Coping with coronavirus anxiety

John Sharp, MD

Contributor

Worrying about all the news on the new coronavirus and the illness it causes? Well, that makes good sense. If you’re wondering how to cope with anxious feelings that are surfacing, this blog post can guide you through steps that may be helpful to many people.

If you often struggle with anxiety, worries about your health, or obsessive thoughts and actions, you might need additional assistance, as I’ll explain in a later post.

Steady yourself around worries about the new coronavirus

Knowing how to manage your own anxiety always takes a little thought. Ask and answer these questions:

  • What typically happens to your body when worries mount?
  • How worried are you?
  • What do you fear the most?
  • What usually helps you handle worries?

When anxiety rises because we’re facing a distressing threat like the new coronavirus, we need to focus on what tends to work for us to ease anxiety — that, plus doing a little bit more of some actions and a little bit less of others.

Keep these thoughts in mind. You’re fully prepared to help yourself. You can take steps to calm and steady yourself. Remember what works for you — because as fellow humans we’re not so dissimilar, but we do tend to have our own preferences and best practices.

Try doing these things more

  • Connect with friends and loved ones through video chats, phone calls, texting, and email. It really helps to feel the strength of your connections to your friends and loved ones, even though you may not be with them in person.
  • Stick with sources of credible medical information, so you can avoid misinformation about the virus and the illness it causes.

Try doing these things less

Please don’t overdose on hype or worry or misinformation. I get some regular updates from credible sources in the morning and check again briefly toward the end of the day. There’s no need to stay tuned in 24/7 — it can actually make your anxiety much, much worse.

Take practical steps to lessen risk of catching the new coronavirus

Three healthy, sensible steps we can all take:

  • Avoid unnecessary travel and crowds.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water (or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer) for 20 seconds (see video).
  • Keep your hands away from your face, especially your eyes, mouth, and nose.

Many people infected by the coronavirus develop symptoms like a fever and dry cough during the incubation period. However, some people may not seem symptomatic. The virus can spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Viral droplets that travel several feet through the air may be breathed in or — much more likely — may land on surfaces that other people touch, such as a door handle or elevator button.

We do have to be careful and cautious. But once we adopt key precautionary measures, we can take a deep breath and do our best to calm ourselves. It’s not necessary or helpful to be on high alert all the time. This will wear you down emotionally and physically. So try to adjust your level of alertness to your immediate surroundings. Then once you come home, wash your hands really well and find ways to relax and feel safe. Safety is a basic need for all of us.

How can you relax despite coronavirus worries?

Here are some tried and true ways to relax:

  • Yoga. Not a yoga person? No need to start now unless you’d like to try it. Sometimes trying new things and discovering new activities you can benefit from and enjoy can be a welcome, healthy distraction. Yoga Studio and Pocket Yoga are good apps to consider.
  • Meditation. Regular meditation is very calming. Many apps teach simple forms of meditation, such as Headspace or Calm.
  • Controlled breathing. One simple technique is called square breathing. Visualize your breath traveling along a square. As you follow the instructions to inhale, hold your breath, or exhale, count slowly to three on each side. Try it now. Inhale up the first side of the square. Slowly count one, two, three. Hold your breath across the top. One, two, three. Exhale down the other side of the square. One, two, three. Then hold your breath across the bottom. One, two, three. After a few minutes of this you should be feeling calmer and more centered.

Tap into other ways you like to relax, too. Maybe you like reading a good book or watching a good comedy. Eat the familiar foods that you always enjoy. Stay in contact with your friends and loved ones. Reaching out can help you and help them.

We’re all on this journey together. News about the virus will likely grow worse, then grow better. Listen to public health experts who can help us navigate the path ahead. Take sensible steps that can help us all: get your bearings, practice good hygiene, use calming strategies that work for you — and maybe try something new. Making healthy, reasonable choices about what to do and what not to do will make a big difference in being able to stay as safe and as well as possible.

For more information about the new coronavirus, please see Harvard Health Publishing’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

Follow me on Twitter @JohnSharpMD

Comments:

  1. Roberta Pocceschi

    Is there any information for those who feel they may have been exposed (EX: a fellow employee having been tested and awaiting results) ? Are there measures that can be taken to lessen the effects of the virus before symptoms begin? Such as supplementation, nasal decongestants, bronchodilators, etc.

  2. Debby Roberts

    My special needs daughter has downs syndrome and in a assisted living center. I went to check her out last Saturday for a visit, and bring her home. They would not allow her to leave. So I got to visit with her inside only at the front door, she was well that day. But now I don’t know! Tried communicating with nurse through text and she would not respond. This facility is not the best, it is non-profit, and I don’t know if the state of OK LA helps out or not, workers only make minimum wage. I am worried to death about her and the other clients. I pray every day for for her and everyone else in the world. Everyone everyday needs to pray.

  3. Albertina Geller

    These article will help a lot to people who are afraid of the virus and struggling with anxiety. Try to be at home & avoid misinformation about the virus.

  4. John Wilson

    Prayer…..focus on our loving God….Jesus said “Fear not…” and “Cast your cares upon Him for he cares for you”…God Bless!

  5. Pallavi Shori

    The exact term for the third measure of controlled breathing, is ‘Pranayam’, to be accurate. It is a Sanskrit word, wherein ‘prana’ means energy and ‘ayam’ means control, that is performed with aim to control one’s body energy via conscious breathing.

    There are many types of pranayama. Though herein only Square or Box breathing been mentioned, whose exact term is ‘Sama Vritti Pranayam’. Other than this, other pranayama like ‘Anulom Vilom’, ‘Bhrahmari’, ‘Kapalbhati’, and ‘Ujjayi’ pranayama etc. can help us relax and even strengthen our body immunity too.

  6. Henry Smith

    Social media is also responsible for creating unnecessary hype and building anxiety among us. The more we keep ourselves away from staying updated frequently and indulge in other activities keeping precautions in mind, the better it is for our health.

  7. Marc Kaufman

    With a fatality rate that appears to be about 6.6% in Italy, does anyone know if IPPB treatments are being used or if it would be of some benefit to help maintain airways at an earlier stage or may be better to say at the onset of Pneumonia? Thanks

  8. Sarah Matheson

    I’m not down-playing the effects it might have on the elderly or children, but people are making it out to be a lot worse than it really is. My co-workers are constantly reading about it and sending updates to everyone which makes me wonder if COVID is more viral online than it is in real life!

    Btw, here’s a few more tips for anyone living in the city. Buy a pocket hand sanitizer for taking public transportation and avoid large crowds. And if you have roommates, Clorox wipes and an air purifier can help the spread of germs as well.

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