The uncertainty and stress associated with coronavirus anxiety are being felt across the world. While you shouldn’t feel ashamed of feeling anxious during this unprecedented time, one can easily heighten their concerns to inhibiting, life-consuming levels. So, how can you manage your mental health during self-isolation?
News bingeing. Toilet paper wars. Face masks. Compulsive cleaning and sanitizing. The world we live in feels apocalyptic – a scary reality for all, but especially for those who suffer from chronic anxiety and stress. It’s virtually impossible to go about your daily business without mention of the novel coronavirus, whether you are stuck at home on quarantine, or an essential employee doing everything you can to get through another worrisome day at work. Particularly due to the continually evolving and “novel” nature of the virus. If you’re reading this, know that you’re certainly not alone here. In fact, anti-anxiety medication prescriptions are up 34% since mid-February, when the COVID-19 crisis began its rapid spread across the United States.
With more than 2 million cases worldwide, and close to 700,000 in the U.S. alone (as of mid-April 2020), it’s natural to worry that a neighbor or loved one may be affected. It’s also reasonable to feel anxiety from the sheer fact that schools, non-essential businesses, places of worship, and public events have been closed indefinitely. Life, as we know it, has been turned upside down. What will life look like a month from now, a year from now? That question alone is stress-inducing.
5 Ways to Manage Coronavirus Anxiety
It goes without saying that the pandemic and government mandates have taken a massive toll on the health of many Americans. However, it’s not just our physical health that is suffering; it’s mental as well.
If your feelings of coronavirus anxiety have developed into a regular panic, obsessive thoughts or actions, feelings of helplessness, or uncontrollable fear, there are many strategies you can adopt to find a sense of calm during this trying time.
1. Follow the Coronavirus Facts
First and foremost, tune out the noise. The fastest way to find yourself in a pit of overwhelm is to take every bit of “news” to heart. And this includes what your friends and family say. While it’s necessary to stay informed as we learn more about how this virus works, keep in mind that there is a bevy of stressors and misinformation being spread on TV and the internet – inaccurate statistics, false reporting, and a direct disregard to what health authorities recommend. Sensationalist media outlets and social media are feeding the frenzy rather than helping to calm it.
Instead, focus only on credible sources of medical information and recommendations. Tune into Governor briefings to stay privy to the status of the virus in your community. Follow the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for rolling updates and guidance on COVID-19.
2. Don’t Overdose on News – Unplug
Limit how much news you consume each day rather than monitoring 24/7 because there is a massive difference between staying informed and obsessing. Too much news, especially from the likes of social media, will only exacerbate your anxiety rather than help it.
Try only checking in for morning updates, and, if you must, tuning into the evening briefings. When the news begins to feel ad nauseam, take a step back, and focus on your daily tasks as you would if this wasn’t happening.
3. Focus on What You Can Control
One of the quintessential pieces of anxiety is the feeling of being out of control in a situation. Unfortunately, being in the middle of a pandemic means that just about everything is out of our control: we can’t put a timeline on how long this will last, we can’t control what other people do (or don’t do), and we can’t dictate who will and won’t get sick. These facts are terrifying, especially for those who find peace in control.
However, we can take practical steps to lessen our own risk of catching the virus, and thus, those living around us. When that lack of command leaves you feeling vulnerable and focusing on everything that could go wrong, take note of what you can manage, such as:
- Keeping 6+ feet of distance between yourself and others
- Washing your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds and using hand sanitizer regularly
- Sanitizing frequently touched surfaces, items, and doorknobs/handles in your home
- Staying home unless absolutely necessary
- Checking on loved ones – especially seniors who may be experiencing stress with aging
- Avoiding non-essential travel
- Taking care of your health and treating any presumed symptoms
- Avoiding gatherings of 10 or more people
- Wearing a face mask on essential outings/errands
- Following all health recommendations as given by your local government
4. Get Active: Mind & Body
It should come as no surprise that physical health feeds mental health. Exercise and meditation have long been recommended as holistic approaches to stress management, particularly if they were once part of your regular routine. While you’re stuck in isolation, it’s crucial that you remain as active as possible to alleviate the onset of anxiety.
Depending on your local restrictions, consider getting out in nature, going on a bike ride or a walk, or practicing meditation in an open space. If you can’t go outside, stretch or practice yoga at home, and use the resources at your disposal to do moderate movements that will keep your body agile (even if that means using a can of beans as a weight!). Exercise keeps the mind sharp and is an obvious distraction from the day-to-day developments related to the novel coronavirus. Muscle relaxation exercises and conscious breathing patterns are also useful when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Regulated breathing has been used to fight strain and quiet the mind since ancient times, healing chronic stress, soothing fight-or-flight mode, and many types of trauma.
5. Stay Connected to Family and Friends
Social and physical distancing is not easy, especially if you are extroverted and used to being around people. But being under a stay-at-home order doesn’t mean you have to isolate completely. Isolation can worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression, so those with pre-existing disorders are at higher risk of poor mental health during the pandemic.
While you may not be able to be with your friends and family members physically, you can still talk to them virtually. Fortunately, we live in a digitally-forward world that allows us to stay connected using tools such as Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts. Rather than focusing your conversations on our new “normal,” play games, share stories and enjoy each other’s company as you normally would. This is especially important if you have senior loved ones whose loneliness may be intensified during isolation. Be creative to stay connected.
If you are feeling the adverse mental effects of the novel coronavirus and think you could benefit from speaking to a mental health specialist, please contact your healthcare provider, or use these resources as recommended by the CDC: