STAY HOME: How To Overcome Negative Thoughts During Quarantine

The lockdown can really get to you. Negative thoughts during quarantine can disturb your peace of mind. You can choose to either hang on to those thoughts or replace them with positive ones.

By Arundhati Swamy

STAY HOME: How To Overcome Negative Thoughts During Quarantine

Life was fine. Or so you believed, until the omnipresent coronavirus became a tipping point, wrenching away the predictability and control you enjoyed in your life. Overnight, your life is now ruled by a volley of alarming words – Pandemic, Lockdown, Quarantine. Your survival instincts kick in, signalling your brain to release cortisol, the stress hormone. The persistent supply of cortisol and the consistent stress impair your cognitive and emotional states. Your thoughts begin to hover around fearful and negative ‘What ifs’. As emotions are contagious, your fears are mimicked in others as well. To break this continuous negative loop, you need a powerful tool that will counter your fears and restore you to a more positive state of mind.

You CAN replace those negative thoughts during quarantine with reassuring and positive ones that will prompt feelings of love and care.

When Negative ‘What if’ thoughts flood your mind:

Sometimes you really can’t help having those negative thoughts. If only they could be wished away, but they are stubborn and keep coming back. But DON’T GIVE UP, because you can still help yourself. First, acknowledge their presence. You can say to those thoughts, “I know you’re there. But now, I choose to have other thoughts.’’ As you repeat a new positive thought several times in your mind, you will begin to experience positive emotions that will lead to helpful and caring behaviours.

Now, let’s see how these negative thoughts can impact your emotions and behaviour. Then, find out how you can turn these negative thoughts into positive, hopeful ones? 

Tips to overcome negative thoughts during quarantine

1. Negative thought - What if I catch the coronavirus?

You feel - Frightened, threatened, terrified, angry.

Your behaviour? - When you are filled with fear you become over cautious and over-do the cleanliness routine. The fear of infection drives you to indulge in tiresome, repetitive actions. You become suspicious of neighbours and other people; you become impatient with the children and spouse; you overthink things and lose focus on more important things. In extreme cases, your mind can become crowded with obsessive thoughts.

Instead, switch to…

Positive thought - What if I practice caution and care?

You feel - Reassured, optimistic and more confident.

Your behaviour – The thought gets you thinking. Your mind is clear and focussed. You feel in control and take better decisions. Along with your family, you find practical solutions to daily challenges and to staying safe. You assess the situation and do what is necessary to take good care of your family and keep them safe. Your family trusts that you will protect them to the best of your ability.

2. Negative thought - What if we run out of essential supplies?

You feel - Panicky, insecure, incompetent, helpless.

Your behaviour - You start excessive buying and hoarding of essential commodities. When only limited stocks are available, in a desperate state of mind, you could become aggressive with people. People could judge you and you could unwittingly turn hostile towards others. You end up feeling misunderstood and angry.

Instead, switch to…

Positive thought - What if I have a plan?

You feel: Calm and in control of the situation.

Your behaviour: You trust your own planning skills and act upon them to help your family tide over the situation. You take stock of things, list out what your family needs for a week or two. Your purchases will be reasonable and you will feel good about sharing limited resources with other people. You will demonstrate important leadership skills to your family.

3. Negative thought - What if schools do not reopen in June?

You feel: Disappointed about delays, overwhelmed, worried, frustrated.

Your behaviour - You could overreact under stress. Anxious about your child’s education, you could push her to study more than she needs to. The family atmosphere could become tense and unpredictable. It ceases to be the emotionally safe home it is meant to be.

Instead, switch to…

Positive thought - What if my children are safer at home and they continue to learn at home?

You feel - More accepting of delays, peaceful, loving.

Your behaviour - Your children’s safety becomes a priority. You help your children pace out study time at home, making sure they get enough time to spend on interests and hobbies as well. Your caring ways will motivate them to reciprocate by sharing responsibilities at home. Your family experiences you as a nurturing and patient parent and spouse.

4. Negative thought - What if I do not get my salary?

You feel - Shocked, dismayed, angry, frustrated and helpless.

Your behaviour - These difficult feelings can lead you to think that it is entirely your responsibility to work things out for your family. It feels like a huge burden. It could lead you to make irrational and impulsive decisions, or do things you may regret later, or take drastic steps. You may find yourself criticising, cursing, grumbling at yourself or others through the day. Your family could be disappointed that you do not live up to their trust in you.

Instead, switch to…

Positive thought - What if my family helps to cut down expenses?

You feel - Hopeful, less stressed, trusting.

Your behaviour - You know that everyone in your family can help deal with the challenge and that you are not alone. It doesn’t feel like a burden anymore. You will invite ideas and suggestions from family members, encourage them with simple inexpensive treats, celebrate their cooperation with high 5’s and fist bumps. All members begin to be more helpful. Family bonding rises to the next level as together you share the responsibility of careful and thoughtful spending.

5. Negative thought - What if someone at home falls ill or has an injury?

You feel - Panicky, stressed, desperate, frustrated.

Your behaviour - You could become tense with worry and begin to do a series of things to prevent an illness or injury in your home. You may become hyper-alert, watchful of and suspicious of everyone’s actions and movements. You may overreact to an innocent sneeze or cough, or you may yell at your child when she runs around the house. The home is filled with tension.

Instead, switch to…

Positive thought - What if I am prepared for an emergency?

You feel – The courage to face challenges, calm, in control.

Your behaviour – You become proactive, resourceful and take charge of the situation. You begin to make a list of people and places you can contact for help. Your family feels safe and trusts you will manage difficult situations to the best of your ability.

6. Negative thought - What if I can’t cope with all the housework and office work?

You feel - Unsupported, frustrated, angry, guilty.

Your behaviour - These emotions make you short-tempered; even little things seem like big hurdles. You may choose to suffer in silence and over-work yourself to the point of exhaustion, while you wear the badge of martyrdom. Your health could decline, increasing the risk of illness. Or, you could pass sarcastic comments or say hurtful things in anger. All these will damage your relationship with your family. If you choose to do all the work, you allow your family to completely depend on you for everything, turning them into helpless and demanding individuals.

Instead, switch to…

Positive thought - What if I get my family to help me?

You feel - Happy, appreciated, loved, cared for.

Your behaviour - It feels like a burden is lifted off your shoulders. You will be in a better frame of mind to plan your day and get your family to assist with the tasks on hand. The better outcome is that you will all begin to synchronize as one unit; and the best outcome is that your children and spouse will learn to share responsibilities, be supportive and work as a team. You are nurturing your family to become responsible team players. The family atmosphere will become cheerful and energized. Appreciation and encouragement will flow as the wheels of your home take on a comfortable rhythm and pace. Now, isn’t that what you always wanted?

So, switch off negative thoughts and switch on positive ones. Breathe freely and let your muscles relax. Your tension will give way to calm. Your frown will turn into a smile, and your tone of voice will become pleasant.

Our lives would not be normal if we did not have a fair share of ups and downs – the drive to thrive and the drive to survive. The current pandemic is a tipping point towards survival. But it also brings out the best in you – your ability for innovate ideas and creative leadership; to learn empathy and compassion as you reach out to others; and commit to more sustainable living. That’s how we will all begin to thrive again – with more open thoughtfulness, emotion and behaviour. 

STAY HOME: How To Overcome Negative Thoughts During Quarantine

About the author:

Written by Arundhat Swamy on 8 April 2020.

Arundhati Swamy is a family counsellor and Head of the Parent Engagement Program at ParentCircle.

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