Anxiety in the Face of COVID

So here we are.

Times are changing, indeed. The country has been faced with a pandemic that is spreading quickly. As I type, there have been about 27,000 cases confirmed. By the time you read this, there may be more.

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). –World Health Organization

We have entered a state of fear. Not entirely unfounded, mind you. People are dying from this virus.

On the other side of this virus are people who walk around with such mild symptoms that they do not even know that they have it.

The problem with that? If you don’t know that you have it, you are more likely to pass it on because you are not sick in bed, you are out and about.

Enter Social Distancing

Because this disease is spreading way quicker than the common cold or flu, and because we do not have a vaccine or treatment for it at this point, it is important to practice social distancing.

Social distancing and self-quarantine. Meaning when you are not standing at least 6 feet away from others socially, stay inside.

When we hear the term quarantine, we tend to panic. Remember that movie Outbreak? Are we all about to get infected and die?

No, we are not.

In fact, statistically more people are surviving Coronavirus than are dying from it. And the more cases reported, the more the survival rate will rise.

The quarantine and social-distancing are there for our good. We need to get out of the way so that the experts can figure this out.

If we continue on life as usual, more people will get infected, the health system will not be able to manage it, and more people will die.

We contain it by staying away from it.

We stay away from it by staying away from people.

We stay away from people by self-quarantining and social distancing.

See how that works?

On the Other Side of Fear

Fear as two sides.

Side One: Panic

Panic. Mass hysteria. Fear mongering and utter chaos.

This side of fear is where anxiety lives. This side of fear tells us that we need to buy all the toilet paper and hoard masses amounts of oatmeal, even though we never eat oatmeal.

This side of fear tells us that we WILL get the coronavirus and we WILL die from it.

This side of fear is kept alive through addiction to social media and minute-by-minute updates about the death tolls.

This side of fear keeps us stuck.

Side Two: Freedom

On the other side of fear lies freedom.

Freedom to reframe what isolation looks like.

Freedom to know that even though this virus is spreading, it does not mean that you will get it. And if you do, it does not mean that you will die.

Freedom to laugh, because humor is a great coping mechanism.

Picking Sides

The good news with all this, as with anything is that you get to choose. You get to choose your attitude, your response, your actions.

If you feel yourself getting caught in the hail storm of fear, pause. Sit with the fear for a minute.

90 seconds to be exact.

The 90 Second Rule

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain researcher who studied her own brain through her experience of having a stroke, found that emotions only last for 90 seconds. After that, they pass on their own. If they don’t, there is a thought that is keeping them alive. You can read about Dr. Bolte Taylor and her 90-second rule by clicking here.

Some people may want to punch me in the throat right now.

That’s cool, just do it virtually.

I know it is hard to wrap your head around but try it.

The next time you have an uncomfortable feeling, sit with it.

  • Don’t judge it
  • Don’t question it
  • Just sit

The emotion will pass on its own in 90 seconds.

Still stuck at second 91? It’s not the emotion, it’s the thoughts.

If you are still struggling to shake the feeling of fear (for example) after 90 seconds, ask yourself what you are telling yourself about the fear. That thought is keeping the fear alive.

Moral of the Story

So the moral of the story is: Change your thoughts, change your feelings

Feelings are just feelings. Nothing more, nothing less.

They become too big for us to handle when we assign meaning to them that makes us feel powerless.

How Does This Relate to the Coronavirus?

Glad you asked because I was getting off on a tangent there. I’ve got more free time now, my mind wanders.

Coronavirus is bad. No question about it.

Coronavirus is scary. No argument there.

What do you believe about the Coronavirus?

  • Is it going to kill you if you get it? That belief will feed your fear and make you hoard toilet paper. paper towels and butter (these may or may not be things that I am running low on right now).
  • Is it nothing but the flu? That belief may lead you to make irresponsible decisions.
  • Is it an unknown virus that requires us to get out of the way so that the professionals can figure it out and stop it? That belief will lead you to make rational decisions and cautious choices, but not be imprisoned by fear.

But Wait! There’s More!

I recognize that this is an unprecedented time. The anxiety levels are heightened and we don’t know what to do with all of these feelings.

I have put together a list of 10-things that you can do to help manage your anxiety during this time.

Ten Ways to Reduce Anxiety in Times of Uncertainty (+1)

1. Practice mindfulness. Being in the unknown can entice panic with thoughts of “what if.” Anxiety lives in the past and the future, it does not have a place in the present.

2. Avoid catastrophizing. Uncertainty causes anxiety to increase, which can feed worst-case scenario thinking. Before we know it, we are finding evidence to support our catastrophic thoughts. Counter this by using fact-based reasoning.

3. Focus on what you can control. You can control your hygiene, where you choose to go, the news you choose to listen to, how you choose to live your life. You can choose your thoughts.

4. Get enough sleep. When we have anxiety, our brain tells us that we need to be on high alert. This can affect our sleep quality. When we don’t get enough sleep, it increases our cortisol levels, which increases our stress response. Also, lack of sleep decreases immunity, which is the opposite of what you want right now.

5. Exercise. Exercise is a natural stress reducer. There are YouTube Channels that have exercise routines you can follow. Also, practice social distancing and get out and walk. Nature acts as an antidepressant, which you might need right now. Plus, fresh air!!

6. Practice gratitude. Look for things to be thankful for. Maybe you have more time with your children, more time to work on that project you have been meaning to start. Do something that makes you happy every day.

7. Live in the “AND.” Know that this virus can exist AND you can still live a meaningful life. These two opposite things can co-exist.

8. Unhook your thoughts. Insert the phrase “I’m having the thought” before your statement. This will ease the extremes of the situation. For example, instead of saying “this is the worst,” say “I’m having the thought that this is the worst.”

9. Limit your screen time. It is easy to be hooked to news networks in times like these, but doing this keeps the anxiety alive. Get the necessary information from a reliable source and then turn off the news. 30 minutes is more than enough time.

10. Separate probability from possibility. Yes, it is possible that you will get the virus, but you can reduce your probability by practicing clean hygiene, limiting bodily contact and taking precautions.

11. Practice grounding techniques. When anxiety gets out of control, bring yourself back to the present by noticing 3 things you can hear, see and touch. This forces your brain to be in the present moment. And if that doesn’t work, go get some ice and hold it in your hand. This will help to defuse anxiety. It is hard to think about anything else when you are holding a freezing cold ice cube.

We Can Do This

We are all in this together. What you are feeling is normal. Don’t try to push your feelings away. It is okay to be scared. This is a confusing time. Feel your feelings and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. Just try not to get stuck there. Remember, anxiety is fear. When you are feeling anxious, ask yourself what it is that you fear. Is it fact-based or anxiety-based? Stay curious about what you might be doing to keep this fear going. Whatever you are doing to keep yourself and your loved ones safe and healthy, keep doing that. We will all get through this. We are all worth the effort it takes to live an inspired life.

Additional Resources

For more information about how to manage anxiety, I recommend the following articles: Everything Means Nothing: Making Meaning of Anxiety Tips for Managing Your Anxiety from Psychology Today with Coronavirus Anxiety

Whole Mind Wellness
Monica Pitek-Fugedi, LPC, NCC, CCATP

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