Take control: survive and thrive in a future pandemic

Pumpkin lantern wearing blue surgical face mask

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

We now know it’s likely we’ll face many different variants of COVID in future. And that’s a message most people don’t want to hear. However, it’s sensible to acknowledge the possibility exists. Rather than dismissing this scenario out of hand, take control of your responses. Plan your strategy now, and be confident you’ll thrive in a future pandemic.

Choose to control what you can

Obviously individuals have no control over whether another variant of COVID will emerge. No-one even knows enough to say whether it definitely will or won’t happen. So there’s no point worrying about when and where it might occur.

But chances are that it’s at least a possibility. And you can take control of how well you manage.

So don’t be a naïve optimist and assume you’ll be fine. On the other hand, don’t be a pessimist and assume the worst case scenario will definitely happen.

Instead, be a realistic optimist. Accept we’ll never know the future. Accept the worst case scenario may possibly happen, and then plan for the best outcome. Take control of what you can, and let go of worries about what is out of your control. Ensure that you’ll survive and thrive in a future pandemic.

Control your reactions

Rather than anguishing about “what ifs,” choose to put your worries to one side. Each time they pop up, remind yourself to let them go, and focus on doing something useful.

Of course, some worry is normal during a distressing situation such as COVID. But high levels of worry can be crippling, and will affect how well you function on a day-to-day basis. You can’t think straight, you don’t eat or sleep well, you’re tense and irritable, and may even have panic attacks.

And the reality is that worrying won’t help. Worry happens solely inside your head, so you don’t achieve anything in the real world. And the more you worry about something, the more the worry grows. It dominates your thoughts, and stops you focussing on doing anything effective.

You can reduce worry

Unfortunately, like many people with anxiety, you may assume that you can’t change. That you have to live with worry, because it’s “just the way you are.” You’ve always been like this, and maybe your parents have too.

You’re so used to worrying that you don’t notice the toll it takes on your time and energy each day.

But imagine living without excessive worry. How much lighter and carefree would you feel?

The truth is that you can change how much you worry. Don’t assume you have to put up with worry forever. You can learn to let worry go – if you’re willing to take some of the actions described below.

Improve your mood too

You can also learn ways to change how good or bad your mood is. No-one has to live with unpleasant levels of sadness.

By managing your thoughts and feelings, you won’t have to drag yourself through each day. And you won’t feel so helpless in the face of difficult events.

Best of all, reducing worry and improving your mood will make it easier to plan and take effective action. You’ll cope much better with difficulties that come your way, COVID-related or not. But to thrive in a future pandemic, it’s important to take action now.

Commit to your mental health

So it’s up to you. Are you willing to take the first step to improving your resilience?

Commit to taking control of your mental health. Ideally, you could find a psychologist in your local area or via a telehealth consult. Unfortunately, waiting lists have blown out during the pandemic.

But don’t be discouraged. Plenty of other avenues are open to you while you’re waiting for an appointment. Loads of information written by mental health specialists is on the internet. In addition, library books written by psychologists about anxiety and depression are a valuable resource.

Reassess where you’re headed

The last couple of years have been a watershed for many people. Enforced restrictions during the pandemic have triggered many to reassess the direction they’re headed in life.

Realising they’re not satisfied with some aspect of their lives, they’ve embarked on change. Whether it’s their job, relationship, social or leisure activities, or personal growth, they’ve set new goals for themselves.

You may also benefit from an appraisal of your life. What’s working for you, and what isn’t? Spend some time thinking about what you want to change. Then start working on one area. Take one small step at a time, and get that working before you start on another. As you slowly achieve one step after another, you’ll have more confidence in your ability to bring about what you want.

And what better time to start than now. Take action so you can keep the process going, no matter what circumstances may arise in future.

Control your environment

Once you’ve started to take control of your thoughts, emotions and behaviours, start working on your surroundings.

Take control of your environment as much as you can. This means taking strategic, effective action.

Be proactive and don’t wait to be taken by surprise again. Plan now to make it easier on yourself if we ever have more restrictions.

Then you’ll manage another difficult situation more effectively if you need to. And you’ll be less likely to feel overwhelmed by what you have to do.

Preparing now reduces your fears of life getting out of control again, and strengthens your resilience. And that will give you the best chance to thrive in a future pandemic.

Tackle steps gradually

So how can you do this? Obviously, there are many things you could tackle, but be sensible. Don’t try to do everything at once. Work step by step through ideas on the following list that are relevant to you. Add in your own ideas as well.

So depending on your situation:

1 Slowly store up non-perishable foods, toiletries and medical supplies. Buy one or two extra items a week.

Focus on dried foods as well, and store them in glass containers if possible. Rotate with new goods regularly to prevent spoilage.

2 Learn to access telehealth services, and home deliveries of pharmaceuticals and groceries. Make sure you can use QR codes and access your digital health records.

3 Set up apps to communicate face-to-face with friends, family and work-mates. Get back into contact with good friends you may have recently lost contact with.

4 Enrich your life with hobbies and interests. Have a stockpile of ideas that will help you tolerate isolation. If you can, get in some supplies for crafts and hobbies. Register for the digital section of your local library. Then you’ll always have books and magazines to read or listen to.

5 Reorganise living spaces to make them work even better for those who may work or study from home. Splash out and buy a more comfortable desk, chair, lamp or other equipment if you need it.

6 Get pre-existing health conditions treated now to minimise your vulnerability. Follow recommended actions to maintain your health. The healthier you are, the less likelihood that you’ll be seriously ill.

7 Slowly build up your physical endurance, flexibility and muscle strength. Work out a simple set of activities or dances to use during any future lockdown. Make them short and easy, and start doing them now. Then it’ll be less painful to motivate yourself when the going gets tough.

8 Get fully vaccinated. In addition, make sure you get flu or any other vaccinations that your doctor suggests for your age group.

9 Get a new supply of face masks and hand sanitiser.

Our level of control varies

What we’ve been able to control through the current pandemic has kept changing. Both governments and individuals have had different levels of control at different times.

And the same thing applies to most areas of life. So it’s vital that you’re able to adapt quickly to change.

Keep adapting to change

Most aspects of life fall into the category of things we can partially control. How much control we can exert depends on a range of external and internal factors.

However, focus on carrying out the most effective strategies to manage risk. Target actions that will actually improve a situation if it arises.

To do this, you need to be able to accept reality.

It’s vital to face facts as they are, rather than relying on denial or magical thinking. You need to know exactly what you’re up against, and what will or won’t make a difference.

So the willingness to adapt to new circumstances, as they really are, is important.

Part of this is accepting expert information and advice. This will enable you to plan more effectively, so you can do what you need to do. Ignoring expert opinion may be the difference between surviving well, badly, or not at all.

You may not have total control of a rapidly-moving situation. But you can gain partial control where possible. Thinking clearly, managing your emotions, and acting strategically will boost your resilience. And it will help you adapt quickly to change, and thrive in a future pandemic.

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