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.