It’s on every news channel, all the news blogs, and everyone’s Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds. Notices and warnings are on the doors of schools, healthcare establishments, and government buildings. COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, doesn’t just affect your respiratory system. In fact, the virus may be affecting you right now even though you haven’t been infected. This virus may be affecting your mental health.
With each passing day, the number of people infected by the virus has been rising. As each new headline passes your screen, do you find yourself shifting in your seat or wondering where you left your hand sanitizer? Have you been considering cancelling that trip you planned for your kids’ spring break? Are you increasingly worried about your aging parents? These worries and those anxious feelings represent a normal response to a very real concern.
A certain amount of anxiety about the virus is completely normal, and anxiety is not always bad. There’s a “healthy” level of anxiety that can keep you on your toes, increase your motivation, and help you to keep yourself safe. Many people report that they aren’t worried about the virus at all. After all, it can be reassuring to know that you’re more likely to catch the regular old flu than this new coronavirus at this point. If you’re not worried, hats off to you, but you should still follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Your anxiety about the new coronavirus is not unhealthy unless it’s out of proportion to the actual threat or if your anxiety is causing impairment in your day-to-day functioning. If you are experiencing increasing anxiety about the COVID-19 outbreak, it can begin to affect your sleep, concentration, productivity, mood, relationships, and more.
For people with pre-existing mental disorders, particularly anxiety disorders, news of this novel coronavirus can exacerbate existing symptoms. People with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might experience more frequent or significant intrusive thoughts, heightened startle response, or more vivid nightmares. Those with panic disorder may find their panic attacks to be more frequent or severe. Individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder may find it more difficult to control their obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors. Of course, people with pre-existing health anxiety are finding that they are especially fearful as of late.
Even those with conditions that aren’t in the family of anxiety disorders may be struggling more than usual. People with depression, for example, may be feeling more hopeless than usual or having more negative thoughts.
How to Cope with Coronavirus Anxiety
Keep it in perspective: Your risk of contracting the virus may be much lower than you think. It’s easy to overestimate your risk when inundated with news stories. Limit your exposure to news, but stay informed with reliable information: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are good resources for the most accurate information available about the virus and your risk. Be sure to learn about the symptoms of the virus to avoid needlessly worrying about symptoms that are not indicative of coronavirus illness.
Follow the guidance of the experts: Take the precautions recommended by the CDC, but there is no need to go above and beyond their recommendations “just to be safe.” For example, the CDC does not recommend that you wear a mask at this time unless you are actually sick with the virus.
Stick to your routines as much as possible: The government and medical professionals will tell us if we need to stay home and avoid going to work, school, and other public places. Unless you have been advised by a reliable authority to stay home in isolation, go on with your life and normal routines. Social support might be a real anxiety reducer.
Do healthy things: Eat healthy foods. Get some physical activity. Strive for regular, quality sleep. Drink lots of water. These activities not only help reduce anxiety, depression, and other mental health symptoms, but they may also boost your immune system! Mental health counseling can help you learn to work through and cope with anxiety of all kinds. As of this writing, there is no recommendation to avoid visiting healthcare providers in North Carolina, so consider making an appointment with a counselor to discuss your fears.
We need to stick together. If you know someone who is currently quarantined due to actual or possible exposure to coronavirus, check in on them by phone or video chat. Isolation can be quite depressing and lonely, so reach out regularly. Chat with them about what you’ve been doing “on the outside,” recommend a great Netflix series to them, or even watch something with them while on the phone or video chat. If you’re the one quarantined, don’t wait for others to reach out to you. Call family, friends, and even acquaintances. Tell them you’re quarantined and could use a friendly ear for some chit-chat. I have a feeling that most people would be happy to keep your virtual company.