Did This 1948 Essay Give the Best Pandemic Advice Ever?

Coping with Fear and Anxiety

Think we’re living in an unprecedented time of fear? Consider the following passage from CS Lewis’ Atomic Age from 1948 and replace “atomic bomb” with “COVID-19.”

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb (COVID-19). “How are we to live in an atomic age (COVID-19)?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb (COVID-19) was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still.

It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world that already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together.

If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb (COVID-19), let that bomb (virus) when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs (viruses).

They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that), but they need not dominate our minds.

CS Lewis could have easily been describing life in the current pandemic. The same fears and anxiety people felt about the atomic bomb are replaying today. The atomic bomb isn’t the only example from history that relates to what people are feeling in the pandemic. Look at the following quote:

“The hospitals will be stormed, traffic will cease, the homeless will shriek for help, the city will be a pandemonium.”

Sound like a description of life today during the pandemic? It’s actually a quote that appears in Erik Larson’s book The Splendid and the Vile from a British military planner about the World War II bombings in London. Other officials during that time predicted that British civilians would sink into undisciplined mobs, widespread panic would take hold, and people would be driven insane, according to research in the Journal of British Studies.

To prevent the German bombers from being able to identify cities as targets for air raids, the British government imposed strict blackout restrictions. Citizens covered the windows of their homes and businesses to keep any light from filtering out. Car headlights and streetlights were turned down. And people hunkered down in underground shelters during nighttime air raids. Despite thousands of lives lost and many buildings destroyed during the Blitz, the Brits showed true grit and resilience. They carried on.

The overwhelming fears we’re facing today echo those that Londoners felt about the WWII bombings, as well as those that people faced during the atomic age, those people faced when the Black Death plague swept Europe and took the lives of 200 million, and so on and so on. Like so many past generations, we’re facing fears about losing our lives, losing our loved ones, and losing our way of life.

Fear in the Brain

Fear is deeply ingrained in the brain and is a useful emotion in terms of survival. However, when fear is disproportionately high compared to the actual danger at hand or when it is prolonged, it leads to mental health issues such as anxiety.

When researchers look at the brains of fearful and anxious people, they often find a number of areas of the brain with heightened activity, including the:

  • amygdala—a major player in fear processing
  • basal ganglia—involved in setting anxiety level
  • hippocampus—important in forming emotional memories
  • insular cortex—a region that activates when we experience fear or anxiety
  • areas of the prefrontal cortex (especially on the right side)—the amygdala communicates with the PFC in fear

Brain SPECT imaging shows that when areas such as these are overactive, people are more likely to be overwhelmed by stressful situations and may have a tendency to freeze or become immobile in their thoughts or actions. If your brain is overactive and you’re filled with fear, anxiety, or panic, you can calm your brain to reduce anxious feelings with a variety of natural therapies, including:

  • Diaphragmatic breathing: Inhale for 3 seconds, hold it for 1 second, exhale for 6 seconds, hold it for 1 second, and repeat 10 times.
  • ANT (automatic negative thoughts) therapy: Challenge your fearful and anxious thoughts.
  • Meditation: Even a few minutes a day can help.
  • Self-hypnosis: Hypnosis can help soothe anxiety.
  • EMDR therapy (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing): This psychotherapeutic technique can be very helpful for people who have been emotionally traumatized.
  • Natural supplements: GABA, l-theanine, magnesium, vitamin B6 can help calm an anxious, fearful brain.

In addition to these techniques, you can also benefit from some of the strategies that helped the Brits fear during WWII.

What You Can Learn from the Brits in WWII on Coping with Fear and Anxiety

You don’t have to let fear rule your life or fill you with anxiety, even when you’re faced with dire situations like a war or pandemic. The following strategies that helped British citizens overcome fear and anxiety during WWII can help you today during the pandemic.

Take action: During WWII, the British government and its citizens were taking actions every day that provided some sense of control over their situation. The Royal Air Force was carrying out missions, Prime Minister Winston Churchill was firing off memos with red “Action This Day” labels for his staff, and citizens were doing their part to contribute to the efforts.

Pandemic strategy: In the face of fears, look for things you can control, no matter how small they may seem. You may not be able to control the virus, but you can take responsibility for your own health by shoring up your immune system, eating brain healthy foods, and exercising to

Stay connected: During the Blitz, Londoners huddled together in bomb shelters, building community and a sense that “we’re all in this together.” Unfortunately, this is much harder for people to accomplish with the pandemic.

Pandemic strategy: Take advantage of technology to stay socially connected. Video phone calls, online meetings, and virtual events can help you feel more connected to others.

Laugh more: The Brits were able to find humor in their situation no matter how dire it was.

Pandemic strategy: You may not think there’s anything funny about the threat of COVID-19 or being in lockdown, but you can seek ways to laugh a little. Watch a comedy on TV, watch funny videos on social media, or listen to a humorous podcast. Laughter also supports the immune system, boosts moods, and gives your brain a healthy dose of the feel-good neurotransmitter oxytocin, as shown in a brain imaging study in The Journal of Neuroscience.

Develop a sense of purpose: During the war, civilians felt a tremendous sense of purpose in fighting for a common cause.

Pandemic strategy: In our fractured society today, it’s hard to find common ground. However, knowing your own purpose in life can give you the resilience to withstand challenging times. According to Dr. Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and World War II concentration camp survivor, and the father of Logotherapy, a form of psychotherapy based on the idea that humans are strongly motivated to live with purpose, “We find meaning as a result of responding genuinely and compassionately to life’s challenges.” Frankl believed there were three ways to create meaning:

  • Purposeful work, or being productive—asking questions such as “Why is the world a better place because I am here?” or “What do I contribute?”
  • Love—loving the people who are central to your life.
  • Courage in the face of difficulty—shouldering whatever difficult fate we have and helping others shoulder theirs.

Anxiety, panic attacks, excessive fear, depression, and other mental and behavioral health conditions—can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.

35 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing these techniques and strategies. Very informative, useful, and helpful.

    Comment by Capital District Neurofeedback — November 8, 2020 @ 10:39 PM

  2. I really appreciated this article. Very timely and practical advice. Thank you!

    Comment by Bethany — November 11, 2020 @ 4:02 AM

  3. Thank you for strategies to help renew my mind and giving me directions on how to improve my health.

    Comment by Becky — November 11, 2020 @ 4:24 AM

  4. A virus is not the same as an atomic bomb. The atomic bomb was not under the victic control. Other people took their destinies on their own hands.

    A known virus, like Covid-19, could be prevented. If all the citizens follow the CDC instructions and place other people’s life & health first, instead of themselves.
    There’s no need for people to get infected just because others do not take the precaution needed.

    Comment by Sa Rz — November 11, 2020 @ 4:46 AM

  5. Very helpful! Perspective can be life-changing.

    Comment by Sarah — November 11, 2020 @ 4:48 AM

  6. Thanks for the information. I remember as child, air drills, bomb shelters. My first grade classroom had blackout shades; left over from WW II

    Comment by Roberta — November 11, 2020 @ 5:37 AM

  7. Very informative offering good solutions.

    Comment by Phyllis Bell — November 11, 2020 @ 6:03 AM

  8. Thank you for such an informative article. Certainly a lot of information and uplifting information that needs to be passed on to people during this time of pandemic crisis. Thank you

    Comment by caryol Wichert — November 11, 2020 @ 6:04 AM

  9. Like to add read humorous books for ways to your list of suggestions as to ways of dealing with fear.

    Comment by Trudi Kraus — November 11, 2020 @ 6:35 AM

  10. Reading humorous books is another thing we can do to stay in balance.

    Comment by Trudi Kraus — November 11, 2020 @ 6:37 AM

  11. Thank you for the sensible advise. I will be sharing this with my sisters and friends. We range in age from 70 -82 and right now are living together. My 82 year old sister was very sick and not eating and very weak. She is improving daily since we are all together. I am so thankful to God

    Comment by Pam — November 11, 2020 @ 6:53 AM

  12. This pandemic is a wakeup call for the younger generationm who have been priviledged without any major negative events. We ( old folks) had WW2, polio, aids, recessions and much, much more, we learned to cope.

    Comment by cornelia — November 11, 2020 @ 7:00 AM

  13. This is powerful and needed perspective in this time and all times. Thanks for the practical advise and action items.

    Comment by Jason Dye — November 11, 2020 @ 7:05 AM

  14. Very informative & comforting information.

    Comment by Christine Breslin — November 11, 2020 @ 7:22 AM

  15. Enjoyed this very much. Thank you for sharing specific techniques .

    Comment by Sengs — November 11, 2020 @ 7:30 AM

  16. This well organized and written article puts everything into perspective. Thanks for the wisdom!

    Comment by Denise Caruselle — November 11, 2020 @ 8:07 AM

  17. I like this article, as it helps us to stay on top of stress, combat fear, and maintain mental healthiness. Definitely good advice to find purposeful pursuits in the midst of it all. We can pray also, knowing that faith gives us strength to persevere.

    Comment by Betty — November 11, 2020 @ 8:12 AM

  18. Thanks so much for this excellent piece that provides some needed perspective on our current situation. When we humans have purpose, a sense of mutual caring and respect and a willingness to laugh with others and at ourselves, we can overcome most anything.

    Comment by Barry Stern — November 11, 2020 @ 8:44 AM

  19. SO GRATEFUL FOR YOU DR. AMEN. This gives me courage to be ME and live my LIFE while HELL is on earth for ALL of us at one time or another. AND, YOU are helping me “hold” myself together during these times. Already read the “END OF MENTAL ILLNESS”, almost in one sitting. YOU ARE HOPE!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you!

    Comment by Kathleen — November 11, 2020 @ 8:50 AM

  20. Thank you, I needed that reminder of how lucky I am today and that things will get better. Its the little things that I can do each day that will get us through these time of stress and loneness

    Comment by Vicki — November 11, 2020 @ 10:02 AM

  21. Thank you Dr Amen for this article! You have been very helpful to myself and my family. I appreciate your words, your wisdom, your knowledge, your faithfulness… I’ve encourage many to listen to your podcast. I read ‘The End of Mental Illness’ and it was very good and certainly helpful. I will be listening and learning from you even though I live far away on Douglas Island in Alaska. Thank you again for making this available to us! Warmly, Trish

    Comment by Trish — November 11, 2020 @ 10:04 AM

  22. Muchas gracias por este artìculo es muy cierto en cualquier circunstancia debemos ser resilentes, pero sin la ayuda del eterno no vamos a poder, las personas deberíamos de buscar al todopoderoso para estar espiritualmente fortalecidos por medio de la oraciòn y el agradecimiento a la vida.

    Comment by Verenice — November 11, 2020 @ 10:06 AM

  23. Excellent. I’m tired of people whining about the virus. Did they forget about 2 world wars in the past century, Korea, Viet Nam, the cold war (atomic threat), 9/11, etc., etc., etc. Human beings are resilient and will survive/thrive.

    Comment by James A Piegari — November 11, 2020 @ 11:23 AM

  24. The Brits also had posters providing guidance for citizens in those difficult times – one of then notably being “Keep calm and carry on”. They provided guidance to the population on how to take some control their situation. This would hopefully reduce some stress in their lives while working toward a common goal. We can do the same by carrying on – wear a mask and wash regularly (and use hand sanitizer) to avoid virus contamination until it is beaten!

    Comment by steve — November 11, 2020 @ 11:28 AM

  25. This article was very informative and helpful; however, our president (for a few more weeks) has had a negative influence on half of the American population and propagates lies, racism, snd hostility. Add prayer and a belief in God as a greater source of comfort.

    Comment by Susan — November 11, 2020 @ 12:57 PM

  26. Very wise and inspiring words. Much appreciated 🙏

    Comment by Jan M. Lorentzen — November 11, 2020 @ 1:30 PM

  27. Two things strike me. We are very social beings and we need to be able to communicate with other beings. After all the Creator put 2 people in the Garden…so they wouldn’t be lonely? The second is an affirmation that pandemics in history may change, Vikings… Atomic Bomb…COVID 19. History repeats itself. Life will never be without travail but we always will learn to deal with the current pandemic as stated in the beginning of this excellent Essay.

    Comment by Paul — November 11, 2020 @ 1:48 PM

  28. The C.S. Lewis article was fantastic! Very encouraging.

    Comment by Nancy — November 11, 2020 @ 2:02 PM

  29. Love this!

    Comment by Marcie — November 11, 2020 @ 2:14 PM

  30. Thanks for putting this pandemic in perspective. We need this to change our focus. Your strategies are so appropriate.
    Good food for thought!

    Comment by Alexandra DeWispelaere — November 11, 2020 @ 4:02 PM

  31. How can I post this to face book?

    Comment by Sally Dunne — November 11, 2020 @ 4:28 PM

  32. Thank you Dr. Amen. I will forward to friends with fears. My wish is for this type of information to be disseminated to schools, newspapers, etc. My field of psychology has done a poor job of getting mental health into schools as a necessary subject, not necessarily SEL as currently being done, as that frightfully misplaces civics and history. But as we see, much of the population has no idea about how to understand themselves, or to deal with fears, anxieties, and depression. The concept of “naturalism” does not work well in our current culture.

    Comment by Barbara — November 12, 2020 @ 9:44 AM

  33. Everything is very open with a clear description of the challenges. It was truly informative. Your website is very helpful. Thank you for sharing. Melissa Rodrick Elon

    Comment by porno — November 13, 2020 @ 7:39 AM

  34. Great information. I remember my parents telling me of the air raids in Glasgow

    Comment by Kathy — November 16, 2020 @ 4:13 PM

  35. Thank you dr. Amen for your generosity… We need to unite and give out thought and knowledge to help one another. This is going to be a great day! Saludos desde Rosarito b.c. Mexico…. Marion

    Comment by Marion — November 18, 2020 @ 8:30 AM

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