Managing Anxiety & COVID-19

by Beth Granet, PsyD

The Coronavirus Disease 2019, also called COVID-19, is part of a larger family of viruses that was originally linked to a live animal market in Wuhan City, China. Many of you are attuned to the media and news reporting and likely aware that the virus has been spreading to various communities in the United States. While this virus and the recommended hygiene precautions should be taken seriously, there are global mental health considerations to bear in mind during times of pandemic.

If you are someone who normally struggles with anxiety or extreme worry, this event might be particularly triggering for you. Perhaps you find yourself picturing the worst-case scenario (called “catastrophizing”) more than usual. If you or a loved one are at higher risk for experiencing the complications associated with COVID-19, naturally your feelings of anxiety are valid and worthy of your attention and self-care. Individuals that are at higher risk include older adults, and those with serious chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, lung disease, or heart disease.

Sometimes, when we or the people around us seem to be in a panic, we forget how important taking care of our mental health can be. In fact, our stress and anxiety levels can even impact our immune systems and general ability to fight off sickness or infection. Thus, when watching media coverage or engaging in these discussions with others, it would be beneficial to make plans and take precautions, while also being calm and realistic. Here are some quick tips on managing your anxiety surrounding the virus:

  1. Gather your facts from reputable sources. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a reliable place to start. You may also find useful information from state or other government agencies or even your primary doctor.
  2. Remain calm and realistic about the news and media coverage. Remind yourself that the amount or frequency of the information provided on TV, social media, or other outlets, does not necessarily mean that there are an increased number of cases of the virus. Just because the news is constant, it does not necessarily mean that the danger is any greater.
  3. Be mindful of things you can control and accepting of things you cannot. Of course, it is important to follow precautions such as washing your hands and practicing extra hygiene. But, remember to put your energy toward the things you can do rather than fixating on impossible steps or unnecessary information.
  4. Be open and convey information about the virus with your children and family in a way that is understandable and age appropriate. It becomes easy for us to feed off those around us during times of high stress. Your calm and rational response could really help your children or other loved ones. Encourage your family to remain on their regular schedules and routines to the degree possible. That includes you as well!
  5. Maintain connections with your support or other social networks. This can help you feel close to others and provide a useful outlet to exchange feelings or reactions. Talk to those you trust about your experiences during this time, and do not hesitate to reach out to psychologists or other mental health providers who are trained to help manage extreme anxiety.
  6. Being kind to yourself and others becomes even more important during times of high stress. Remember that we are all facing the possibility of the virus and that it does not discriminate based on race or cultural background.
  7. Stay in the present moment as much as you can. Even if you are practicing social distancing or avoiding crowds, you can still take a walk in the neighborhood and get some sunlight! Exercise and focusing on what is currently happening as opposed to worrying about the future will go a long way when coping with extra stress.

Societal factors can greatly contribute to our overall stress and anxiety. Work closely with your providers or trusted others to determine how you typically handle this type of stress and what you can do to take extra precaution and care. Be kind and take care of yourself both mentally and physically!