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3 Useful Ways to Respond to Coronavirus Anxiety

How to relate more effectively to uncertainty.

Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels
Source: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

Many of us are feeling overwhelmed by coronavirus anxiety, which is understandable when there's so much uncertainty. Here are three strategies that can help you understand anxiety better, clarify worries and problem solve, and accept anxiety with greater objectivity and self-compassion.

1. Gain Perspective on Anxiety Itself

It’s helpful to remember what anxiety is, so you can figure out how you want to relate to it. Anxiety is a future-oriented emotional response to a perceived threat. Whether you’re concerned about exposure to the virus, spreading it, or developing symptoms, when you believe something bad will happen and doubt your ability to cope, you’ll probably feel anxious. Remember that anxiety is a normal emotion. It’s something we all experience. We don’t have much control over it, but we have different options for responding to it. And although anxiety might feel really uncomfortable, the emotion itself is harmless.

2. Be Specific About Worries and Take Action

Often when we feel anxious, the ideas behind the emotion aren’t very clear, and that makes it hard to figure out how to cope. If you tend to worry a lot, see if you can be as specific as possible about your concerns, and write them down along with the steps you’d like to take to address them. Once you’ve identified your concerns, you can come up with some strategies to take action or to relate differently to anxiety itself.

Here’s how this might work. If you realize you don’t know much about how to prevent illness, you could visit the Centers for Disease Control website for more information. If you’re unsure about travel plans, school closures, or where to get tested, you could make plans to reach out to an airline, school, or medical provider to stay informed and prepare yourself. And if you’re spending too much time online reading the news you could schedule and commit to what you think is a reasonable amount of time—say 10 minutes, once or twice a day, so you’re able to follow through with your other responsibilities.

3. Accept and Redirect

One of the things that makes anxiety so difficult to manage is that we’re not always able to take action to solve a problem or reduce anxiety. If you’re focused on the uncertainties of the future or the discomfort of anxiety itself, trying to answer the unanswerable or trying to reduce anxiety when your mind and body keep pushing back will probably just make you feel worse.

Instead, see if you can acknowledge that you’ve done what you can to stay informed or protect yourself, but no matter how hard you work, there will still be uncertainty and the anxiety that goes with it. See you if you can remain objective about your inner experience or relate to it with self-compassion.

For example, if you start to get stuck on the “what ifs” or the “yeah buts,” remind yourself that uncertainty is hard, and even if you don’t like it, you can accept it and redirect your attention or behavior to what’s truly important in the moment—your work, your family, something that gives you a sense of accomplishment, relaxing, or doing something fun. Similarly, if you’re having a tough time with anxiety itself, see if you can accept your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and urges with objectivity (these are just inner experiences) and warmth (it’s okay to have feelings), and then redirect your attention. Accept…and redirect.

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