By: Dr. Priyanka, Medical Director, Community Psychiatry
The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is undoubtedly stressful and can trigger anxiety. The daily reminders and constant updates in the news and social media about coronavirus spreading around the world is hard for anyone to wrap their head around. Many people have never experienced fear about a widespread disease so it can be overwhelming and very stressful.
For people who already struggle with anxiety disorder, it may seem as if their worst fears are coming true. These stress-producing times heighten emotions and concerns about contamination, being sick, or general discomfort when the future is uncertain. Feeling anxious can impact how we manage through daily routines, activities, and even relationships.
An estimated 31.1 percent of U.S. adults experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The coronavirus is unprecedented in how it stirs up anxiety in people. While we cannot control how the outbreak will unfold in the U.S, you can take control of your life using these steps to reduce your stress levels.
Here are a few ways to keep your anxiety in check.
Know the facts
Misinformation can accelerate anxiety levels quickly. Taking a proactive role in learning the facts from trusted, reliable sources such as the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control Preventions (CDC) will help you feel more in control of your situation. If you hear or read alarming news, be sure to vet those stories using credible sources. Also, when you share accurate information about COVID-19 you can help other people feel less stressed and allow you to connect with them.
Take normal, healthy precautions
Feeling like you don’t know what to do can greatly increase your anxiety. Remind yourself that there are certain logical things that you can do to keep yourself and loved ones safe. Frequent hand washing, sanitizing surfaces, covering coughs and sneezes, minimizing time spent in crowded public places, and unnecessary trips are practical ways to stay healthy, feel in control, and reduce your chances of illness in general.
Avoid information overload
Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting and stir up anxious feelings. Limit yourself to checking in with news to twice a day. Also, where you get your news matters. Your best bet is to get your news from large, national, trustworthy brands, and for local news, check your local newspapers and news stations.
Practice healthy living
Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, drink lots of water, and exercise regularly. And, get plenty of sleep. While these may seem like obvious choices often times life gets hectic, we get distracted and forget to take time for ourselves. Practicing healthy living will help reduce your stress and anxiety.
Remind yourself that you are doing the best that you can. Look around and recognize that you are in a safe environment, you are informed, and you know where to get updates. Take deep breaths several times a day. Stretch and meditate to release the tension. Make sure you unwind and do activities that you enjoy, such as read a book, go for a walk, work on a puzzle, or listen to music. Having the right balance of staying on top of the coronavirus mixed with positive experiences will also help reduce anxiety.
Connect with other people
Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. Reach out to family and friends in other areas to see how they are doing during this stressful time. Staying connected with other people will help you realize that you are not alone, many others have the same concerns and emotions that you do. Plus, you can share information that will help you stay informed of what is happening in other communities.
Rely on past coping strategies
Most everyone has experienced anxiety at some point, and using what worked then, is likely a good bet for what will work now. Maybe it’s writing down your thoughts to help determine what are irrational thoughts and replacing them with rational, fact-based thoughts. Maybe you have a trusted friend that you can speak with about your anxiety. Or maybe it’s meditating using breathing techniques you’ve learned to calm your concerns.
Keep in mind that pandemics like this do occur from time to time throughout the world. And, your feelings while experiencing it are normal. It is likely you feel scared, especially if you live in a highly-infected area. When you feel the stress of this virus outbreak, take a breath and review these tips, and if you still feel overwhelmed with anxiety or that the coronavirus fears are interfering with your ability to go about your daily life, you should reach out to a mental health professional.
If you need immediate assistance, the Crisis Text Line is open 24/7 – just text NAMI to 741741. The Crisis Text Line is operated by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The National Council on Behavioral Health also has a number of excellent resources available.
We are here for you. Community Psychiatry has more than 120 psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, and therapists ready to help via telemedicine across California. Call us at (855) 427-2778 or visit communitypsychiatry.com.