5 Ways to Tame Your Anxiety Over the Coronavirus

Fearful woman
Photo by fizkes / Shutterstock.com

A tiny — but potentially deadly — thing called a coronavirus is causing a huge wave of anxiety to roll across the U.S., sending millions of people into a panic from coast to coast.

Psychologist Justin Ross tells UCHealth Today that the new coronavirus pandemic is provoking great worry because it pushes three of our biggest panic buttons:

  • Unpredictability
  • Lack of control
  • Threats to people or things we value

Our reaction to these fears in turn leads to behaviors that further feed the frenzy of worry. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), such behaviors include:

  • Isolation
  • Overload of information about the virus
  • Canceled travel plans
  • Worrying over the possibility that resources might grow scarce

Fortunately, there are ways to turn these fears around. Following are some things you can do to keep coronavirus anxiety at bay.

1. Use time at home to get things done

Health experts are telling us all to remain at home — possibly for several months — to avoid infection with the coronavirus and to avoid spreading it to others, especially to vulnerable populations.

Being stuck inside is no fun, but the ADAA says you can turn lemons into lemonade by using the time to focus on your home and yourself. The organization says:

“Doing one productive thing per day can lead to a more positive attitude. Set your sights on long-avoided tasks, reorganize, or create something you’ve always wanted to.”

2. Tune out extra information

Ross says it is natural for people to gobble up as much information as they can about the virus. The coronavirus pandemic leaves us feeling out of control. Soaking ourselves in information about the illness — and hoarding toilet paper and canned goods — restores some sense that we control our destiny.

However, taking in too much information is more likely to spike our fears than to calm them. So, Ross recommends a middle ground — picking no more than two news sources to check, and ignoring the rest:

“Schedule two times a day that you are going to check the news and consume media for no more than five minutes each time. That’s long enough to scan the latest information. But, any longer than that is going to spiral your anxiety.”

3. Try something new

All of us would like to return to the simple, safer days before the coronavirus disease COVID-19 arrived on our shores. That’s obviously impossible. We’re now in a new era that is likely to last many months.

The world has changed for the worse — so, try restoring a little cosmic order by changing your own life for the better. The ADAA suggests that you can, for example:

  • Keep a daily journal to jot down thoughts and feelings so you can reflect on them later.
  • Take a walk every afternoon at the same time.
  • Connect with a loved on FaceTime each day.
  • Start a watercolor painting and add to it each day.

The ADAA says trying something new will add a dollop of positivity to this challenging time. According to the organization:

“Having something special during this time will help you look forward to each new day.”

4. Get outside

“Social distancing” has become a new buzzword. The idea of keeping a fair distance — typically, at least 6 feet — from your fellow humans sounds depressing. But experts say it is necessary to help keep the coronavirus from spreading.

Trust us: The day will return when you can give your friends hugs again or shake hands with your co-workers. But until we reach that point, consider swapping postponed social engagements for some time by yourself in the great outdoors.

The weather is warming in many parts of the country, and few things will lift your spirits like biking, hiking or walking on a beautiful, sunny spring or summer day.

Ross — who runs marathons — tells UCHealth:

“Exercise and yoga are great. Get out in the fresh air and the sunlight. As much as possible, go about your normal life.”

5. Embrace your anxiety — at least a little

Few would use the term “beneficial” to describe the anxiety they feel over the coronavirus. But University of California San Francisco psychologist Elissa Epel, who studies stress, reminds us that anxiety can have positive impacts. As she says in a university publication:

“The good news about the widespread anxiety is that it is fueling big changes fast — many people in affected areas are being very careful to limit exposure. Anxiety fosters prevention and safeguarding behaviors. Prevention reduces anxiety.”

So, recognize that your anxiety serves a purpose, and can be a good thing — in moderation. The key, Epel says, is not to let our anxious minds exaggerate the actual threat or underestimate our ability to cope with it.

How are you keeping your coronavirus fears at bay? Let us know in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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