COVID-19 Anxiety

I wish I could stop worrying about coronavirus so much.
I wish I could stop worrying about everything so much.
How can everyone else be so calm?
Why am I so anxious all the time?
What is my deal anyways?
I wish this would stop and I could enjoy my life like others seem to do.

Sound familiar?

It is normal in this time of massive uncertainty to be more stressed and anxious than usual, to worry more. And yet you wish you had less anxiety, that you could get some relief.

You don’t have to wait for the virus to go away or a vaccine to come out to start to get your anxiety under control. The good news is, learning a few simple strategies for coping with your anxiety can go a long way toward feeling better, restoring a sense of calm, and reclaiming enjoyment in your life. Here are some tips that can be helpful in dealing with anxiety about coronavirus:

Learn to cope with worry differently.

covid 19 anxiety

One of the hallmark features of anxiety about covid-19 is excessive worry…you know, those scary thoughts that run through your head endlessly? What if I/my spouse/my kids catch the virus? What will I/we do then? What if I lose my job? What if, what if, what if…

Although it seems like there is nothing you can do but try to survive your “what-if” thoughts about covid-19 or the stress you’re under, in reality there is a lot you can do besides merely survive them.

For one thing, it’s helpful to realize that worry won’t prevent you or your kids from acquiring the virus. Taking action, such as social distancing and following CDC guidelines, can do so. But we sometimes confuse worrying with problem solving, believing if we think about something enough, we’ll figure something out that will make our anxiety go down. The reality is, we’re just engaging with our worry and therefore increasing our anxiety.

We know you don’t believe us yet, but with a newer form of therapy called acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), you can learn to treat your worries more like a minor annoyance, not as a dire warning of danger. In counseling, we’ll help you become convinced that your “what-if” thoughts are simply to be observed, rather than be delved into and explored in detail. You’ll also learn mindfulness strategies, to be an observer of your thoughts and gain some distance from them. And we’ll teach you to reinvest in what is happening in the present moment, to get out of your head and into your life, focusing on what is most important, meaningful, and valuable to you.

Limit your exposure to news and social media.

While it’s important to be informed about the pandemic, constant news updates will tend to make your anxiety worse. We suggest choosing a few reputable news sources and engaging with them only at set times and durations that you’ve previously decided on. For example, you might decide a reasonable plan is to watch the Today show between 8 and 8:30 am on weekdays, read the New York Times for 15 minutes each evening, and look at Facebook once per day. More frequent checking of the news and social media is not helpful not only because you’re exposed to more upsetting material, but also because when we engage in behaviors in an attempt to reduce our anxiety, it tends to actually increase it. As the Buddhists say, What we refuse to have, we’ll have more of.

covid 19 anxiety

Recognize what you can control, and what you can’t.

What is under your control is your ability to follow CDC guidelines for hand washing and social distancing, practice self care, engage in enjoyable activities, and seek help for your anxiety as needed. It’s helpful to practice constructive self talk, such as, “While I can’t completely eliminate all uncertainty about the virus, I am exercising reasonable caution and doing what I need to do to stay well physically and emotionally.”

Engage in positive self care

Positive self care strategies include maintaining a reasonable daily schedule, creating boundaries on what is acceptable and not acceptable in our life, eating healthfully, exercising, engaging in meaningful and enjoyable activities, and seeking support from friends and family. Obtaining counseling can of course also be an important self care activity.

While anxiety in response to a high degree of uncertainty is normal and understandable, if your attempts to decrease your anxiety are not working, we are here to help. A trusted, empathic professional with expertise in “how anxiety works” and with knowledge of how to respond to it differently may be the single most important self care strategy you can implement to help get you where you want to go in life, starting now.