Managing Our Fears and Anxieties in the age of COVID-19
March 17th 2020
The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak is impacting every aspect of our lives. It is a normal human response to develop increased fears, worries and anxieties in times of uncertainty. Anxiety may be related to the fear of getting the virus as well as how the virus will impact us financially and socially. The good news is there are evidenced-based things we can do to improve our emotional well-being:
In an effort to remain physically and emotionally healthy we should all follow the CDC guidance regarding good hygiene habits to reduce the likelihood of spreading or getting an infection.
How do we stay socially connected in a world of social distancing? Seek support from friends, clergy and neighbors by phone, text, email, video calls and even old-fashioned letter writing. Self-expression in the form of writing out our thoughts and feelings is a very healing form of communication.
It is important to learn to cultivate a sense of calm. Here’s how:
- If the news is stressing you, reduce your exposure to the news. This is especially important close to bedtime. Disconnect from your electronic devices 30 minutes prior to sleep. To relax yourself for sleep, try reading a book and using prayer and meditation to calm your emotions. It is important to get enough sleep as sleep deprivation can come on quickly and is a leading cause of anxiety. Adults require 7 to 9 hours of sleep and children require 10 to 12 hours. It will be challenging, but try to maintain a schedule for children during the time that school is canceled.
- Speaking of children, their worlds have been turned upside down with school, activities and sports cancellations. They will miss their friends and may even act-out a bit if they feel scared or bored. Answer their questions in honest, developmentally age-appropriate ways, but don’t wait until they ask you questions, children cannot always put thoughts and feelings into words. Talk to your children daily about how they feel, what they think. Reassure them that you will keep them safe and healthy and explain how.
- Don’t hold your breath! As humans we are still dealing with that primitive “flight or fight response” in times of stress. It is instinctual to hold your breath. Be aware of this and practice slow steady breathing. We can also use progressive muscle relaxation, dance, yoga or stretching, music and reading to create pleasant life experiences for ourselves. This is a good time to resume a hobby or develop a new one. I for one am finally doing my Tai Chi video I have had for 5 years!
- Prepare but don’t panic. Avoid impulsive behaviors, such as hoarding or over-buying. It is important to be organized and thoughtful in your response to this pandemic by preparing adequately for your family, which usually means maintaining a 3 to 5 day supply of food, hygiene and other necessities. Be sure you are prepared with enough prescription medications and vitamins and other over the counter needs. Read more about pandemic preparedness on the Centers for Disease Control website at cdc.gov
- Improving your sense of control and ability to cope with life stressors will go a long way towards helping you to accept current circumstances that you cannot change. Shifting your focus to those aspects of your life that you can control — such as changing your definition of a “good day” to match your current reality and problem solving to match the current circumstances. This is what is meant by “mindfulness”.
- Don’t hesitate to ask your health care provider questions. There is no such thing as a “silly question.” Knowledge is power — and knowledge reduces stress, anger and frustration.
- Maintain a sense of hope and positive thinking. However, if you do begin to feel helpless, depressed, experience insomnia or loss of appetite or a stress level that you cannot control, or find that you are over using alcohol or other substances, do not hesitate to contact your medical or mental health provider or the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). This hotline is free and confidential and open 24 hours a day.
- Last but not least, be kind and caring to one another. Do not place blame. Be patient. I find it helpful to remind myself that everyone around me is going through something I have no idea about. Add to our normal life stressors, the COVID-19 fears and we need each other more than ever.
Liz Kershner, MSW, LISW-CP AP, serves as the Director of Behavioral Health at CareSouth Carolina.