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Managing Coronavirus Stress
In a matter of a few short weeks people around the world have awakened to the reality of the coronavirus pandemic. Initially, here in the West we assumed the coronavirus was a problem unique to China, far, far away from the USA. However, in the ensuing weeks it became clear that the virus was virulent and highly contagious, hopping all over the globe in no time.
The United States was not impervious. The virus, referred to why the World Health Organization (WHO) as Covid-19, made it to our shores six weeks ago via evacuation efforts to retrieve citizens from China and also the forlorn virus-ridden Diamond Princess cruise ship anchored off the coast of Japan. Even though strict quarantines protected US citizens from exposure to the virus, anxiety levels began to rise anyway. News had leaked out of China on social media that this was a concerning pathogen.
The reality is that the coronavirus had actually appeared here in the US weeks prior, through seemingly healthy travelers arriving by the thousands each day. Because the virus incubates for up to 10 days before symptoms emerge, folks returning from their international trips were unwitting carriers, seeding the bug all around the country.
Now that Italy is in lockdown, there is no ignoring the voracity of this virus, so people are beginning to take notice. What comes with this new awareness is a whole lot of anxiety. As humans, we are fearful of something we cannot see that has the potential to impact our physical wellbeing, especially for individuals older than age 60. How we manage the anxiety and protect our mental health during the coronavirus pandemic will make or break our ability to successfully navigate this significant event.
How the Coronavirus Causes Anxiety and Stress
Anxiety spikes when we feel we have lost control over a situation. It is especially upsetting with the threat to our health and wellbeing is a microscopic entity, invisible to the naked eye. A virus is not a concrete thing that we can easily avoid, which causes the coronavirus to invoke a deep-seated anxiety. For instance, although scientists are knowledgeable of certain things, the public by and large does not know:
- How long the virus may live on surfaces
- How long the virus remains active in the air
- Who is infected, since many are asymptomatic
- Whether we should be wearing masks, with conflicting data on this
- What size social groups are safe, how large a group is unsafe
- How sick will we become if infected
- How many months this will impact our country
- The financial fallout due to reduced commerce, cancelled events, restricted travel
- Whether there will be government assistance should this affect us for weeks or months
- What all to buy to prepare for a potential period of isolation
All of these unknowns add up and stoke stress and anxiety. To deal with the worry and fear, some may chose to ignore the growing threat of the coronavirus. Denial is a comfortable blanket to throw over one’s head when reality looks a little too scary. But suppressing the fears through denial will only exacerbate the anxiety. Not only is there fear of the virus, but the paralysis to do anything proactive to prepare will only fuel further anxiety later.
9 Tips for Managing Anxiety and Stress
It is totally appropriate to recognize the signs of anxiety in oneself at a time like this. Again, it is the feeling of being out of control over a situation that makes us feel so scared. But we are all, globally, in the same boat. No one is immune from this trigger. If we recognize that we are not alone, and that everyone is feeling tense right now, that will go a long way toward achieving some equilibrium. So, take some deep cleansing breaths and embrace these tips for managing anxiety during the coronavirus outbreak:
- Get Prepared. Make a list of items to purchase this week, the things that will keep you and your family functioning during the uncertain weeks ahead. Canned foods, frozen foods and vegetables, shelf-stable milks such as almond milk or oat milk, cereals, oats, nuts, bottled water, and don’t forget the comfort foods—snacks and treats. Grab some paper products (get these soon!) such as toilet paper, paper towels, and tissue. After your fridge and pantry are stocked you will feel less anxious about potentially being homebound.
- Medication. If you are on any prescription drugs it is wise to get at least a two-month supply now. This is because 80% of our medications are made in China, and the Chinese have been quarantined for two months now so there will be a disruption in the supply chain. Don’t forget to grab some over-the-counter basics, like Tylenol, Advil, Nyquil, Mucinex, Robitusin, and Elderberry syrup as well, as these, too, will be depleted in the months ahead.
- Supplements. Begin boosting your immune system now by supplementing your diet with vitamin D, vitamin C, and zinc. In addition, it will be wise to grab some B-complex vitamins as fresh produce may become more difficult to obtain if quarantined.
- Pet food. If you have pets, remember to plan ahead for them as well. Stock up on food and treats for a two-month period. Knowing your pet will be well fed will reduce stress.
- Entertainment Plans. If it happens that we are to remain in our homes for a prolonged period of a few weeks, why not get a couple of new board games or books. Make a list of all the shows on Netflix you have been wanting to see but never had the time. Unleash your creative juices and make jewelry, draw, paint, or make crafts—at least that will feel productive. And don’t forget to grab some activities to keep the kids busy.
- Avoid News Binging. While in fear mode it is completely natural to want to know the updates on the virus. However, watching wall-to-wall news will likely increase feelings of distress and anxiety. Seeing newscasts about the number of cases in not only our country but across the world can become a heavy stress burden. Instead, grab an update in the morning and a wrap-up in the evening, but fill that in-between time with productive or recreational activity.
- Exercise. Each region will have its own quarantine protocols, so check with your local official website for restrictions on movement. For those who are free to get outdoors, take a couple of hearty walks, a bike ride, or a run every day. This will expose you to vitamin D through sunshine, which can help improve mood, as well as provide the many mental health benefits from regular exercise. If movement is tightly restricted, indoor exercise activities can be achieved through yoga or workout routines posted on YouTube. The videos offer a variety of toning, stretching, and movements that can keep you in shape during a quarantine. Maybe pick up some hand weights, too.
- Relaxation Techniques. Another way to increase relaxation and improve overall wellbeing is through practicing mindfulness techniques, deep-breathing exercises, or guided meditation. Mindfulness is the purposeful practice of focusing on the present moment. It helps you shift your wandering stressful thoughts back to the here and now, where you address the emotions, how you feel physically, and all sensations and accept them without judgment. Deep breathing exercises are very effective in quickly reducing stress and lowering blood pressure when fears about the coronavirus take a grip. Guided meditation apps are available for free and can transport you to a calm, peaceful place through mental imaging.
- Have Hope. Our country has weathered many a storm in its history. Somehow, the American people always demonstrate an impressive level of resilience amid chaos. Think about 911 and how we rallied as a nation. We are facing some challenges, that is certain, but we need to trust in our own abilities to navigate trials, lean on our faith, and have hope that our government will provide some relief as we move through these very interesting times.
When Anxiety Treatment is Indicated
Even when all the above tips are employed, sometimes anxiety can just be too much to manage on your own. During a natural disaster such as this coronavirus outbreak, it is possible to develop an anxiety disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder:
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) symptoms include:
- Persistent worrying, constant feelings of fear or dread
- Unable to relax, restlessness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Sleep problems
- Being indecisive
- Always expecting the worse-case scenario
- Nausea, diarrhea
Panic disorder symptoms include:
- Overwhelming terror
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Racing heart
- Heart palpitations
- Fear you might die
- Numbness or tingling in hands or feet
- Feeling detached
If anxiety due to the coronavirus has led to impairment in functioning it is time to consult with a mental health professional. After a thorough assessment and review of health history and mental health history, a treatment plan will be developed. Anxiety treatment is a three-part process that includes psychotherapy, medication, and relaxation techniques. With these interventions, an anxiety can be effectively managed for optimal quality of life.
Essential Mental Health Support and Guidance
The Treatment Specialist is an online resource for individuals seeking information about mental health conditions or substance use disorders. If you are experiencing anxiety due to the coronavirus COVID-19 epidemic and are having trouble functioning at normal levels, please contact a Treatment Specialist. Our expert team will provide a free assessment and a review of anxiety treatment options. Call us today at (866) 644-7911.