You have to maintain distance in social situations. You have to work from home. Your kids’ schools are canceled. Churches are canceling services. All the major stores are out of toilet paper, masks, and hand sanitizer.
The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) has declared the outbreak a global pandemic. The U.S. government’s response has been less than inspiring. Nursing homes are showing major rates of infection.
The frothing panic about coronavirus hasn’t quite reached its zenith, but everyone’s life is already drastically affected.
Some people, already anxiety-prone, are facing a great deal of terror about impending infections or death.
Here are some practical tips on how to manage your anxiety levels during the coronavirus outbreak.
1. Don’t Inflate the Risk
There is still so much unknown about the coronavirus. Because of that, a pandemic like this is more frightening to people because it’s unfamiliar, unlike the flu, which infects millions more and kills 1% of them.
As of this writing, the novel coronavirus has infected 115,000 people globally, and killed about 5,800. The W.H.O. reports a death rate of 3.4%.
While these sound like scary numbers, they are not as scary as the SARS outbreak, which has a mortality rate of 9.6%.
The infection rate of 115,000 people is insignificant compared to the 7 billion people on the planet. Even if millions of people are infected, the likelihood of you catching the infection is fairly low, especially if you wash your hands properly.
Also, at least 75,000 people of those infected have recovered; 80% of those infected will only suffer mild symptoms similar to a cold.
2. Recognize What You Can Control, and Let Go of What You Can’t
If you’re having trouble with feeling like everything is out of control in your life, try this exercise. Take a piece of paper, and draw two circles on it. Label one, “What I Can Control,” and the other, “What I Can’t Control.”
Write down your worries, and categorize them into one of the two circles. Here are some hints to get you started:
What I can control: My actions and reactions, how much news I consume and from what sources, whether I wash my hands properly and avoid touching my face, how much my children understand about the outbreak…
What I can’t control: Infection rates and deaths among the elderly, whether the coronavirus spreads in my neighborhood, the news cycle, other people’s actions…
After you write down what you can and can’t control, try to let go of what you can’t.
3. Take Care of Yourself
Taking precautions like often washing your hands properly (sing the ABC song twice, or count to 20) and avoiding touching your face is only sensible in the face of a global pandemic.
There are other ways to take care of yourself. A healthy immune system is one of the best ways to fight the virus once you’re infected. So make sure you get enough sleep and eat a healthy diet to support your body’s natural defenses.
If you are over the age of 60 or are immuno-compromised, then stay home as much as possible. Ask your younger family and friends to grocery shop for you, and utilize Amazon deliveries for household supplies such as hand sanitizer.
4. Go on a Media Fast
If listening to coronavirus news is making you depressed and panicky, consider going on a media fast. Block news apps from giving you notifications on your phone, and avoid reading news websites.
Limit your consumption of the daily media circus, and try to avoid thinking about the coronavirus and the chances of infection. You don’t want to stick your head in the sand, but you do want to go about your daily life with as little interruption as possible.
5. Journal, Journal, Journal
If you just can’t conquer your worries, write them down in a journal, online or off. Writing your fears down may help you recognize that they’re (mostly) about things you can’t control, so you can let them go (tip #2).
Above all, don’t ignore or try to stuff your anxiety. Give yourself space to be worried, and try to put into words exactly what makes you nervous. Don’t ignore the physical symptoms of stress, which can include a racing heart and shortness of breath.
Express your feelings in writing and allow yourself to be concerned about a concerning situation.
6. Be Prepared for an Outbreak
If you don’t yet have an outbreak in your community, prepare yourself for one. Ask your boss about your work-at-home options. Figure out your childcare options before your kids’ schools are closed. Tap into your support network to see what your friends’ plans are, and see if you can still check in with them over the phone if not in person.
Preparing as much as humanly possible for an outbreak in your community will help you see what you can control and let go of what you can’t (tip #2).
7. Seek Professional Help
If your anxiety is paralyzing you in your daily life, it might be time to pull in the big guns. Seek professional help. Some therapists will meet in online sessions with you, so you should be able to avoid getting sick or getting them sick.
Lean on your treatment team. They’re here to help you. A good therapist can help you cope with rational and irrational fears.
These practical tips may help you curtail your fears about the novel coronavirus. Don’t inflate the risk of infection, let go of what you can’t control, take care of yourself, go on a media fast, keep a journal of your worries, prepare for an outbreak, and seek professional help if your worries keep you from enjoying day-to-day life.
Above all, give yourself space to worry. A global pandemic is a genuinely scary situation. You are allowed to be concerned. Just don’t let it destroy your ability to interact with your family or take pleasure in the little things.
I wish you well in your journey.
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