Article by OM Times
Some degree of anxiety might be inevitable right now, but the above tips hopefully will minimize the likelihood of your pandemic anxiety getting out of control.
Covid-19 Pandemic Anxiety is Going Viral
The world is reeling from the effects of the outbreak of Novel Coronavirus, now known as Covid-19. Here in Canada, we’re perhaps at a slight advantage after dealing with the SARS crisis in 2003. We learned a lot at the time, and I think that we’re being proactive to help curb the spread of infection.
Meanwhile, I’m seeing a lot of very anxious people. Some of my patients have admitted that they’ve been “obsessing” about Covid-19 and that it’s been keeping them up at night. I’ll leave it to the public health departments to inform us about the measures we should be taking to protect our physical health but I do have some suggestions for how to protect our mental well-being during such a frightening time.
Anxiety is the most common mental health disorder. It affects 18% of the population in the US. In Canada, the most recent statistics show that it affects close to 9% of the population. It isn’t surprising that in times of stress, a person who has underlying anxiety would find their condition worsening, but even people who don’t suffer from anxiety could become anxious during a global pandemic.
Pandemic Anxiety Comes from Feeling Out of Control
Anxiety is created – or worsened – when people feel helpless or out of control and when they lack essential information. In this rapidly changing scenario, it’s difficult to know what’s going on with Covid-19 from moment to moment. Every day we wake up and the numbers are changing. First, it was China where cases were surging. Now it’s Iran and Italy. Tomorrow it could be somewhere else.
Because testing has been so limited, we don’t really know how many people are infected. We’re unsure of the death rate and it’s unclear how at risk we are of becoming seriously ill with the virus. All of this uncertainty can fill us with fear.
Anxiety Makes Us Sick
Anxiety is bad for our health. It can predispose us to gastrointestinal disorders, respiratory disorders, heart disease, a weakened immune system and even increased susceptibility to viral infections. Worrying about Covid-19 could actually make us more likely to catch it.
So how can we quell our mounting levels of anxiety? Here are my 7 tips to deal with Pandemic Anxiety
Pandemic Anxiety Tip #1. Follow the public health guidelines. Knowing that there are concrete steps you can take and then taking them will help you to protect both your physical and your emotional well-being. Stay at home as much as possible to avoid exposure, practice social distancing when you’re away from home, wash your hands properly and frequently and be reassured that you’re doing everything you can to take care of yourself and your loved ones.
Pandemic Anxiety Tip #2. Let go of the notion of control. We feel so out of control at a time like this but when we really look at it, control is something that we never have. We can’t control the weather, our bodies, other people, or sadly, the global spread of infection. All we can do is make choices, but these choices matter a lot. If we make good choices, we’re likely to be safer and saner than if we freak out.
Pandemic Anxiety Tip #3. Don’t panic. When we panic, we’re likely to do foolish things? The other day I heard that the police had been called out to a grocery store in the town of Belleville, Ontario. People were emptying the shelves of products and when there was nothing left, they started stealing items out of other people’s shopping carts. The police had to come in and break things up. Meanwhile, all that pushing and grabbing could have potentially exposed many more people to the disease.
Pandemic Anxiety Tip #4. Get enough sleep. When you’re anxious, it can adversely affect your sleep, but a lack of sleep can make you feel more anxious. It’s important to get a good night’s sleep, as sleep supports your immune system and your emotional well-being. Practice good sleep hygiene and try not to become over-stimulated – by checking the news, for example – just before bed.
Pandemic Anxiety Tip #5. Be informed but not compulsive. It’s important to know what’s going on but the compulsive consumption of upsetting information can make you more anxious and distressed. Know when to step away from the TV, your phone or the computer screen. Know when to take a break from talking about Covid-19 with your friends. Carve out some downtime to give your mind some peace.
Pandemic Anxiety Tip #6. Practice mental health self-care. This is a good time to meditate, do some yoga and breathing exercises, drink herbal teas and read a nice uplifting book – anything that will help you to decompress. When times are frightening, it’s essential to find a balance by doing things that will help you calm us down.
Pandemic Anxiety Tip #7. Remember that there’s no benefit to worrying. When we worry we don’t prevent anything bad from happening; we don’t prepare ourselves for anything – because we can’t actually predict what’s coming; we don’t protect ourselves from anything – because worrying actually makes us more vulnerable to becoming ill; and moreover, by worrying we end up feeling just as bad as if the thing we feared had already happened to us. Worrying and allowing Pandemic Anxiety clearly causes us more harm than good.
It’s Time to Stay Calm
In these uncertain times, we need to do our best to stay calm so that we’re best equipped to deal with Covid-19. We have to be aware of our tendency to catastrophize and know that this way of thinking only makes everything worse. Some degree of anxiety might be inevitable right now, but the above tips hopefully will minimize the likelihood of your pandemic anxiety getting out of control.
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About the Author
Marcia Sirota MD FRCP(C) is a board-certified psychiatrist, that does not ascribe to any one theoretical school. Rather, she has integrated her education and life experiences into a unique approach to the practice of psychotherapy. She considers herself a realist with a healthy measure of optimism. Sign up here for her free monthly wellness newsletter. Listen here to her latest podcast. mariasirotamd.com
Click here for my latest online course on How to Handle Difficult People, Once and For All.