Staying Calm in the Midst of the Pandemic

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I did not know I was susceptible to panic buying just like any other.

After all, few of us (lucky as we are) might have faced a crisis of this scale before. Naturally, behaviors we did not know we might have, might surface.

The day when my neighbor came to my door and showed me a message that said the last shipment of goods had arrived in the supermarket, I shuddered in fear.

We stay on a small (and lovely) island called Utila in Honduras. If the cargo boats cannot get to us, we are doomed. (But also on a small island, misinformation gets around faster than facts do. The truth was that the cargo ships continued to come to the island, and there was no food shortage at all.)

I quickly took my backpack and rushed to my bicycle and cycled to the supermarket.

In my panic, speeding along a bumpy path, my mind far away, I scraped my toe against a post. I was so distraught, and I felt so much pain that I cried.

It was at that moment that I realized something was not right. My actions were overly impulsive, and I was not handling my emotions very well.

I stopped, cycled back home to treat my wound, and re-evaluated the situation.

A preoccupied mind can cause us mistakes.

Anxiety or a mind preoccupied with thoughts associated with negative potentialities and possibilities can make us clumsy and irrational. Our minds are not in the present. Instead, we are worried about something amorphous and not within our grasp. We may feel a continual sense of dis-ease, like an anxious current running through our veins.

Panic causes people to go into a fight or flight mode, and in this state we may neglect to take care of ourselves and others.

Our brains switch to survival-mode thinking, where rationality switches off, and our animal-like instincts switch on. This happens whenever we try to protect ourselves in a dangerous situation. This causes us to forget that when we bulk buy more than we need, it denies others from getting what they immediately need.

So during this time, it’s important to not go with our instincts but to take deep breaths and calm ourselves down, and allow our minds to guide our actions.

And a tip for you. Counter-intuitively, rather than mass buying items that everybody needs, why not give yourself a treat?

Yes, poor you, who is suddenly thrown into this unexpected situation. I think you need a treat. Yes, get yourself that tub of ice-cream that can calm your nerves in any stressful situation. Yes, perhaps we can do exactly the opposite of what our survival instincts tell us to do.

I picked up a pack of chives and mint and some hemp seeds – non-essential items – and made my way home.

Now, let me share what helped me regain my composure:

1. Knowing I was not alone.

Though I was in a foreign country, I had friends. If I did run out of food, I have many people who would help me out in that aspect. Having different people to share my many worries with also helped put them into perspective and gave me ideas about how to resolve my problems.

(Special mention to Gaye, who gave me the confidence I needed to do the required research to plan my path home. To Ivan, who taught me how the virus spreads and how to protect myself on flights and transits. And to my many friends in Utila who always share your food with me. When I think of you guys, I know I wouldn’t starve.)

2. Reminding myself that I was capable of getting myself out of deep shit.  

Because we are each facing this situation for the first time, we may panic because we are unsure whether we can actually make it out of the situation. I remind myself that I am intelligent and capable of resolving any problems I face.

Yes, I am capable of finding a way back to my home country, though it is far away, and flight cancellations are the norm. Yes, I am capable of meeting my basic needs and happiness, even in a time like this. (If I have to, I can plant my own vegetables! I should have enough fats to last me while the plants grow. I will not die of starvation!)

Trust in your lived experiences, your intelligence, and/or your resourcefulness. You can handle any novel situations. Yes, including this Covid-19 Crisis!

3. Breathing and staying calm regardless. 

How to catch yourself in that moment of panic and not to go along with it?

One way to regain composure is to focus on taking a deep and slow breath in and a deep and slow breath out. By focusing your attention on your breath, instead of following the rapid-fire train of thoughts in your mind, you ground yourself in the present moment and stop yourself from being carried away.

This puts you in better stead to handle any situations that come your way. When you are calm, you have access to your judgment, your intelligence, and your resourcefulness. In contrast, in panic mode, your raw, spontaneous, and wild emotions can lead you astray.

5 Comments

  1. bomoh88 said,

    May 9, 2020 at 7:03 pm

    Very interesting. Are you connected with the iguana research centre or on the island for the dive sites? How does one make a living in such a place?

    • chuashuyi said,

      May 9, 2020 at 9:49 pm

      Ah yes, I was a masters student and freediving instructor trainee at Freedive Útila. Typically, foreigners make a living there from being dive masters or diving instructors. Some people also open cafes and restaurants. Yup, some of the mainlanders also sell fruits and products they got from the mainland.

      • bomoh88 said,

        May 9, 2020 at 10:54 pm

        No, I have never been to South America but Googled “Utila” as I had not heard of it before. I’m sure few Singaporeans have ventured as far as you. Presumably you will be safer on Utila as Covid 19 rates in Honduras are still relatively low (although increasing) but Utila must be relatively easy to isolate being a small island. Keep safe and continue to enjoy your world adventure..

    • chuashuyi said,

      May 9, 2020 at 9:57 pm

      Were you also on the island? When? 😀

      • chuashuyi said,

        May 10, 2020 at 6:46 am

        Yes. The island has been isolated from the rest of the world. It’s tightly controlled now. But I decided to go home two weeks after they begin the lockdown.


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