COVID-19 is on all of our minds across the world. What actions can we take to manage Coronavirus anxiety?
One of the stories on this morning’s news states that 16 million people in Italy will be quarantined in lockdown right now in Northern Italy. This is unprecedented for all of us in current times, and the implications about what could happen easily come to mind.
I walk through the grocery store, I overhear two conversations about shopper’s fears. I get a text from a friend in Seattle sharing the challenges of explaining to her young children why field trips and other things are being cancelled and why they can’t visit grandpa in his nursing home right now. “You should really write a blog post about this,” she said. “This is affecting all of us.” I then head into my own work and coronavirus themes are brought into each of my clients therapy sessions.
We are in a state of extreme uncertainty.
This is true locally as well as globally. Our collective anxiety is extremely high right now. This makes sense, as the unknown naturally spikes anxiety. Being alert to danger is a survival mechanism. But coronavirus and its implications are challenges that will likely be here for some time to come, so we need to pace ourselves. We need to keep check on our own anxiety levels.
Aside from the discomfort of feeling constantly on edge, there are other consequences to our health of heightened stress. For one, heightened and prolonged stress can weaken your immune system, and we know that this is not the ideal time for that.
Therefore, it is time to intervene now.
Here are some things that you can do now:
1. Shift your focus away from fear and more toward what is recommended to do to prepare. Focus on what would be prudent (e.g. having enough prescription medications on hand in the event of quarantine) and less on buying into the hype (e.g. stockpiling your basement with a year supply of toilet paper).
2. Learn the recommended ways to prevent transmission and take reasonable action. No doubt that most people who read an article on this topic are already engaged on this topic.
3. Isolate only as it relates to contagion. If you are reducing your exposure to others, it can be incredibly prescient to keep engaged with others virtually, use humor (there are a lot of great memes and resources already circulating), and reach out to others when (and ideally well before) you are feeling overwhelmed or are at your wit’s end.
4. If you are experiencing mild symptoms of illness (e.g. runny nose), it is natural to be concerned right now, but take action by monitoring your symptoms and imposing some self-isolation until you are feeling better, and rationally evaluating whether you need to have your symptoms investigated.
5. If you have young people in your life, try to pay attention to how you are talking about and reacting to the news. Many organizations have put forth guidelines already. And if you are in the position of quarantine with children, recognize that they may need regular reassurance that they are not being punished, and all of these tips are relevant.
6. Monitor your information needs. Pay attention to what is working for you, and notice that your needs may fluctuate. If the constant coverage is too much for you right now, take a break from it. Play some music instead, or whatever works for you, and you are in control here.
7. Similarly, make a dedicated effort to re-shift your attention and focus to what else is around you. There ARE other things going on right now in your life. Notice them. That change in perspective can be a huge component to your antidote to anxiety.
Marni Amsellem, Ph.D
Licensed Psychologist, CT & NY
And you can follow her on twitter at @smartpsychreads