How to Cope with Coronavirus Worries
Tips to reduce anxiety surrounding COVID-19.
Posted Mar 11, 2020
The overwhelming volume of news about the coronavirus can leave many of us feeling anxious and unsure of what to do. Recently, I had just ended a call with a journalist about coping with anxiety related to the virus when my coworker walked into my office with his cell phone and announced that there were now six deaths in Seattle.
This was about an hour after another coworker had come in to say two people in the Tampa Bay area (our home) had been diagnosed with it. They were doing exactly what I’d suggested we not do, which is to hang on to their phone, obsessively follow the news and ruminate and obsess about the virus. This is not helpful to you or anyone else.
Here are some ideas for coping as we get through this pandemic.
- Stay informed but limit the time you spend to an hour or so per day.
- Make use of credible sources such as the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website. Given our current administration’s propensity toward delivering less than honest information, along with the news media’s tendency toward dramatic presentations, it is important to ensure that you are getting information that is neither alarmist nor minimizing. The WHO is an excellent source.
- Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. Wash them for 20 seconds, or the time it takes to sing “Happy birthday” twice. Make sure you wash the backs of your hands and between your fingers.
- Don’t touch your face. This is the tough one. Have you noticed how often we touch our faces? It is an automatic, unconscious habit. The key is to make yourself aware of the habit. There are a couple of strategies. You can keep your hands busy so that you are less likely to touch your face. Try doodling, knitting, fiddling with a rubber band or other activity that occupies your hands or you can try mindful focus on your face and/or your hands. With this strategy, focus entirely on the sensations on your face. Notice any breeze, temperature, your hair touching your face. Notice without judging or responding, just notice.
- Remember, we’ve been through this before, this is not new or unprecedented. In the past decades, we’ve had Ebola, SARS, H1N1 and HIV. As I think back on all of these pandemics, panic and misinformation were always problematic, while sensible caution and thoughtful response effectively got us through each event. I was on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean in the midst of H1N1. I am quite sure I was ill with H1N1, but I didn’t want to miss the Cinque Terra excursion, so I headed out with a small bag full of cold medicine and tissues. A pickpocket targeted my little bag and managed to come away with a handful of dirty, infected tissues. I kind of appreciated the karma in that.
- Limit your physical contact with others, particularly in public places. Stay six feet away from people as much as possible, particularly if someone is coughing. Use waves instead of handshakes.
- Remember that the cold and flu are far more prevalent than coronavirus. Don’t immediately assume the worst when you have symptoms. Buy a thermometer so you can check for fever. A high fever can help distinguish between a cold and a coronavirus.
- If you think you have coronavirus, call your doctor for instructions. Don’t rush to the emergency room where you may just infect more people. Do not go to work if you are sick.
- Directly address your worry and anxiety. There are several helpful strategies for this. Try writing down your thoughts when you find yourself ruminating or obsessing. Go back through them and note which seem reasonable and which seem like unhelpful exaggerations, catastrophizing or inaccuracies. Ask yourself if the thought is helpful or unhelpful. Try modifying the thought so that it is more accurate and helpful. Another strategy is to use mindfulness meditation, yoga, or Tai chi to quiet your alarm. All of these practices can quiet the brain’s alarm system allow your rational mind to function more effectively.