Anxiety and Coronavirus: Emotionally Surviving the Pandemic

Anxiety and Coronavirus: Emotionally Surviving the Pandemic

As I write this blog, our nation and world experiences unprecedented, rapidly worsening times, never experienced or even imagined in our generation. It’s all surreal, like a bad dream that is still there when we wake up. And we are not ready for this. Hundreds of thousands have been infected, and over 11,000 are dead. Nations have shut down by force, world economics are crashing, and States right here at home are sheltering in place. As grocer supplies diminish and gun sales rise, it is clear that people are scared. And unfortunately, this seems like only the beginning.  

Understandably, there is a great deal of anxiety in our current landscape. But what are people anxious about? There seems to be a variety, and quite a range, of answers to this question. Some include:  

  1. We are all going to die from coronavirus.
  2. Most of us will not die from it, but we’ll sure all (or most) get sick.
  3. The world economy will never recover.
  4. We’re vulnerable to foreign enemies.
  5. We’ll run out of food or water or toilet paper, or whatever.

There is much talk about surviving this crisis physically, but how about surviving emotionally? Excessive anxiety is a horrible emotional experience that can make any real crisis worse. Our level of anxiety will make this storm either bearable or agonizing. As schools, gyms, and restaurants stay closed, and our very way of life turned upside down, it is important that we remain, or become, calm, not giving way to excessive panic or fear.

So, what should we do?

Just the Facts, Please

It’s important to only listen to fact-based news reporting and official health resources, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), etc. regarding what is happening and how to respond to events as they progress. This is important to maintain an accurate view of the situation, to ensure that your decisions are not based on false information.  

Limit your Screen-Time

As an experiment, observe your anxiety levels before and after one hour of watching or scrolling through social media or other news sources regarding coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Imagine doing this for several hours each day. Most people would say that they are more, rather than less, anxious after doing so. So why do we do it? Well, the information is captivating and we want to stay informed and up to date on what’s happening now. But could we do this in less time and less frequently throughout the day? Probably. It’s important to stay informed, but maybe shoot for 20 to 30 minutes a day, and spend the rest of your time doing something else. Trying putting your phone down when you are with your kids, talking with your spouse, and definitely when lying in bed. If that is not enough time on media, then break up information seeking with other activities, as those discussed in this blog.

Stay Active

Most of us are staying home these days. As mentioned, everything is closed or you can’t go inside of anywhere (e.g., restaurants, the gym). We feel that we can’t really be around anyone or touch anything, so going anywhere doesn’t seem to make much sense. This kind of behavior over a prolonged period of time is sure to lead us stir-crazy, if it hasn’t already. At this point in most States in America, we can still go outside, so long as we practice social distancing. Go for a walk or a bike ride when the weather is nice. Getting some fresh air and being in the sun will help your mood. Maintain a regular exercise routing, whether that is outside or inside. There are several apps and programs that are now offering online classes you can do from home. If possible, even order some weights, a yoga mat, or other gym equipment for your home. Last I checked, Amazon is still delivering! Find a DIY project to do around the house. Maybe something you’ve been putting off doing because you didn’t have the time. Cook, play games with your kids, or go for a drive. Keeping the body active will help.  

Don’t Social Distance Too Far

Aren’t we supposed to practice social distancing? Yes. Please practice social distancing per the recommendations from the CDC. But utilize your smart phone and other social apps to stay involved with others. Churches, fitness groups, homeschoolers, clubs, and other groups are striving to stay connected online, as we work together to get through this tough time. Make the most of technology and video chat with a friend, call them and catch up about life, write letters and send emails, send each other photos and humorous videos to fill the time and lessen the loneliness. 

Stay Positive

A negative mood is not going to make this problem go away any sooner. While a positive mood will not make it go away either, it will sure make it more bearable. During this time, find things to be grateful for. Focus on what you have rather than what was lost. Try to find something good about the “reset” on life we are all experiencing. There are no schools or practices to rush off to, or a million other things that our schedules were filled with. Its different, and we want to get back to normal, but try to find peace in the slow-down. Many people are spending more time with family, reading, gardening, doing things they never had time to do, which we can all appreciate.

Despite best efforts, it’s very easy to get caught in the web of fear and uncertainty surrounding us. Familiar patterns and schedules of life have been interrupted, socializing in person has been minimized. The way we function as a society has changed rapidly with this pandemic. That can easily lead to feelings of anxiety, panic, or worse. Check in with yourself, regularly, to recognize if your anxiety levels are climbing despite the calming measures you take to combat them (deep breathing, prayer, meditation, etc.). Maintaining a positive thought life is crucial to keeping a clear head in the midst of this storm. It’s also very helpful to check in on how your friends and loved ones are managing this stressful time.

Prepared, Not Scared

Preparation for disaster is a good way to manage fears over the disaster. It would be foolish to not prepare. How prepared should we be? Well, I guess enough to what is reasonable and you feel comfortable. There’s no sense in being unreasonable or careless with this, or of falling short of your comfort level. That said, after doing what you can, do you feel secure? Or do you continue to think that you just don’t have enough? There is so much of this that is outside of our control. Feeling that we can control every single aspect of this ever-changing event is going to leave us even more anxious. At some point, after we’ve done our part, we need to take a deep breath and trust that things will work out.

Catastrophic Thinking Gets You Nowhere

It is very easy during times like this to catastrophize, that is, thinking with certainty, the absolute worst-case scenario is going to happen. Thinking this way doesn’t help our anxiety and does lead to poor decision making. Rarely do the absolute worst- or best-case scenarios actually happen. Usually things fall out somewhere in between, and we adjust. Expecting either is usually based on inaccurate reasoning, which may come from misinformation or failure to integrate or perceive information correctly. We need to strive to stay balanced in our thinking, forcing out the extremes on either end of the spectrum.

Your thoughts are powerful. Whom and what you allow to influence them greatly affects how you move through this world. In times of difficulty and change, it can be overwhelming to try to maintain a balance in your thought life. This, however, is the key to getting through these situations. Times like this can be concerning and even scary, but we can control how we react and grow through our experiences.

Dr. Michael Messina

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