15 March 2020

What is behind the panic around COVID-19, and what to do?

Is the world going nuts over COVID-19? Clearly it is now a declared pandemic and given the fatality rate being at least 1%, we do need to be take it seriously. However, who feels like we are being caught up in an over-reaction? And what to do???

When panic buying starts – and continues – for things that we have assured supply like toilet paper, there is a need to question what is going on. In my view, the explanation may be due in large part to something we can all do something to alleviate, but first

Thought for the day

   An ancient traveller passes the devil
   Coming from the city he is walking towards.
   He asks
   “Why are you so happy this cold morning?"
   The devil replies
   “I have just killed 10,000 people
   in the city you are about to enter.”

   “How did you do that?”
“Easy” replies the devil
   “I killed one with cholera,’
   the rest will die of fear”.

Have been reflecting upon the panic around COVID-19 for a while and maybe this response will be helpful to some.

To me and many others I speak with there is a viral over-reaction to the virus.

Why so?

I suspect if we do want to lay the blame somewhere, or simply understand things better, anxiety would be a good place to start.

My sense is the general level of anxiety within the community has been steadily rising over recent years and has grown to quite a high level.

The environment, terrorism, financial uncertainty, the acute rate of change just about everywhere we look, failures in leadership; you name it, most places you look into warrant some degree of anxiety for all of us, except maybe those without reasonably well trained minds.

Most of us have been doing what we can to maintain some semblance of equilibrium and keep functioning amidst all the uncertainties. Life goes on.

And then, along comes something really worthy of our fear; but now this particular fear does even more. As well as the direct reaction, the threats associated with the virus bring out and give expression to all those anxieties that have accumulated just below the surface.

This can be compared to a commonly observed response to major grief.

When people experience the loss of someone really dear to them like a partner or parent, it can often seem from the outside as if there is an over-reaction.

One way to understand this is to realise that over the years we all suffer lesser griefs of various magnitude.

Usually we cope.

We find a way through what we may consider to be more minor losses.

Yet often enough things are not completely resolved and residual grief builds and lingers on.

Then a major loss.

And this grief can have the effect of bursting the dam banks; it draws out the many lesser, unresolved griefs of days gone by, leading to an expression of grief that seems from the outside to be more than the current grief warrants.

My sense is this is what is happening with COVID-19. It is drawing out, focussing and leading to the
expression of the accumulated fears and anxiety that have built up throughout our wider community due to the multiple changes and uncertainties we have all been living with for some time.

And so what seems like an over-reaction like the panic buying of toilet paper, makes sense because of the accumulation of anxiety to which the pandemic gives expression.

Now clearly, I am still saying we do need to heed the warnings and act in line with the best medical advice around this pandemic; just go easy on the over-reaction.

It is a time to accept whatever feelings and emotions all of this does stir up in us. At the same time, there is a real need to look after our own health and the health and welfare of those around us, and to commit to doing what is necessary. Acceptance and commitment; but it is not a time to over-react.

So how to do that?

How to manage the anxiety and fear of COVID-19?

1. Use relaxation, mindfulness and meditation
This is clearly a time where making time to practice is important.
Failing that, maybe a few deep breaths and a cold shower.
And some humour to lighten things a little

2. Put your mind elsewhere 
There is a media frenzy at present. Maybe a good time to tune in to other things – get out in nature (and be re-assured by what you experience amidst it), watch funny, inspiring, diverting movies; use your own mind to dwell on other things – change the movies in your head.

3. Use social media and technology to keep in touch
You know what to do…

4. Consider a home retreat
If you are self-isolating at home, or told to work from home, consider creating a more formal home retreat for yourself.

Decide upon a theme – maybe simply meditation, or maybe developing compassion or some specific topic of contemplation, and then decide upon a set period of study and practice for each day.

My guess is people and groups will soon be offering support for such home retreats…

5. If all else fails, resort to logic
There is much misinformation, false news and rumour circulating at a time like this. Seek out reliable sources of information and resist the scaremongers.


In Australia, a good place to start is the Department of Health

            And visually, for a current update, here is Dr Norman Swan and associates on ABC TV

In the USA there is the Centre for Disease Control

For a global perspective, there is the World Health Organisation


  1. Thank you so much for your intelligent and reassuring words. I agree so much with you about the build up of anxiety. I misread your comment about "some degree of anxiety for all of us, except maybe those without reasonably well trained minds" as those WITH well-trained minds. Do you not feel that people who have trained their minds to be more rational and logical are less prone to anxiety and panic? I'm working on mindfulness and positive self talk to help train my mind, if indeed that's possible. A very shareable post, thank you.

    1. Yes, qwerty, those with trained minds are much more likely to have lowered anxiety levels and as such be clearer minded and make good decisions

  2. Thanks Ian. Your wisdom is much appreciated during this trying time.

  3. Thank you for that good, sound, measured common sense. We need exactly that. And yes, let us see this as an opportunity to learn. There is much to learn from times like these. Especially for us in the First World, living such a sheltered life, with no war, no famine, and up to now, no epidemic.

  4. Great article. Thanks for your common sense advice.

  5. Thankyou for your calming words 🙏🏻

  6. thanks for your voice of reason which is sadly lacking around the world.
    My disappontment at society is the lack of real reselience, strenth and the shocking attitude of "me first. I am so fortunate to practice meditation yoga and natural medicine...it has given me real wealth..thanks Ian

  7. Hey Ian :) Good to find you well AND expounding in these happening times. Sending love to you and Ruth, from Kenya, Seikan

    (PS even on the point of the Covid-19 fatality rate being "at least 1% [as a reason] to need to take it seriously", based on recent sophisticated projections, the real fatality rate is interestingly almost certain to be very much lower than 1%, simply because the true number of positives, i.e. inclusive of undiagnosed and asymptomatic positives, appears to be much much higher (potentially by multiples!) compared to currently published figures..����‍♂️)