Have you been watching or reading the news about the spread of coronavirus and starting to feel more and more worried? Maybe you’re starting to feel anxious about interacting with people out in the community or going to public places. You’re not alone.
No one wants to get sick and so naturally you want to do whatever you can to protect yourself.
There are practical things you can do to try to keep yourself healthy and there are plenty of resources out there that will tell you what you can do. But what if you are doing all of the practical things but you’re still feeling anxious?
This post is NOT about how to prevent coronavirus. It is for those of you who are stressed out and having a hard time controlling your worries about catching the virus and you want to find ways to be safe with less anxiety.
Read on to learn:
The pros and cons of worrying
9 tips to help manage your anxiety about coronavirus
Where to get help with your anxiety
Worrying and feeling anxious are natural responses to uncertainty and situations that seem outside of your control. It keeps you alert and aware and it spurs you into action to try to figure out how to protect yourself and gain a sense of control over the situation.
You might find yourself gathering as much info as possible about the illness, the symptoms, how to avoid catching it, and where it’s spread. You may have purchased supplies and made other arrangements in your life to help prepare yourself for an outbreak. This is not necessarily a bad thing.
Staying informed and being prepared can help relieve some of your concerns, help you feel more in control, and it can help prevent a wider spread of the virus.
However, the worrying and anxiety can get out of hand and end up causing undue stress, overwhelm your judgement, and get in the way of living your life.
For instance, you may start to be acutely aware of any little sign or symptom of sickness, both within yourself and with others. A tickle in your throat or hearing someone cough or sneeze can send you into fear and panic mode and it may be difficult to stop worrying after that.
You might start finding ways to avoid being out in public or interacting with people which could have impacts on your livelihood and your relationships, all of which could make you feel even more anxious and worried. In certain cases these actions may be advisable, but nonetheless, being in a stressed and anxious state for extended periods of time is exhausting and can be detrimental to your health and well-being.
So while it is good to be aware and cautious, it’s also important to find ways to manage your anxiety so that you can stay realistic, clear-headed, and take appropriate action, without over-reacting and adding more stress in your life.
Here are 9 tips to help you better manage your anxiety about coronavirus:
Focus on what you can control. Take practical preventative steps to avoid catching the virus.
Stay informed with limits. Pay attention to local news and alerts AND pay attention to how frequently you are tuning in. If you notice that if your anxiety is leading you to check the news with greater frequency and it leaves you feeling more anxious, consider setting some limits with yourself in regards to media exposure. I’m not saying to completely ignore the news coverage, but to give yourself a break from it every once in a while so that you can focus on calming your anxiety, rather than feeding it.
Focus on the present. An anxious mind is often worrying about the future and the “what ifs”. If you catch yourself caught up in worry, try to pull yourself into the present moment. Take a moment to notice your surroundings and focus your attention fully on whatever you are doing. Focus on breathing. Remind yourself of the facts as they exist in the present moment. If you are feeling healthy, remind yourself that you are healthy right now. Remind yourself that you are prepared and taking precautions.
Notice anxious thinking and slow it down before it spins out of control. Sometimes simply acknowledging when you are anxious can pull you out of an anxious thought cycle. When you notice you are feeling anxious or worrying, stop and say it to yourself: “I’m anxious” or “I’m worrying right now.” This simple action disrupts your train of thought momentarily and gives you the chance to slow down and decide whether you want to continue on that train of thought or not.
Check your beliefs. Sometimes when you’re anxious you can become attached to your worries and start to believe that if you stop thinking about something, something bad will happen. Or that if you just keep thinking and thinking and thinking, you'll be prepared for all possible outcomes and feel like you've got control over the situation.
If that’s the case, you can ask yourself: “Is this line of thinking really helping me right now? What realistically would happen if I gave myself a break from worry for a little bit?”
Worrying at all hours of the day is excessive and generally unproductive, so why not give yourself a break from time to time? Besides, you can always return to worrying later.
Distract and refocus on something enjoyable. Find something to shift your thinking away from your worries and fears. This is another way to give your mind a rest and if you can do something enjoyable, it can bring you a sense of joy, peace, and relief. The more often you do things that bring you joy, peace, and relief, the better. It allows your body and mind to unwind and recuperate from stress.
Practice gratitude. This could be considered another variation of the previous tip, but it’s worthy of having its own emphasis. When you are feeling anxious, think of the things you are grateful for in your life and write them down, if you can, so you can see it and take it in. You can even try to set a time to do this daily to make it a regular practice.
If you’re having a hard time finding things you are grateful for, start with the basics – the roof over your head, the clothing on your back, the warmth from the sun, etc. You may not fully feel the extent of your gratitude at first, but it helps refocus your mind on the positive and it’s a great antidote for negative, fearful thinking.
Take good care of yourself, both physically and emotionally. Prolonged stress impacts your immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to getting sick. Practice good self-care, starting with the basics: eat well, get enough sleep, stay hydrated, get some exercise, and find healthy ways to unwind and relax.
Seek professional help and support. If you have concerns that you may be getting sick or you have specific questions about staying healthy and preventing the spread of the virus, ask the experts. See your doctor or call an advice nurse.
If you have concerns that your worries and fears are getting out of hand, that you are unable to control your worries, and you’re finding it hard to relax, seek professional help from a therapist or a counselor who works with anxiety. Or join an anxiety therapy group or support group. And if you are fearful of being out in public, look into online options for therapy, support groups, or apps for managing anxiety.
When there is fear circulating around the community and the media it can be hard to escape the stress and worry. Whether you are in a community that has been exposed to coronavirus or not, it's important to remember that you can find ways to give yourself a break from the anxiety so that you can be more grounded, resilient, and able to move through challenges as they arise.
If you are interested in more support for anxiety, stress, and panic, feel free to contact me and we can set up a therapy appointment. I’m happy to help.
Call Melanie Lopes, MFT at 415-295-2940 or send me an email.