Coping With Threatening News

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picture of worried manWritten by:  Laura Gutierrez

Hearing news that there is a new virus that is highly contagious and spreading globally can be quite alarming. It is the sort of thing that will activate our fight or flight mechanism built-in in our body. The fight or flight mechanism is there to protect us and ensure our survival. It is also true that during times of crisis it is important to remain calm so we can think clearly and come up with solutions. On the one hand, healthy fear protects us but excessive fear impairs clear thinking and gets in the way of resourcefulness. It is key during times of crisis that we listen to the signals our body sends us but that we also know of tools that can help us ground ourselves and transition out of the stress response.

In the article Adjustment Reactions: The Teachable Moment in Crisis Communication, Peter Sandman walks us through the series of behaviors people engage in when they first learn about a new potential risk. These responses are part of the process of adjusting to the new risk:

  1. You pause while you wait to see what’s going to happen, you may stop doing things that suddenly feel dangerous. After 9/11, some people quit flying for a while or stayed away from skyscrapers. During the anthrax attacks, some people hesitated to open their mail. When a U.S. cow was discovered with mad cow disease, some people briefly avoided hamburgers. For this current crisis the pause is evidenced by social distancing and avoiding travel.
  2. You become hyper-vigilant. You watch TV news more than you used to or check Google News every few hours. You may scan your environment for people that may be exhibiting the symptoms of this virus and act accordingly to protect yourself.
  3. You personalize the risk. You imagine what it would be like if this risk was already impacting you or people you love.
  4. You take extra precautions – precautions that are probably unnecessary, or at least premature.

What to Expect

These responses are automatic and deeply ingrained in us and can be referred to as an “adjustment reaction.” It is important during these times to not judge each other’s reaction and practice kindness and patience with each other. These responses happen early, usually before the crisis hits so it may end up been a false alarm. However, we do not want a crisis that spreads faster than people’s concerns about it. It is a survival trait to take a risk seriously and prepare just in case.

The good news is that the adjustment reaction is transitory, designed to help us prepare for what comes next. Some people get stuck in a long-term over-reaction and may need clinical help. Most people “over-react” briefly which is normal and healthy. The adjustment reaction serves the function of an emotional rehearsal which gets you psychologically prepared to cope if crisis hits. It can help to rehearse before the crisis unfolds, the adjustment reaction functions a little like an inoculation psychologically. People who have gone through a successful adjustment reaction are less likely to over-react to an actual crisis that follows.

Tips for Grounding Yourself

  • Tapping Solutions: Download application at It offers a series of free tapping meditations to help release anxiety around the Coronavirus.
  • Find inspirational quotes and stories that uplift you and will nourish your mind and spirit, build up your resilience and help you see crisis in a different light.
  • Get in touch with your senses, when you engage your sense of sight, taste, touch, smell, or hearing you are forced to slow down, get out of your head and be in the moment. Feel the sun on your skin, the air brush your skin, smell the dirt and grass underneath your feet, hear the winds and birds singing, dance, get lost in your imagination while you listen to music that uplifts you and energizes you.
  • Focus on solutions and not the problem and never lose hope, we will get through this.

 If you need immediate support during these times don’t hesitate to call us at Pennock Center, we are here to help and are currently offering one-time, no charge, phone or video contact. Call us at 303-655-9065 for more details.