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Your (understandable) anxiety about the Coronavirus COVID-19

So….Coronavirus. This one certainly caught us off guard, didn’t it? Just two short months ago, we had no awareness that the first person was being infected in China, and now we can’t seem to escape the ripple effect. No matter where we live or who we are.

And to make it worse, no one knows how many people will get this virus. We can get sick and not know we have it. We don’t know who will get infected and be okay or who might get it and be very ill. We don’t know how our government and communities will handle all of this. It’s a lot that we simply don’t know.

And let’s be real here: feeling some fear or stress or overwhelm in reaction to a novel pandemic with no vaccine and people dying worldwide is perfectly fitting. But, letting anxiety control you or paralyze you is not fitting in this situation. And it is certainly not helpful.

The good news is there’s a lot you can do to manage your anxiety and calm yourself through this. Anxiety is a normal human reaction to the unknown. It’s a helpful emotional response meant to keep us vigilant and keep us safe. And our anxiety thrives on uncertainty and lack of control, which we collectively have a whole lot of when it comes to the Coronavirus COVID-19.

The key to getting through is to strike a healthy balance between irrational frenzy and willful ignorance...something like: informed cautiousness.

Am I overreacting to the Coronavirus?

Reflect and assess if you are:

  • Feeling on edge and “freaked out” all your waking hours

  • Scanning yourself for symptoms throughout the day

  • Having atypical sleep problems due to worry about the virus

  • Feeling physically queasy, tense or physically distressed due to fears

  • Constantly reading/listening to/talking about news about the virus

  • Having incessant thoughts about or shopping for a large amount of supplies

  • Making and editing and obsessively thinking about an emergency plan

  • ...otherwise spending time or thinking in ways that increase anxious feelings

How to address the Coronavirus COVID-19 in a healthy way

Focus on the Facts.

Since anxiety thrives on uncertainty, arm yourself with facts. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Coronavirus website is the most direct way to get scientific, unbiased, current information.The World Health Organization is also a trustable source of current worldwide information.

Some Coronavirus COVID-19 facts (taken from the CDC FAQ page)

  • This novel (new to us) coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China

  • The virus causes a disease known as COVID-19.

  • The World Health Organization declared it a pandemic on Wednesday 3/11/20.

  • Coronaviruses are generally spread through respiratory droplets expelled from the nose or mouth

  • Inhaling the droplets produced by another person's cough or sneeze can cause you to become infected.

  • The most common method of transmission is mouth-to-mouth or hand-to-mouth contact.

  • The coronavirus cannot be transmitted through goods manufactured in China or any countries reporting COVID-19 cases because of poor virus survivability on surfaces over a period of days or weeks.

  • There is no evidence to support that COVID-19 transmission can happen through food. Before preparing or eating food, wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds for general food safety.

  • It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not the main way the virus spreads.

Avoid over-focusing on facts.

Yes, we have 24-hour access to news and we also have 24-hour access to pancakes at IHOP. Indulging in either of these will bring us down if we let it. Too much information and exposure to COVID-19 data can skew your perspective on reality. Remember that whatever we focus on increases. Just like a camera lens, we can choose to zoom in on one piece of a picture and the rest of our reality can fade into blur, tipping us out of balance.

So, consider scheduling times for yourself to check on the news once or twice a day max. Limit other exposure to virus info, even casual conversation if you notice that your anxiety gets heightened. Perhaps you can set some news alerts just for news that's particularly relevant to you (like your local area/state press releases, school or business closings, or updates that will specifically impact your life).

Increase your focus on what you CAN control.

Practice preventive actions

  • Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, especially before eating and/or touching your face and after using the bathroom.

  • Avoid sharing phones, kissing, and shaking hands with individuals who are visibly sick.

  • Avoiding touching your eyes, face or nose until you wash your hands

  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue or with the crook of your elbow.

  • If you are feeling sick with a fever or cough, stay home and call your health service provider.

Practice “social distancing.” (Side note: does anyone find it ironic that people easily make judgments about those who avoid the public or keep their distance in public and now all of a sudden it’s billed as the safest option?)

The elderly and people with compromised/weakened immune systems are most at risk of the virus. One way to mitigate that risk is social distancing. It’s a fancy way to say "stay about six feet away from other people." It’s the safest precaution from germ sharing and it’s not that hard to do, especially in small groups. Large crowds or enclosed spaces are more difficult. So consider ways to better limit your close-contact interactions:

  • Gather with others in spacious or open air locations

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator if you can and wash your hands after touching railings.

  • Talk to your employer about their plan to keep your work environment safe and any work-from-home options, especially if you get ill or a quarantine occurs.

  • If you go to school or have kids in school, see if there are remote-learning options

  • If you go to church, see if they have video or webcast options

  • Explore food/grocery/medication delivery services available to you

But….don’t isolate yourself in your home, it can increase fear and a myopic outlook.

Stay active and in your routine as much as you can.

This will help increase your sense of control and also will send a message to your physical system that things are safe and okay.

  • Engage in your preferred hobbies, spend time (or talk via phone) with people you enjoy, and engage in things that will distract you from anxiety about the virus.

  • Just because some big events and gatherings are canceled, it doesn't mean you have to sit at home alone and bored if you're feeling healthy.

  • Keep going out in public if you feel healthy, and stay mindful of touching surfaces that many others come in contact with. Bring some hand sanitizer with you and wash your hands frequently.

  • Spending time outdoors or in nature with fresh air can be a great option for sending a sense of calm to your body.

Plan ahead.

A great way to combat the uncertainty of anxious thoughts is to gain a sense of control by creating a plan. Anxiety likes to predict the worst case scenario and focus on how that will be impossible to manage. An antidote is: create a plan to manage it.

  • Discuss with your partner, roommate, friends, family members what you will do if school or work interruptions occur.

  • Keep basic supplies on hand.If it’s possible for you, aim for a 30-day supply of cleaning supplies, prescriptions, and shelf-stable foods. Honestly these items are good to have if any natural disaster (or quarantine) occurs.

  • Buy hand sanitizer (but not all of it). If you want to stay safe, it means people around you need to stay safe too. Leave some in the store for others so they can prevent the spread as well.

  • The CDC recommends an “alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60% to 95% alcohol.” Carry hand sanitizer or wipes with you if you frequent places that limit easy access to soap and water.

Recognize and acknowledge distorted thoughts.

We have a lot of distorted thought patterns we fall into as humans, and "worst case scenario" or "catastrophizing" are two such patterns that seem to have strong footholds where this virus is concerned. The way to manage this:

  • Catch yourself when you are thinking in ways that are not based in certainty.

  • Acknowledge that your fears and anxieties are based in fact but that your thoughts and worries about the future are not based in fact.

  • The future is unknown and you can remind yourself of this.

  • Tell yourself to pause and zoom out.

  • Accept that yes there is a risk of mortality (which currently hovers around 3-3.5 percent%)

  • Also remember that most people who are infected experience only a mild illness and are fully recovered.

  • Remind yourself that you have control and resources to get through any stressors that come your way.

Things can feel scary and uncertain right now and there is no sugarcoating that. Please aim to show yourself and others patience & compassion during this time, because we all react to uncertainty in very different ways. There is no wrong way to feel right now. It's important for us to remain informed and do our best to make wise decisions.

Do what you can to take good care of your physical and mental self, and reach out to others for support.


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