How to Handle Rising Anxiety Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic

Let’s get through this together.

Posted Mar 21, 2020

Pille-Riin Priske/Unsplash
Source: Pille-Riin Priske/Unsplash

Times like this can be stressful—for individuals, for families, as well as for entire communities. Worry and anxiety, as well as grief and fear about disease can be overwhelming. Any of us may find ourselves experiencing intense thoughts and strong emotions, whether we’re an adult or a child.

Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. For some, seeing repeated images or hearing repeated reports about the outbreak on TV or online may unnecessarily ratchet up our stress.

My suggestion is to remain informed yet narrow your sources of information to guidance coming from sound-minded resources such as the federal Centers for Disease Control, state health officials, regional public health district officials, and local community health centers.

As for the anxiety and fear you and your loved ones may be experiencing, notice changes in sleep or eating patterns, your energy and activity levels, upsetting thoughts or emotions, difficulty concentrating, worsening of chronic health problems, or increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.

Taylor Grote/Unsplash
Source: Taylor Grote/Unsplash

Sometimes just taking good care to notice what we’re experiencing and feeling, without judgment—being gracious with ourselves and with one another—can go a long way to helping. Sometimes we may need to seek professional help. Many health centers like my own are continuing to provide mental health services during this time through telephone and audio-visual technologies, thanks to special waivers recently issued over this past week by the federal government as well as state governments.

It’s so important we find healthy ways to cope. Here are some things you can do to take care of yourself:

  • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep.
  • Make time to unwind and remind yourself that strong feelings will fade. Take breaks from excessive watching, reading, or listening to news, which can be upsetting and without benefit.
  • Do things you enjoy doing.
  • Connect with others. Share concerns and how you’re feeling with a friend or family member. Maintain healthy relationships.
  • Maintain a sense of hope and positive thinking.

As for you, parents—children react, in part, on what they see from the adults around them. When parents and caregivers deal with COVID-19 calmly and confidently, this provides reassurance to children.

 Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash
Coronavirus social distancing. Hampton Beach, Hampton, NH, USA, March 18, 2020
Source: Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash

Just like us adults, not all children respond to stress the same way. Notice excessive crying or irritability, excessive worry or sadness, or unhealthy eating or sleeping habits.

There are many things you can do to support your child: Take time to talk together about the COVID-19 outbreak, letting your child lead the conversation; answer questions and share facts in a way your child can understand; reinforce it’s okay to feel upset and share about positive ways you cope.

Limit your child’s exposure to media coverage of the event. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they don’t understand. If school has to be missed, help your child have a sense of structure. In all, be a positive role model for your child. There’s so much constructive life learning for a child to gain as they see caregivers handling a difficult situation.

Noah/Unsplash
Source: Noah/Unsplash

This is, indeed, a harrowing season. There is also beauty all around us. There’s still room to enjoy the signs of early spring in all its budding beauty. There is also beauty amongst us, even in the midst of our six(ish)-feet safe distances apart. I am witnessing sadness, anxiety, and fear, and I’m also witnessing compassion, shared laughter, and other examples of care and togetherness. I’m distressed. And I’m also grateful for friends, family, coworkers, and my community. Let’s get through this together.

This article originally appeared in the Wenatchee World.