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COVID-19 and Pandemic Anxiety

Tips for coping with "germ-panic."

Source: Pixabay

A national state of emergency and quarantine have been declared in the USA—and in the midst of the COVID-19 world pandemic, everything normal has been derailed.

These rapidly changing and unpredictable times have never before been experienced. The test of this most challenging moment in history is how does humanity rise to the crisis at hand.

Some of us are grounded, setting boundaries, and coping with manageable anxiety. Others are in a state of hyperarousal, hoarding items and moving in and out of soaring levels of panic. And then there are those who believe this is nothing at all—a hoax or an over-reaction set to sway political gains.

Understanding the Psyche

Infectious outbreaks are nothing new. There is a long record in history of how infectious diseases have shaped the economic, political, and social aspects of human civilization, with their effects often lasting for centuries. Such outbreaks have ingrained a knee-jerk reflex of germ-panic.

Three reasons why germ-panic has such a stronghold on our psyche is that infectious diseases are invisible, easily passed from person to person, and imminent. This sets into motion what's called risk perception—perceived risk of the threat at hand. When you worry that you can become infected, and even die, this heightens the fight or flight response. For many around the world, stockpiling supplies has left empty store shelves and businesses near financial ruin.

Risk perception has created a have and have-not hierarchy in the wake of potential illness. Furthermore, infectious diseases—and where they originated from—creates deep fears of stigma and xenophobia, with COVID-19 significantly marginalizing Asian people. Apocalyptic fears and images of a dystopian world create pandemic anxiety that has heretofore never been witnessed.

Five Tips for Reducing Pandemic Anxiety

1. Ground yourself in science. Resist viewing or reading sensational news or social media, where facts are often blurred or exaggerated. Instead, reach out to your local health or state department of health for up-to-date information on COVID-19. Science-based facts will help ground you in a reality where truth, hope, and interventions exist.

2. Isolate but stay connected to others. Protect yourself with social distance and homebound activities. But make sure to keep your attachments to friends, family, and loved ones by calling, texting, using FaceTime or Skype.

3. Think locally, not globally. Focus on what is happening in your local community and what you can do to keep yourself and neighbors healthy and safe. A sense of community is vital for moving through traumatic situations and builds resilience in children and adults.

4. Practice self-care and make sure others do too. Be mindful of eating well, keeping a healthy sleep cycle, exercising, and other soothing self-care behaviors. Make sure to avoid using alcohol or drugs to cope with stress. And limit caffeine, as it heightens anxiety and irritability.

5. Fight helplessness by finding purpose. The uncertainty that COVID-19 brings can leave many of us feeling unspeakably helpless. Finding purpose can alleviate restlessness and anxiety. Choose things you can control, be it shifting negative thoughts into positive ones, deciding what to cook for lunch, reading a good book, picking what movie you and the kids will watch, or other activities you have power over.

More from Deborah Serani Psy.D.
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