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Preventative measures like social distancing and proper handwashing will lower the risk of COVID-19 infection for ourselves, our loved ones and the community.

But how do we mentally battle this pandemic?

COVID-19 has increased our anxiety, depression, fear and uncertainty, feelings we often experience when you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer. A cancer diagnosis is not what we hoped for; there is an abundance of information coming at us, and we must now decide how to treat it and keep moving forward.

During this pandemic, I invite you to use the same healthy techniques that have succeeded for you in overcoming past challenges. We need to wrap our minds around something unexpected that has upended our lives and move forward in a positive way.

Amanda Ripley, author of the New York Times best-seller “The Smartest Kids in the World – and How they Got That Way” and “The Unthinkable,” is an expert in disaster behavior. She says the best way we can remain resilient and achieve success is by moving through three stages: denial, deliberation and the decisive moment. These stages can help us tackle uncertainty and make decisions rooted in science instead of emotion.

It is natural that we immediately turn to denial when faced with challenges. We try to normalize things so that they fit into our life patterns and previous experiences. Recently, we may have thought the COVID-19 pandemic would never hit this close to home; maybe we dismissed what experts were saying and went on with our typical daily activities without social distancing. It is normal to think and behave this way in a frightening, unfamiliar situation.

When we finally exhaust the denial responses and behaviors, we can move into deliberation. This is a crucial stage where we gather information and explore how to respond instead of react. The difficulty lies when we overload our senses with what we are hearing in the media and in the community. Deliberate first, don’t react. If we do that, we can determine which news sources are creditable and how to take the best care of ourselves.

The final stage is the decisive moment, when we decide how to respond based on the facts. When faced with a cancer diagnosis, patients decide on the best individualized treatment plan based on the information they have gathered—that is the decisive moment. During the course of treatment, that plan may change and new decisions may have to be made. We will need to use that same skill set to determine our response to this pandemic. We cannot allow our anxiety and fears take over. Instead, we need to process the information we have and determine our best course of action.

It’s important to calm our mind and body so that we can make informed decisions and take the best care of ourselves and loved ones. According to social worker, professor and author Dr. Brené Brown, “This pandemic experience is a massive experiment in collective vulnerability. We can be our worst selves when we’re afraid, or our very best, bravest selves. In the context of fear and vulnerability, there is often very little in between because when we are uncertain and afraid our default is self-protection. We don’t have to be scary when we’re scared. Let’s choose awkward, brave, and kind. And let’s choose each other.”

We don’t have to be scary when we’re scared. Live in the decisive moment and choose awkward, brave and kind. Choose self-care and compassion, for ourselves and our community. Reach out to those who soothe us and engage in activities that make us and others laugh. Sleep and eat well. Choose to hope and love in action.

This article was written by Donna DiClementi, LCSW, manager of Outpatient Social Work at Moffitt Cancer Center