Gillian Harvey: Three ways I’m managing to keep my head (just) and avoid Coronapanic

Read the latest column from on the trials and tribulations of trying to have it all from freelance writer, author and mum-of-five Gillian Harvey.

Throughout my late twenties and early thirties, I was convinced the world was going to end. Not THE world, but MY world. Anxiety meant I spent most of my time catastrophising about unlikely scenarios.

I’ve been anxiety-free for four years, but I have to say recent events have given me a wobble. Anxiety is an understandable response in these troubled times – but for people with mental health issues, allowing our thoughts to dwell on what’s happening too much could mean a resurgence of old patterns of thinking.

I thought I was being pretty cool-headed about everything at first, but a couple of days ago when I found myself yelling at my eldest for a minor misdemeanour, I realised I wasn’t handling my stress as well as I’d thought. 

For me, uncertainty is torture. And among the speculation and catastrophising, the hope and the fear, the only thing we can be sure of is that Nobody Knows how it’s going to end.

Here in France, my kids’ school is closed, meaning I also have to (try to) home-school them in a second language alongside my day job. I’m worried about friends and family and how they are going to manage. And I’ll be honest, I’m a bit sad that this is all coming just when the book I’ve waited 20 years for is about to hit the shelves. It’s both unimportant and really important at the same time.

Feeling anxious at the moment is a completely logical response but it certainly isn’t helpful. So I’m going to force myself to go back to the drawing board and digging up some of the coping mechanisms I’ve developed in the past. Here’s what I’m going to try:

  • Rebrand the situation – Being isolated and at home with the kids 24/7 (apart from the odd supermarket pop-out) is challenging. But it’s also an opportunity. I’m going to teach my eldest to cook; teach younger ones to tie laces, ride bikes and do all the things with them I never have the time for.
  • Seize the opportunity – Months of uncertainty stretch forward: I can freeze with fear and wait it out, or I can harness the time – even if it’s just by finally organising the cupboard under the stairs (I was going to say I’d write another book, but actually organising the cupboard under the stairs is a greater challenge).
  • Extend kindness – We’re under lockdown here, and because we’ve had fevers we’re avoiding social contact too – but yesterday my neighbour left a bag of chocolates on the step. Just knowing she was thinking of us enough to do this made my day. I’m going to pay it forward and make sure I find ways to show others that they matter.

Finally, I’m going to do my best to protect my children. Both from infection, but also from developing anxious tendencies. Kids already feel out of control a lot of the time – they look to the adults around them for guidance. While I’ll talk to them about the facts, I don’t want this next chapter in their lives to be 100% Corona.

In fact, it’s my hope that they’ll look back on this period of enforced family time and find a way to smile.

Need help with anxiety?

If you struggle with anxiety (or your children are finding the uncertainty right now hard) and would like help, please take a look at these articles:

And finally, here’s some advice on how to talk to your children about Coronavirus from a holistic child psychologist.

Gillian Harvey is a writer and mum-of-five. Her debut novel Everything is Fine is out with Orion in May 2020.