Managing Coronavirus-Related Anxiety
By Brooke Schwartz, LMSW
You may be finding it difficult to avoid conversations about the coronavirus disease. It’s in the news, on social media, and a common topic of personal and professional conversations. While everyone responds differently to major global events and crises, it’s normal to experience an onset of anxiety or a spike in pre-existing symptoms.
While anxiety is occasionally motivating and allows us to get important tasks done, it sometimes rises to a level that interferes with daily life and may even feel paralyzing. If you’re looking for ways to manage your coronavirus-related anxiety, look no further!
Acknowledge the anxiety.
Have you ever noticed that when you’re anxious you’re also crankier? Or perhaps when you’re anxious you’re slower to respond to texts? Anxiety looks different depending on the person and the context, which can make it challenging to realize that it’s shown up at all. The problem is that emotions (like anxiety) are difficult to address if we don’t know that they’re happening, or if we chalk them up to something else (like “just not feeling great”). Acknowledge that you’re feeling anxious without trying to suppress the anxiety or attach to it. Just take note that the emotion has shown up by telling yourself, “I notice that I’m feeling anxious right now.”
Validate yourself (and others).
Validating is, in short, communicating that something makes sense. Why do this? For one, because it feels good. It also makes problem-solving more possible and increases a sense of support. Here’s an example of a self-validating statement: “It makes sense that I’m anxious about my risk given that I have autoimmune issues.” Is your friend calling you in a panic? Validate them by saying, “I can see how fearful you are right now.”
Be aware of anxiety’s tendency to generalize.
You might find that your coronavirus-related anxiety is expanding to anxiety about other areas of your life. Be mindful of what you’re feeling anxious about. If you become anxious while cooking dinner, check in with yourself by asking, “Am I anxious about cooking this just right, or is it that I’m feeling anxious after watching the news?” Experiencing persistent anxiety about coronavirus may make you more vulnerable to feeling anxious in other areas of your life — even areas you once found solace in!
Differentiate between problem-solving and anxious rumination.
As mentioned, anxiety can be motivating in that it moves us to problem-solve and get important tasks done. For example, anxiety about keeping your hands clean may motivate you to buy more soap when you run out. However, there’s a difference between effective and doable problem-solving (as in this example) and anxious rumination. Whereas problem-solving may alleviate some anxiety and generate a feeling of progress, anxious rumination often leaves us feeling worse. It involves catastrophizing, feeling overwhelmed and dreadful, getting stuck in “what-ifs,” seeking out reassurance, and believing everything needs to be solved right now. If you’re experiencing anxious rumination, transition into problem-solving mode by asking yourself, “What can I reasonably do right now to address this issue?” The answer may be going out to buy soap, or it might be turning on a movie to distract from the anxiety.
Take intentional breaks from the news and social media.
Imagine you’re at home preparing for a big presentation at work tomorrow and every single one of your hundreds of colleagues is texting you, “Don’t forget the presentation tomorrow. It better be good!” Constant reminders about our anxiety only serve to maintain it. When it comes to coronavirus-related anxiety, one solution is decreasing our exposure to reminders about it. Schedule time to turn the TV off, remove push notifications for the news on your phone, and even designate electronic-free times during the day. When you do look at the news and social media, make sure you’re looking at reputable sources that you expect will provide you with accurate information.
Work in positives and purpose.
It can be much easier to cope with negative events and emotions when they’re balanced with positive experiences. Read the long book you’ve never gotten around to. Take up calligraphy. Do a large puzzle. If you’re cooking dinner, make a plate for your elderly neighbor. Mail a letter to a family member across the country to give them an unexpected surprise. Do something that makes you feel happy and purposeful to combat feelings of anxiety and helplessness.
Create a schedule or routine for yourself.
Many people experience anxiety when their regular schedule or routine is disrupted. If you’re working or studying from home, create a schedule or routine that fits your current situation. Wake up and go to sleep at consistent times. Get dressed in the morning even if you’re not planning to go outside. Designate 11AM-11:30AM as “vacuum time.” Take care of your body by eating regular and healthy meals. Find creative ways to move your body, such as marching in place while watching TV or dancing to music while you clean. Continue to do the things you need to do for work, school, or your personal wellbeing. Procrastinating — as relieving as it may feel in the moment — only serves to fuel anxiety.
Connect with people.
Find ways of maintaining your social networks to keep a sense of normalcy and connectedness. FaceTime with friends, even if they’re just down the street.
Continue with existing mental health treatment, if possible.
Check with your provider about your options for continuing treatment during this time. Many therapists will offer teletherapy (therapy via video or phone). Consider reaching out to your insurance company to see if they will reimburse for teletherapy services. If they haven’t in the past, it may be worth asking if they are making exceptions given the current circumstances.
Here’s to hoping you feel more confident in managing your anxiety as you navigate the current circumstances!
This site is for information only. It is not therapy. This blog is only for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. We are not able to respond to specific questions or comments about personal situations, appropriate diagnosis or treatment, or otherwise, provide any clinical opinions. If you think you need immediate assistance, call your local emergency number.
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