind right now?  And to try and separate if you can, thoughts that are about something that you can do right now, and something that’s in the future, which you have no control over.

When we are faced with this kind of persecutory anxiety, we tend to overgeneralize, and catastrophize. And we generally can become: “The world is coming to an end.” Doom and gloom apocalyptic vibes. Let me tell you, I completely understand if that’s what you are thinking because I’ve never experienced something more apocalyptic in my life than this. So, you know, so lets normalize that that’s a very reasonable response. But let’s just also have a chance to think through those thoughts and to see if there are some of those thoughts that are helpful and meaningful. And some that are not helpful, and not really going to aid you at this time.

So, if the thoughts are not about something that you can do right now, if the thoughts are not about a realistic experience that may or may not happen right now just think about maybe choosing to think about something else instead. The wonderful thing about thoughts that are irrational, thoughts that are not about this moment, thoughts that are about the past and future and not about the present moment- is that they are wonderful things to take to therapy.

In everything there is a silver lining. And one of the silver linings about this catastrophe, this global freak out, is that you can still make use of a therapeutic space, where you can still unpack and look at the various concerns, worries, connections that you’re making with your past experiences and with the unknown future which is ahead of us. So although I’ve given you the advice to connect with the present moment, and to not to be too taken up by the worries of the future. I’m saying that in a practical sense. From a therapeutic perspective that’s where you take that stuff. So, if you have a therapeutic space, that’s where you take that stuff. And it’s important to acknowledge that stuff and to work through that stuff. There is real value in that. So, if you don’t have someone to speak to right now, you can contact my business Carly’s Couch. We have made the decision to do all of our sessions online, going forward. So, I am available for online consultations. My colleagues are available for online consultations. So if you would like to speak to us, please send me an email:, okay.

But just continuing the discussion about how you might be feeling. So, the anxiety is often about the scary, unknown future, and there’s nothing really we can really do about that. Although there are very practical solutions that I’m sure you’re all aware of, that we can do to curb the spread of corona virus. If anything, I would emplore you to try to just be aware of when we are anxious, when we are faced with persecutory anxiety, there may be a inclination to want to do something more: “What can we do? I want to do something.” Maybe you feel very agitated. Maybe you feel very physically agitated. You can’t sit still. Your body feels like it is not at rest. So, the idea of being at home may feel very difficult right now. So, just be aware of that. Be aware of how the anxiety is articulating through your body.

Don’t feel like you need to fight that, or resist that. I think there are amazing opportunities to use this energy, and to harness it, and to do something with it. I follow Brandslut on Instagram, and she has been sharing some ideas for how to basically use this opportunity to build local businesses, to support local businesses that maybe can’t operate as usual. But maybe try and think about ways that they can transform at this time, to actually meet needs. Because of course there are new needs that are coming about because people are at home. Maybe new online sector stuff needs to be built. So anyway, I really enjoy that kind of innovation and ingenuity. So she’s really trying to say: “Let’s all come together, and think about what we can do.

I think it’s a really brilliant way of using and channeling that anxiety, and that tension, and that need for action into something that could be really useful for yourself and others. I think what’s really important is that I’m seeing a lot of messages on social media around what staying apart, and being disconnected at this time actually means. And how it is a form of Ubuntu. I don’t know if you know, if you’re not from South Africa, you wouldn’t know this term. It means the idea of looking after the collective, that people are interconnected, and what is good for me is good for the group, and what is good for the group is good for me, and I need to think of myself as always interconnected with other people.

I think in a way this has almost become meaningful, that this virus has actually brought people into that awareness. That we’re all connected. We think of ourselves alone all of the time but right now we really have to think a lot about other people. Me choosing not to work is not just a decision because I want to protect my own health, but I want to protect the health of my clients, and their families who they may be in contact with. I think we’re all starting to think quite collectively right now, and I think that is a beautiful thing. What I’m seeing is a lot of positive messages about how even when we’re at home, we are still together, we are still connected, we are still thinking of one another. And there are so many things that can be connected still, even if we can’t be face to face.

And I suppose that’s also why I wanted to jump on here, and do this podcast now and get it out as soon as possible. So that you can all hear this message. That there is connection, and thank goodness for this technology. There is a chance to connect with one another. And never before has there been a need to reach out to people in anywhere you can, that isn’t in person. So for those people who not with their families, in the same countries as their families, they can’t travel right now- that is going to feel like a huge, huge weight on you. And really I want you to know that my heart really aches for you and your families. I know what it means to be separate during times of disaster. Through extreme periods of stress. So I want you to just think about spending as much time connecting with the people in your life as possible. Even if it has to be over FaceTime or WhatsApp, or whatever platform you use.

We are so lucky that we have this technology now, so that we can still connect, we can still send messages of love and support. We can still send people money, if needs be. In South Africa we have a massive culture of having domestic workers, people who are earning very, very little money, who work in our homes. And most of those people are living in improvised communities, and you need to be mindful of that right now. People like me who have jobs where I can still work online. I can still make an income. I feel like it is my responsibility then to take care of the people that work for me. To be looked after at this time. To still pay them even if they don’t come to work. To not expect them to come to work. To not expect them to get on public transport, where this disease will be spread.

You know, it’s very very hard for people to think about collective health over money. It’s very hard for people to think about collective needs over one’s own needs. But I think this has made that conversation even more necessary right now. So I hope that part of this anxiety that you’re feeling about your own existence, and the existence of your family that you love. I hope that it extends to other people as well. This is the time to reach out to other people, to try and connect, try and make it better for everybody. I saw a lovely thing on social media where they were talking about the comparison of this to maybe a world war, where everybody had to take extreme measures. This is possibly our world war, and it’s important to think about who do you want to be in this context. What is your role? And I want to normalise whatever you choose. It’s okay if what you can manage right now is to be at home, on your own, and to have no contact with people-and that’s it. That is doing enough, and thank you for that.

If you want to do more, I think, and that will make you feel better-then that is amazing as well. I think there are lots of positives about this experience. We can look at those positives but also to not put pressure on anyone. This is not the time to look at people and start going: “You did this. You did that. And that’s not good enough. And I’m comparing this one who did more”. That’s not fair. So I think that’s really important to know that in the beginning when everyone was just thinking that this was a whole lot of hype, that people are being crazy: “Why would they start buying toilet paper?” It is easy to look at other people’s behavior, and point and laugh, and say: “Haha, they choosing the wrong option here. They’re idiots. Why are they doing that?” But just also remember that at times of stress we do respond strangely. So you have to have compassion for humanity, for the fact that we are those ants under the magnifying glass right now.

We’re scattering. We don’t know what to do. We don’t quite know how to think. We’re looking for leadership. There are lots of people giving advice. We can follow these instructions as best as possible, that might not necessarily make us feel better. That might not make us feel that we are not going to die. So, just be aware of that feeling being very, very powerful, and how it might affect you and others around you.

And try to have compassion for that because it is a very scary situation for a lot of people. And some people cope with that sort of anxiety and fear better than others. Some people will choose to use denial: “It’s not happening. It’s not me, I don’t care.” And maybe we have to try to help them to be better informed. But you have to accept that not everybody’s going to respond in the way that you do, or the way you’d like to. So yes, I just wanted to come on here and speak to you about all of these experiences, relate to you with all of this. I think it’s important that we share this kind of compassionate understanding, of one another in this experience. And just try to be kind to yourself, and to others. It is very scary and I think it does push our buttons and that’s really important to see. But when our buttons are pushed, how do we respond? What do we respond with and to understand that a little bit. “Well I respond like this because it reminds me of this experience when I was little, or I respond like this because I imagine this scenario, which is my biggest fear.” Or to, you know, just have that awareness of what is going through your mind, what is on your mind. And to just look out for one another.

So I don’t know if you’ve seen there’s lovely stories coming out of the US about the older people who are afraid to go into the grocery store. To just think about the people who are most at risk, and try to take care of them, if you can. And it will maybe will feel like you’re busying yourself and giving yourself something to do while you deal with these overwhelming feelings. And just look after yourself. Stress and anxiety has a role to play in our immune systems. The more stressed we are, the more our immune systems are affected, the less capable our bodies are of fighting off infections. So just reckon with your stress as much as possible. You must use this opportunity to breath. To relax. To rest. To try and find times of solitude and reflection, calm.

And if that fails, well, I think one of the greatest things we are seeing out of this is that there are so many wonderful jokes and memes. And I think human beings do cope with difficulties with humor. I think it’s a fantastic coping mechanism. I think if you are using physical release, maybe you are stuck at home, but you can still put the music loudly and have a dance party in your living room. Facetime your family and have a dance party together. I don’t know. Just remember that all of that is okay. It’s okay to be freaked out and anxious. But also it’s okay to find weird and wacky ways of finding your way through this anxiety, and this tension, in these weird times. And you know, you might be feeling just very scared, at odds with the world. And that’s okay, take time to acclimatize. This has all happened very quickly, things are changing very quickly. The news is spreading, the virus is spreading. And as it gets more and more intense we are going to feel more and more intense feelings.

And so you just have to take it slow. Take it slow on yourself. Don’t rush to get better. Don’t rush to feel that you’ve got it figured out. Just give yourself the time to adjust to this big, big change. And think, as much as you can, about how adjustments can be made, what necessary changes have to be taken. And just keep safe, and keep healthy. You know, I think everybody knows to do the social distancing thing. What that might look like for you, might be different from everyone else. But just try and remember that if you are struggling with feeling alone because social distancing means that you have stay at home, and you aren’t getting connected to people and that’s really hard. Then just try, as I said before, to connect online, and try to connect with those feelings of loneliness and isolation that you may feel. This going to be challenging for everybody.

It is a huge challenge that we all face. And I think all I can say is, be with your feelings, try and be aware of what’s coming up for you. And as I said, reach out to us if you need to talk to a professional about your feelings. You know it’s totally okay to have all sorts of irrational, crazy, wacky, wonderful fantasies about what might happen, you know, what comes up for you. And that’s totally okay and understandable at this time. So just normalise that. Normalise all the experiences that you’re having. And try to do that for your friends and family as well. To just talk about it. Talk about what’s difficult. Talk about what’s scary. The more we talk, the more we connect. The easier it will be for everyone. So just keep reaching out, keep connecting. I will answer any questions you have. So please connect with me, if you want, about that, and I will share with you online.

My thoughts are with everyone. It’s a very difficult time, and I want you to know that you are not alone in your emotions. Whatever you feeling, there’s probably someone else who is feeling the same thing. So yes, just be with that process. And stay healthy. Stay well. We’ll speak soon. Bye.

This podcast is recorded at Edible Audio, in Cape Town, South Africa.

Edited by Edible Audio. Original music by: Alex Smillie

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