We are living in a period of anxiety and fear, as 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is spreading worldwide. Compounding the anxiety about the proliferation of this illness is the uncertainty about if/when there is a treatment and/or vaccine. Many of us feel vulnerable, like a sitting duck. Our sense of control is diminishing amongst the constant media coverage. In this time of unrest and potential life disruption, it is essential to take back as much control of your life as you can, physically and emotionally. Focusing on strengthening our internal locus of control can help us weather through periods of uncertainty.
Locus of control is the degree to which people believe that they, as opposed to external forces (beyond their control), have control over the outcome of events in their lives. The concept was developed by Julian B. Rotter in 1954, and has since become an aspect of personality. A person’s “locus” is conceptualized as internal (a belief that one can control one’s own life) or external (a belief that life is controlled by outside factors which the person cannot influence, or that chance or fate controls their lives).. Individuals who have a stronger internal locus of control versus external locus of control tend to be less anxious and stressed.
By focusing on the areas of our day-to-day life that we can control as we grapple with COVID-19, we become emotionally stronger, more strategic in our thoughts and actions, and less stressed and anxious. We can take specific action steps to prevent illness as best as we can. There are many effective methods in helping us to control our stress and anxiety. This article focuses on empowering individuals to be in the driver’s seat in a time of great unpredictability. Internal locus of control is associated with a higher quality of life, and who wouldn’t want that, especially in a period of stress?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 is spread person-to-person and from contact with infected surfaces and objects. This isn’t unlike preventing a cold or flu virus, you can minimize your chances of contracting the illness if you take some simple steps:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a
- CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
- Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at
least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and
after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
These are everyday habits that can help prevent the spread of several viruses. CDC does have guidance for travelers.
There are many lifestyle factors that can influence immunity and the risk of infection. Exercise and nutritional habits are important modifiable factors that can have a significant impact on how well the immune system responds to challenge and hence the risk of infection. Both exercise and nutrition can influence immunity and resistance to infection across a wide spectrum of the population. Both physical activity and good nutrition may help minimize the negative consequences of age-related immune dysfunction .
There are several steps that you can take to protect your emotional well-being and mental health.
Maintain your regular schedule. Continue to sleep well, exercise, and maintain your regular activities. Routine is calming.
Unplug more. Put away your smartphone and do not watch the news at the end of the day. You can spend your free time engaging in activities that reduce stress, instead of increasing it.
Talk. Talk about your feelings to family members, friends, colleagues, those in your religious community, etc.
Don’t be afraid to ask for more help for unrelenting anxiety. Your anxiety may be a diagnosable medical condition, requiring medication and/or monitoring by a qualified health professional. There is no shame in going to a doctor for your mental health; you go to the doctor for antibiotics for strep throat for example, medication for mental health conditions isn’t any different.
We cannot predict what the future holds for COVID-19, but we can predict what actions we take in our daily lives. We can follow the CDC recommendations in preventing illness. We can strengthen our bodies by making healthy choices every day such as exercise and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. We can ensure that our mental health is strong, and if we need help, ask for it. COVID-19 doesn’t have to control us, we have the power to assert control over the impact it has on our daily lives.
Gonzalo Laje, MD, MHSc, FAPA
 Rotter, Julian B (1966). “Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement”. Psychological Monographs: General and Applied. 80: 1–28. doi:10.1037/h0092976.
 Davison G, Kehaya C, Wyn Jones A. Nutritional and Physical Activity Interventions to Improve Immunity. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016 May-Jun; 10(3): 152–169. Published online 2014 Nov 25. doi: 10.1177/1559827614557773