COVID-19, Anxiety, Fear and Uncertainty: A Lesson from Disney’s Frozen
Written by Ella Tremaine, Provisional Psychologist
When uncertainty is present, is it natural to feel anxious, experience excessive worry, and become hypervigilant, as humans we are wired to anticipate and react to threats in our environment, to protect ourselves from danger. The current climate surrounding COVID-19 is a breeding ground for uncertainty, causing us to worry about our future. At times, with government restrictions, unemployment, and fear of sickness, it can feel like our freedoms and choices are being taken away from us, which can lead us to feel threatened, resulting in panic behaviour, distress and feelings of helplessness; however, as individuals we have a choice, and we can choose not to let the current situation dominate our thoughts and distract us from living our life to the fullest in the present.
The current situation reminded me of how Anna from the movie (Disney’s) Frozen II, handled loss, fear and uncertainty. I took some time-out the other night for some self-care, as the last couple of weeks have felt overwhelming, and I watched the movie on Disney+. There is a scene where the Anna realises that she has lost her sister Elsa and friend Olaf, and as a result, she is in despair and experiences overwhelming feelings of hopelessness, grief, and fear, as Anna realises that the loss of her sister and friend means that life will never be the same again.
As a result, she can’t figure out how to move on, as her world feels like it is falling apart. However, she concludes, that despite the loss, devastation, and the feelings of helplessness the only way to keep moving forward is to make a decision “to do the next right thing”. To navigate this new world and come to terms with the significant change, devastation and loss, Anna copes with the uncertainty by focusing on the current moment, taking small steps forward, one foot in front of the other, rather than looking too far into the future, which can be overwhelming and anxiety provoking.
So, what is the “next right thing”, and how can we achieve this? I feel that it is anything that keeps us going, moving us forward and that supports us on this journey to overcome the current adversity. COVID-19 has quickly changed our lives, and brought about loss, uncertainty, and displacement for us all, so how can we manage our anxiety, and cope in this climate? Some suggestions are:
Turn off the news and limit social media: Check-in once or twice a day to keep up to date with the current situation so that you are aware of closures and current government requirements. If we remove the constant barrage of doom and gloom, we can reduce the sense of external threat and reduce our level of anxiety.
Use of Therapy Apps: Dr. Russ Harris has provided access to the “ACT Companion: Happiness Trap” which is available for download from iTunes. This free app is available for your phone or tablet and provides a series of free ACT exercises, mindfulness recordings and tools to connect you to the present moment, and foster openness to focus on living well, when challenges arise.
Keep a diary: Each day set aside time to note down your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and how these factors can influence your behaviour. Can you see a pattern when you reflect back? By keeping a self-reflection diary, it allows us to review our “good” and “bad” days, which can help us identify and understand factors that influence our perspective.
Consider fostering an animal: There are a number of non-profit organisations that help connect individuals with pets, who require assistance due to their owner’s sickness or homelessness, with potential foster carers. This is a wonderful initiative for individuals who may not be able to commit to an animal for the long-term, but who are in self-isolation and would love some companionship. Having an animal companion in a situation where you feel a loss of control can provide a sense of purpose, and a distraction from current events. It also provides a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction knowing that your actions have supported others in crisis.
Where possible, take a walk (If you are not under mandatory self-isolation): Ensuring you observe Government restrictions and guidelines, an short early morning walk around your suburb, in the fresh air, during self-isolation, can break the feelings of seclusion, create routine, promote an enhanced mood and set the tone for the rest of your day.
Plant a garden: If you have the room, plant a garden. It may be herbs, vegetables or flowers. If you have limited room, try herb pots. A garden signifies life and growth, in this time when feelings of loss are evident, it is wonderful to be able to nurture a seed, and watch it bloom and grow, knowing you were part of that transformation. (To avoid going out, you can order plants/seeds/soil online to be delivered behind your door).
Home Environment: Make a list of all the tasks around your home that you have neglected, due to a lack of time. Set a goal to undertake one task each day. Completing these small assignments and crossing the items off your list creates a feeling of accomplishment and fulfilment, reminding us that we do have some control over our environment.
- Skype/FaceTime with a Friend: Self-isolation can be lonely and can create feelings of sadness and distress. Technology has allowed us to bridge this gap. Message a friend and set-up a video call session every few days. This can improve our mental health and help us maintain feelings of connectedness.
Lastly, watch Disney’s Frozen II (or any other movie that inspires or motivates you): If you have seen the movie, great, watch it again. If not, I implore you to take the time, sit down with your kids, partner or the cat/dog you just fostered. The movie is a lovely reminder that even when life feels like it is crushing us under the weight of worries, fear, and anxiety, doing “the next right thing” by taking each minute, each hour, each day as it comes, serves to remind us to be in the moment and focus our efforts on the current tasks at hand.
There is no doubt that these are challenging times, but rather than focus on the “what-if’s” and the “maybe’s”, focus on the present, and know that the decisions and steps we take today can have the ability to positively influence our position tomorrow.
Ella is currently a registered Provisional Psychologist and is enrolled in a Master of Clinical Psychology program. Ella’s research focus is in sport and performance psychology, with a focus on perfectionism and well-being outcomes. She graduated with first-class honours and was awarded the APS Prize. Ella works part time at Treat Yourself Well as Business Support – clinical services.