Monday, May 11, 2020

COVID-19: Psychological Defensive Driving & Anxiety

When you first learn to drive, it's inevitable that somewhere along the line someone will talk to you about the importance of defensive driving.  These driving techniques can save your life and drastically reduce your chances of injury or death.  Sadly, that they exist at all is admittance that there are some really bad drivers out there, not to mention bad conditions and situations that can't be avoided.  It's an educational way of saying, "Watch out, out there!"

We can draw analogies to these same techniques with the COVID pandemic in America, and the new pressure to "return to normal" life, while getting back to work, and returning to our shopping, dining out, and socializing with others.

Yet, there is a lot of anxiety being raised with the early push to try to get the economy back up and running, and the convincing of a society that they can resume life as it was.  Of course--as is the usual pattern these days in America--it has created yet another bipolar, bipartisan, and marital-bickering among the already polarized society dwelling in the land of the free.  Why our beloved country seems paralyzed to the ability of polite compromise anymore is a mystery to write about on another day.

Never-the-less, the drive to get folks back to the workplace and into the stores--but mostly to serving their dutiful chores of spending money and supporting the establishment--has come nearly at the barrel of a symbolic gun representing our right to bear arms, and this return to what many think will be what it was before, will require a lot of psychological and emotional defensive driving on our part.

In the same way that it would typically be a waste of time, energy and attention to argue about whether someone is a good or bad driver, you would just as equally better spend your time learning to drive defensively to protect yourself (and your loved ones) from those who might be more careless in their skills and attention to the road.

And yes, the same holds true now for the manner in which we are being pressured to return for our first trial run at resuscitating our coveted-capitalistic-society, which has become part of American's sense of identity to the point that, to kill the society is to kill those who have become identified with it.  So you won't be able to hold Americans indoors for long, because in fighting for their right to be free, functioning, profit-making citizens, they need to have full reign.  That's why behavioral and psychological defensive driving is very important right now in a society hell-bent on flexing its muscle in the face of COVID-19.

So how do we utilize defensive driving techniques to help us cope with and reduce our stress and anxiety when it comes to the dropping of the first-wave of stay-at-home orders in America?    Let's take a look: 

1)  Plan ahead for the unexpected:  This means we need to think before we leave the house.  Make sure you don't leave without your mask, sanitizer, and patience because things aren't moving that fast our there right now.  Prepare in advance to have what you need to personally feel safer in a society that is trying to get back up to full speed.  Some feel safer wearing gloves and taking their own water, food and utensils, etc.  If you are thinking you can go about without a mask, you might find that you can't get into some of your favorite places anymore.  So just take it and be ready to wear it.

2)  Be prepared to react to others:  This means that you need to be ready to move out of the way if someone steps closer than 6 feet inside your personal circle right now.  Many people will be eager to get right back to the way things once were and will unintentionally step or breathe in your space.

3)  Don't make assumptions about what others "should" do:  This means that you can't just assume everyone will be courteous and stand back, cover their face, wear gloves, not cough or sneeze in your direction, etc.  So when they do, don't come undone or make a scene.  Just do what you need to do to step back and take care of your safety the same way you'd hold back a bit when seeing a reckless driver.  In addition, don't assume everyone should just drop their masks in the trash and return to pre-COVID-19 behavior.  Many of the elderly people interviewed who had survived the 1918 pandemic of the Spanish flu told interviewers that it took two to three years for people to trust again, to be able to not tense up if someone was coughing or sneezing, and to be fully able to be out in society again as they had been before the pandemic.

4)  Respect others along the way:  Respecting that others have views different from your own is very important, and is just being courteous and kind.  For one thing, it's just not cool to laugh at others or make fun of them.  So if you chose to not wear a mask and see someone who is, just smile and move on.  It's like changing the channel on the TV when you don't like what you see.  Move on!  Respect that others feel, believe, and think differently and carry on.  You don't have to be mean and bully others.  And for goodness sakes!  Put the guns away.  We're all in this together!  The art of debate still exists, so there is no need for aggression or intimidation.  Everyone knows you have the right to carry, but you don't have to scare kids by showing you have one!

5)  Be aware of special conditions:  Make sure you leave room in your emotional bank for rare situations that don't represent groups as a whole.  With defensive driving this is the sudden pothole that hammers your shock absorbers and nearly rips your bumper off with the blow.  Or a hail storm that comes upon you and other drivers out of nowhere.  For our return to society, just open your mind to knowing that stuff you didn't expect WILL happen, so just chill out when it does and keep steady to the course.  Everyone is trying to cope the best they can so as long as it's not harming you or others, try to be patient.

6)  Stay alert and avoid distractions:  This means that just because you are prepared, doesn't mean that everyone else is.  If you take your eye off the road, you might run into something, and the same is true for returning to a society coping with COVID-19.  Look ahead to see if someone is entering your personal space or if a cashier has not wiped down a self check-out register when it's your turn to use it.  Be ready for someone to forget that we are using safe practices of social distancing and be ready to speak up if you need to, but be respectful.  You might forget as well, so stay alert! 

7)  Control your speed:  This means that there are many in the country who are definitely ready NOW to return life to "normal".  But the news is that we are never going back to the normal we had before COVID-19.  Everyone is entering or re-entering (or choosing not to enter) society at their own pace.  Don't let yourself be pressured into going before you are ready and have the things you need to produce the least amount of anxiety.  If you are ready now, don't forget to go with caution.  You seriously don't want to catch this illness!  Getting back out there doesn't mean you don't need to take care of your safety, health and life, or be careless with the safety, health and lives of others.  

Don’t forget to practice safe psychological driving folk.  Be kind and courteous to each other, and use defensive psychological driving if you must drive at all.

Thanks to siddharthav for the great photo