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Sooner or later, we may need to go through the COVID-19 test. What psychological impact we may experience? How can we diffuse our worries?

One of my friends had sore throat and cough few days ago. She went to a private hospital for medical treatment. After knowing her symptoms, the staff of the hospital required my friends to undergo test for COVID-19. My friend was informed that if her test result were positive, she would be sent to special ward of a public hospital under the arrangement of the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health.

During the long wait on that day for the result, my friend went through a surge of anxiety. She was preoccupied with lots of worries about the uncertainty of having infected COVID-19. She thought about the impact of this to her closely connected family members and friends, as well as her colleagues. She worried about she could have transmitted the virus to many people she came across in the past two weeks. She also ruminated about her closed ones being quarantined in camps. What bothered her most was the possibility of death of the elderly at her family if they got this from her.

How would you suggest my friend to do if she had difficulty in controlling herself from ruminating these worries?  You may suggest her to confront those worries with more rational thinking. For example, you may help her to see her symptoms were very mild and she did not have a fever. This could imply that the probability of being infected COVID-19 was low. However, many people may find this “self-talk” strategy quite tiring and ineffective. As my friend said, “I knew that I might over-worry, but I still felt restless and anxious and kept ruminating.”  In fact, the harder my friend tried to stop worrying, the more she ruminated.

One of the more effective strategies to help my friend to deal with her uncontrollable worries was teaching her how to diffuse her thoughts. The first step in diffusing our thoughts is to be aware of the automatic nature of our worries. When you have to face the same situation as my friend has to face, you may take a few minutes to write down you train of worries in a piece of paper. You may find that your default mode in your mind automatically generates lots of worries. Research showed that when our mind wandered, we were more likely to be in this default mode of thinking.

On the other hand, if we bring our awareness on our sensations, feelings and thinking, this diffuses our worries because it calms down the default mode of mind wandering. Furthermore, it also calms down our mind and helps us to pay attention to those thoughts that we find more constructive. For instance, my friend may be able to settle down with her mind and manage her schedule for the coming weeks to prepare for any emergency coming up.

There are many ways to diffuse our worries. To be more playful, you may choose a thought that you keep ruminating. For example, “I am infected COVID-19”.  You may try to sing this thought loud with the “Happy birthday” song theme. The purpose is not to try to get rid of this thought. The intention is to realize this is just a thought and may not be a fact. Another way to diffuse your thoughts is to give your thinking mind a name. You may tell yourself that “Lora” is telling you a thought. Since Lora is not you, you start to realize that you may not need to agree with what Lora had said.

By practicing diffusion strategies, you may be able to progressively think more flexibly. You may be less caught up by your worries. The important point is that the worries are still in your mind, but they cannot exert an influence on your mood. You may also be able to think in a new perspective in the face of adversity. As the pandemic is still not under control, every one of us may need to learn how to diffuse our worries when we have to face the uncertainty of being infected by the virus.  Let’s learn these effective strategies, so that we could think more flexibly to deal with the coming adversities or problems. 

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