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Fight Anxiety with Pop Culture — Fear of a COVID-19 Planet

Conor Bezane is a writer who covers mental health. He’s contributed to MTV News, AOL, and VICE. His first book The Bipolar Addict is available now on Amazon.

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I see my doctor once a week and I’ll give you the advice he always gives me: “Don’t worry about things that are out of your control.” Worrying for the sake of worrying will get you nowhere. It will just make you feel worse.

Good advice. As we all know, across all 50 states, the coronavirus pandemic is growing. There are more than 6,420 confirmed cases of the disease at press time. There are more than 100 American fatalities. Times Square in New York — the crossroads of the world — is virtually vacant. The border between the US and Canada has been closed. Globally, there are more than 200,000 cases of the coronavirus and over 8,200 deaths.

Battling anxiety is easier said than done when an unknown virus is spreading throughout the world. The worst thing we can do is panic. Hoarding toilet paper at Costco is absurd. Grocery stores by me — I live in Chicago — are perfectly stocked with necessities. Nonessential stores may be closing, but necessary places like grocery stores and pharmacies will stay open. When you go out, just social distance yourself in inside spaces.

Here are some ways you can keep yourself occupied, avoid not only cabin fever but actual fever. Let me preface this by saying I am not a doctor though I did consult one for this story. These are just measures I plan to take

1. The Watch List

Stream lighthearted content on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu or Disney+.

Here’s Rotten Tomatoes’ list of of the 250 best movies to watch on Netflix right now.

And Thrillist put out a list of the Best TV Shows With 100+ Episodes to stream.

Allow me to curate for you some shows I’ve been bingeing or am planning to binge.

Rachel Brosnahan in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Image courtesy Amazon Prime.

On Amazon, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, about a woman comedian in 1950s New York City is glossy and cheerful, not only an Emmy-winner; it’s fun and absolutely hilarious.

I’m probably the only one who hasn’t seen the whole first season, but I highly recommend the Star Wars episodic series The Mandalorian. It’s pure fantasy as escapism. If you’ve already seen it, watch it again! Worthy of a second viewing. And there’s nothing Baby Yoda can’t do to cheer you up.

I’m told by a coworker that I am Not Okay With This is a fun option on Netflix, as are the awardwinning shows Russian Doll and The Politician, which I’ve never seen but have heard good things. If you’re into sci-fi, the second season of the reboot of Lost in Space debuted recently. It will transport you to another galaxy. A galaxy far, far away from the coronavirus.

You can also re-watch your favorite comedy. For example, my favorite forget-about-my-worries film is The Birdcage starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. If you haven’t seen it, stream it. You’re in for an LOL treat.

2. The Do Not Watch List

There are several films I would stay away from because they will scare the pants off you in the current pandemonium.

Outbreak (1995) starring Dustin Hoffman, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Rene Russo

Outbreak (1995)

For years, I have felt that the scariest movie I have ever seen is not a horror movie, it’s not a Freddie or Jason or Michael Myers flick, it is the 1995 film Outbreak starring Dustin Hoffman, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Rene Russo. The movie is about a fictional infectious disease spreading throughout the world. And it’s scary because it’s plausible. It’s now available on Netflix. Even though it was the 9th most-watched movie on Netflix last week, streamers beware.

Other flicks to avoid:

28 Days Later (2002) — people turn into zombies after being infected with a terrible virus.

12 Monkeys (1995) — a deadly virus forces people to live underground.

World War Z (2013) – another zombie apocalypse movie starring Brad Pitt.

Carriers (2009) — Is there such thing as a virus-themed buddy movie? Yes indeed there is.

Contagion (2011) — A quite realistic Stephen Soderbergh (the Ocean’s trilogy, Magic Mike) film in which Gwyneth Paltrow dies from a deadly, spreading virus.

3. Lose Yourself In Books

Here is The Guardian’s Coronavirus Reading List: Reader Suggestions to Bring Joy in Difficult Times. I think it’s a good idea to lose yourself in the pages of a good book, from classic literature to graphic novels to creative nonfiction and everything in-between.

And — if you’ll allow me to be self-promotional for a second — I hope you will read my memoir: The Bipolar Addict: Drinks, Drugs, Delirium & Why Sober Is the New Cool. It’s available on Amazon. The Bipolar Addict is not exactly a beach read, but I promise there is humor and a happy ending.

4. Put on a Happy Face With Music

Take a cue from James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and Dance Yrself Clean — one of the best dance rock songs of all time. It starts very slow and then it kicks hardcore around the 3:52 mark in this video from the Glastonbury Festival in England. Throw yourself a party and cut a rug in your house!

My current jam is all over the radio right now and its positive message is, well, contagious. Listen to Lizzo’s “Good As Hell”: “Baby, how you feelin’? Feelin’ good as hell!”

Otherwise, I made this mix on Spotify that was intended to help combat Seasonal Affective Disorder, but is the perfect soundtrack to seize your soul with happiness.

5. Turn Off the News

Blanket coverage of the coronavirus only causes consternation over the outbreak. Hypochondriacs are especially susceptible to coronavirus anxiety. If your Facebook or Twitter feed is overflowing with statuses about the virus, rethink logging on.

Limit your news consumption to one show, perhaps NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt for example.

6. Go for a Long Walk By Yourself

Enjoy the brisk, early-spring air with a leisurely jaunt in a quiet neighborhood. Those tulips are just barely starting to sprout. If you live in a residential area, it’s very easy to keep distance from others. But don’t ride the bus or the subway, according to my doc.

7. Clean Your Living Space

If you’re going to be isolating yourself from the world, you may as well habituate in a clean environment. Not only will it kill germs, but cleaning will make you feel like you’ve accomplished something afterwards. And you can enjoy a nice, clean house.

8, Socialize Virtually

FaceTime and Skype seem like they were tailor-made for moments like this. Merely talking on the phone is good too, but actually seeing who you are talking to is more gregarious. And don’t forget to virtually call your mom!

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In this turbulent time, if you are feeling down, I am reminded of a quote by poet Rainer Maria Rilke — “Just keep going. No feeling is final.” It appears at the end of the excellent dark comedy Jojo Rabbit, a film that takes place in Nazi Germany about a young boy with Hitler as an imaginary friend, and another film I recommend to get your mind off things. And in my opinion, Jojo Rabbit should’ve won Best Picture at the Oscars this year. It was the most clever film of 2019.

And I talked to my doctor about this story and his advice among other things was: “Keep calm and eat pizza.” I’m on a no carb diet, but if it’s doctor’s orders I’m gonna GrubHub some deep dish. Extra cheese, sausage and green peppers, por favor. Yum.

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