COVID-19 Anxiety is Real — Here's How to Cope in a Pandemic

COVID-19 is anxiety-inducing, and for good reason. The TV is flashing images of people in hazmat suits, entire countries are being put on lockdown and infection and death toll rates are climbing by the day. There is a ton of contradictory information out there—some people say we need to practice social distancing, and other people are saying we need to calm down. The grocery stores are selling out of everything from hand sanitizer and tissues to toilet paper and even food and bottled water. And then there are the "what-ifs." Will they cancel that event? Should I stay home or go to that dental appointment? It’s just all too much to handle.

Anxiety is a natural reaction to feeling overwhelmed and scared, but it can disrupt life and impact decision-making. So how does a person cope in the pandemic-era? We wondered, too. And this is what we found.

Get the Facts

It’s normal to feel anxious about the unknown. If you don’t fully understand how the coronavirus spreads or how it’s going to affect life and services, you’re naturally going to feel more anxious than you otherwise might. So one way to take power back is by learning the facts. But make sure to turn to reputable sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and your local health officials. Local and national news outlets, hospital websites and national non-profit organizations can also be reliable sources of information, but be mindful. Information overload is a sure-fire anxiety inducer.

Avoid getting information from unknown sources on social media, too. And there are a lot of those going around. Once you have the facts in hand, don’t believe everything people tell you—their sources are uncertain, at best, and remember, you got the facts, trust them. If you’re worried about something you’ve heard, look it up on reputable sources and find the real answer then, again, trust that. Knowledge is power, and knowing the facts surrounding COVID-19 can go a long way in quelling fear. Just don't spend all day surfing news sites, that won't help. Get the facts and then implement them.

Don’t Dwell On It

Dwelling is a masterful magnifier. If you take a small problem and dwell on it for a bit, you will notice that it becomes larger, uglier and more difficult to control. The same is true when you dwell on the pandemic. Sure, we should be concerned, but dwelling doesn't actually help.

Here are a few tips for getting your mind off the virus for a while:

  • Distract Yourself - Turn off the news and watch Netflix instead. Or play a game, read a book or run on the treadmill — do something other than think about the coronavirus.
  • Schedule Time for Research - Putting off all thoughts of the virus may backfire as they will emerge eventually. For this reason, it’s a good idea to schedule a time to think about it, check for new information and run through a preparedness checklist. Avoid reading up on it before bed, since anxiety might disrupt sleep.
  • Call a Friend - Whenever thoughts start to race, call a friend. But don’t talk to the friend about the coronavirus. Instead, share stories about fun times or catch up about the new things going on in your lives. Friends are a perfect balm for feeling stuck by a quarantine and undoubtedly, you will feel better afterward.
  • Go for a Nature Walk - Let nature soothe jangled nerves by spending time in the yard or in the nearby woods if possible. Hanging up new bird feeders can bring wildlife to eager eyes, trapped inside. Let nature work its magic.

Taking active steps to come into the present moment (right now, things are okay) can really help to alleviate anxiety, but for people with acute anxiety or anxiety disorders, this may be a good time to be proactive. Make a list of behaviors that have helped in the past so that when the flare is at its worst, there is a list to refer to and no need to try to think of what to do. This may include things like reading, drawing or practicing a hobby, a hot shower, talking with a loved one, cuddling a pet, playing loud music, kicking a ball around, or anything at all that helps. Keeping a list is a good way to let others know how to help when it gets bad, too.

Take Preventive Measures

Don't ignore the coronavirus. It is a real threat that requires preparation, but once those are done, try to forget about it and live life. The CDC has provided the following guidelines to maximize the chances of infection prevention:

  • Wash hands frequently, especially after being out in public, before eating and after coughing.
  • Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol when handwashing isn't possible.
  • Do not touch eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are or have been recently sick.
  • Practice social distancing between people in the community—that is, stay at least 6 feet away from others.
  • Stay home when feeling ill.
  • To seek medical care, call ahead before going in for suspected coronavirus.

If at all possible, take steps to protect your wellbeing by eliminating dwelling behaviors (surfing for more news, social media vigilance, and mental doom-prepping) and instead work to stay focused on the present moment. If the anxiety is out of control and is disrupting sleep and the ability to function normally, it may be time to see a physician to ask for pharmaceutical help until the virus passes and things level out. Getting help isn't shameful, it's how we all get through. There's no glory in suffering.

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3/24/2020 7:00:00 AM
Wellness Editor
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