10. COVID-19: Mental Health and Emotional Contagion

Dear Parents,

If you are like me, adjusting to life with COVID-19 has meant distraction, difficulty concentrating, even low motivation at times. It is taking a toll on our mental health as we adjust to this crisis. You might feel moody one minute, irritated that you cannot do the things you normally do, and elated the next minute at the unexpected freedom from that same routine. It is a time of growth and adaptation for all of us.


This letter will be about COVID-19: Mental Health and Emotional Contagion


Most of the coverage about COVID-19 is about how it affects our physical health if we catch it, and therefore the necessity of social distancing, self-isolation, closure of airports -- all actions that are meant to prevent the spread of the virus. Given that COVID-19 is unpredictable, invisible, and difficult to control, our natural response is fear. We are all in a chronic state of fear, which is stressful, as we search for the latest information and check on family and friends to make sure they are ok. We are constantly worried.


Emotional Triggers

COVID-19 is triggering fear in all of us. Fear plunges us down a rabbit hole of negative thoughts and emotions. The key is to avoid the rabbit hole, and reorient your thinking to the positive in this situation, so you can stay centered, balanced, and in control.


Unfortunately, people can also be triggers. We all have at least one person in our lives, a family member, friend, or work colleague, who triggers us into a negative state through the person’s words or actions. My advice is simple – do not accept the invitation of a person who is triggering you, or put another way, stay away from the bait cast by “triggering” people who are fishing. Let someone else take that bait, while you keep an emotional distance from it. Even people we love can become emotional vampires at times, using their fangs to suck us dry of our emotional reserves. The less you react to the vampire behavior, the less chance they will have to drain you. Just smile and turn the other way…


Emotional Contagion

Emotions can also infect us, just like a virus. If your friend laughs, you are likely to laugh too – your friend’s laugh is contagious. If you are at a crowded movie theater, watching a comedy, notice how the crowd all laughs together. If you watch the same film at home, alone, notice how you do not laugh out loud the same way – there is no one around you to infect you with laughter. Alone, you may still think the film is funny, but the outward expression of laughter is muted. 


Fear is even more contagious than laughter and does not even need in-person contact to spread. And this is what is happening during this COVID-19 crisis. We are passing fear to each other at a faster rate than the virus is actually spreading. 


As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” If you want to feel better during this time of crisis, then I want to encourage you to be the contagious dose of positivity for others. Spread hope, laughter, and generosity. Banish fear and negativity from your homes and circle of loved ones. We are told to wash our hands often to ensure we have washed away any trace of possible COVID-19, how about if we also wash away the negative emotions from our hearts at the same time? 


Always, with best regards, stay safe, Semper Gumby


Dawn Dekle, PhD

AUN President (Vice-Chancellor)


Teaser: stay tuned for the next letter from the desk of the AUN President, on the topic “COVID-19: Teachers”