At the start of the year, I got a text radiating with “I hope you’re single now” energy. I replied cautiously, saying I was actually mentally unwell and unable to converse with care.
“Oh, I’ve been sick too,” he texted back. “I might have the coronavirus 😷😷😷.” And since he’d just come back from Hong Kong, a place where the virus was, he asked if I had seen “Contagion.” I replied, “If you like being stressed, it sounds like you should watch it.”
He said he would report back, and when he did, he told me he watched “Drive” instead. I didn’t write back.
I originally filed this story as writing material for when I expressed vulnerability and was left hanging — but there is something to be said about his approach in the time of the coronavirus, which is: Don’t watch “Contagion.”
In fact, watch “Love in the Time of Cholera” or “The Painted Veil” instead. I apologize for not having seen the former film, but I’ve read the synopsis, and these films seem to share the point I want to get across: More than ever, in the time of contagious illnesses, enjoy the time you have with the people you love. (But if the people you love are sick, maybe stick to FaceTime until they’re better.)
However, advice hasn’t changed much since flu season. So if you live with health anxiety, OCD, or even general anxiety, the best advice is to keep yourself unplugged from real-time notifications (unless your job requires those live updates). Wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds, get off Twitter, and don’t be racist.
If you’re wondering how long 20 seconds is, which I don’t fault you for not knowing, the Los Angeles Times has a list of songs you can sing (my personal fave is this one from Vietnam). If you’re in a pinch, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer to kill germs. I like the kind with aloe because I don’t want to dry out my hands.
And please, understand that prevention, in the time of a pandemic, is not just about you.
If you’re part of the 69 percent of men who don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, wash your hands — if not for yourself, then for all the people who are immunocompromised or older, people who will touch the door handle after you. These people who are at a higher risk actually rely on our ability to take care of ourselves more than ever. Prevention is a communal effort.
Fancy that, huh? When you care that your actions can affect other people, it becomes easier to take action and care about yourself.
Apparently outbreak movies are on the rise, and just… well, I get the intended logic. Experts on record say these films give a sense of “control,” but I object. You know the whole premise of the horror and intended-to-scare genre is that control is an illusion, right? The feeling that stays with you is not control.
So my advice is that if you already feel anxious about a thing, don’t consume entertainment that exacerbates your anxiety around the thing. But if you must watch or read worst-case scenarios, look for stories where happiness is found throughout the plotline, not just at the end. Entertain yourself the way Rihanna would, by finding love in a hopeless place.
Here are some books, movies, and TV shows that do just that:
1. “The Painted Veil” (2006)
If you want to cry and get those feels that make you think texting the ex you still love is a good idea, watch this film.
2. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
3. Borne by Jeff Vandermeer
Honestly, anything by Vandermeer is ideal if your mind is looking for motivation and/or desire to live through climate change, destruction by capitalism, and unknown bio-sciencey-feary-cool sh*t.
4. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Confession: This may not be calming, but Station Eleven is particularly close to my heart because in a world of isolation, it shows how stories can keep us alive.
5. “Shaun of the Dead” (2004)
It’s nice to remember that even when the world is falling apart, you might stay hilariously the same. (Also, this is a good brain cleanser if you insist on watching “Contagion.”)
6. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
Reading about 27 men marooned on an ice floe in Antarctica for 17 months (in 1915!) is a great way to remind yourself how nice it is to have indoor plumbing and have other food to eat besides seal blubber.
7. “About Time” (2013)
Yes, grief and time travel is a type of chaos. If you’re all about thinking about last moments and words with family, enjoying what you have (with a side of tissues), watch this.
8. “The Good Doctor”: “Quarantine” and “Quarantine: Part Two” (2018–2019)
As quarantine plotlines go, this one has high stakes without being too anxiety-inducing. There’s a Santa Claus, romance and familial love story lines, and medical brilliance.
9. “Housebound” (2014)
This one is for the folks who want to be low-key scared but also don’t want to recall the entire experience as stressful. It’s a dark comedy from New Zealand about being stuck in the house.
10. “This Is Us” (2016–present)
Look, the coronavirus is going to be around for a while. I don’t want to say too much other than that “This Is Us” gives you all the feels and motivation to tell people you love them.
But if you’re really looking to avoid the anxiety and chaos environment, this might be the time to resubscribe to Disney+ so you can rewatch all the originals from your childhood and teen years.
Christal Yuen is a senior editor at Greatist, covering all things beauty and wellness. Find her musing about therapy on Twitter.