By Elena Kazakevich, LCSW, MBA
Coronavirus and the disease it causes — COVID-19 — is on everyone’s minds and it’s creating a great deal of anxiety. In order to make healthy choices and get through these difficult times as smoothly as possible, it’s important to understand and manage the anxiety that surrounds COVID-19. Here are some tips for you and your family:
1. Acknowledge that some anxiety is natural
If you have been thinking about coronavirus, checking the news, and worrying about how you’ll adjust to this temporary new reality, you’re not alone. Most of us have never lived through a pandemic before, so it makes sense if you feel uncertain and anxious.
Anxiety is a natural response that has helped us react to danger quickly and efficiently for millions of years. When we were hunters and gatherers, we needed that anxious energy to help us run away from predators. A relaxation response would not have been helpful when trying to escape a lion lurking nearby. Now, in our daily lives, some anxiety is still beneficial. When preparing for a big interview or presentation, for example, the adrenaline rush is necessary and useful. Even these days, some anxiety around washing your hands and practicing physical distancing at the grocery store will help you make better decisions.
What most of us are experiencing is a normal response to an abnormal situation. If you’re experiencing more severe anxiety and the symptoms start to impact your daily life, you may want to get advice from a professional. Symptoms to look out for may include increased heart rate, sweating, nervousness, and difficulty controlling worry.
2. Find a trustworthy source for medical information
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has the most up-to-date information on the spread of the disease and is a trustworthy source for medical advice. You can also read about specific conditions and how they are treated on Amwell.com.
3. Control what you can
A lot of anxiety comes from feeling out of control. We can’t control that the virus is here, that our children can’t go to school, or that special events have been canceled. This can lead to feelings of helplessness and despair. It’s important to acknowledge these emotions and act when we can. A therapist can help you work through and grieve these losses so you can move forward.
Take note of things you can control. Some examples include:
- Washing your hands
- Covering coughs and sneezes with your elbow or using a tissue
- Not touching your face
- Physical distancing
- Staying home, especially when you’re sick
Even if you are young and healthy, you can play your part in protecting your community by following the steps above.
Activities such as cleaning the house or rearranging your furniture can give you a sense of control and purpose. This may also be an opportunity for creative pursuits like painting, writing, or finally making that scrapbook. The more structure and sense of purpose you can bring into your days, the better you’re likely to feel.
It’s also important to be gentle with yourself and adjust expectations surrounding daily life. Give yourself and your family permission to be flexible about things such as screen time, meals, and household tasks. Focus on the big picture and try not to pressure yourself into keeping up with the day-to-day schedules that exist in school and office settings. Maintaining a routine is highly beneficial, but what is most important to your mental and emotional health is that you set yourself up for success. Try to remember that you are resilient, and your children are too.
4. Connect with family and friends
Even though big gatherings are canceled for the time being, staying in touch with your loved ones will help reduce anxiety and feelings of isolation, even if you are socializing digitally. Luckily, we live in a connected world where we can easily communicate via text, phone call, video call, and WhatsApp, to name a few. Take some time out of your day to call your friends, parents, and grandparents to visit one on one. Connecting person to person is different than connecting on social media, where it will likely be difficult to avoid excessive coronavirus posting. Reach out to the people who bring joy to your life and who will help you maintain a positive outlook.
5. Talk to an online therapist
Whether it’s the collective stress weighing you down or personal obstacles that are increasing your anxiety, connecting with an online therapist is a great way to talk through your feelings while staying at home. If you already see a therapist at a brick-and-mortar office, ask him or her if there is an option to continue your care online. Many therapists are offering this service to adapt to the increase in demand. If you’re new to therapy, or your provider doesn’t offer online visits, visit Amwell.com and schedule an appointment with a licensed therapist in your state. Our therapists are ready to help you navigate these difficult times. We’re all in this together and we will bounce back.