If you're feeling anxious about the state of the world at this moment, that's an appropriate reaction. It would be unusual not to be concerned: Since the coronavirus hit, we've all been bombarded with terrible news. Maps with red splashes tell us the virus is spreading, death and infection tolls increase daily, misinformation and rumors flood the internet. You may feel trapped in a horror movie with no hero coming to rescue you.
If you have any history of anxiety, trauma, or panic attacks (see "The Voice of Panic Attacks"), the coronavirus may have pushed your fear to intolerable levels. Obsession, rumination, and panic are taxing and will leave you frightened and fatigued.
The Roots of Anxiety
Anxiety is a warning signal from the body that there is danger brewing. Sometimes anxiety is driven by subjective experiences, i.e., personal histories, such as trauma, injuries, or phobias. Subjective experiences are frequently the storehouses of forceful emotions that have the power to distort reality. Even a threat that is imagined can fill you with dread and leave you catastrophizing.
Other times, anxiety is driven by objective experiences, meaning that it springs from a very real hazard in your environment, like the coronavirus. The most crushing anxiety occurs when subjective and objective experiences collide. For example, if you have a history of respiratory problems, such as asthma, your fears of the coronavirus will likely be doubled since your condition puts you in a high-risk category. And finally, if someone you love has died, the loss could push your anxiety to levels that feel beyond your control. (See "Death Shock: How to Recover When a Loved One Dies Suddenly.")
Steps to Lower Anxiety
1. Limit News. Stop bingeing on news programs and limit yourself to reliable sources, like the CDC. Avoid internet fearmongers and unreliable resources that will lead to increased jitters and information overload.
2. Take Advantage of Video Services. Use video services like Zoom to schedule virtual dates with friends or to check in with relatives, parents, and extended family. You can even schedule virtual happy hours, parties, and dates. Seeing the faces of those you love can offer much comfort.
3. Maintain Structure. Anxiety spikes when structure falls apart. Try your best to maintain consistent sleeping and eating habits, and keep a steady exercise routine. Remember, studies have shown that a cardio exercise, for 30 minutes or more three times a week, can lower the symptoms of anxiety up to 70 percent.
4. Increase Self-Care. During traumatic times, it's essential to avoid self-neglect and increase self-care. Practice self-soothing activities, such as journaling or meditation, or seek support from therapists, family, or religious communities. Avoid movies or news programs that increase fears, especially before bedtime.
5. Do a Tech Detox. Turn off your phone, close your laptop, switch off the television. Constant stimulation causes anxiety to spin out of control.
Take Charge of Your Anxiety
When anxiety gets out of hand, don't hesitate to ask for help. Call a friend, join an online support group, or have a consultation with a therapist. You'll be surprised at how much better you'll feel by taking proactive steps to lower your anxiety.