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Coronavirus fears: Tips for coping with your anxiety
Mental Health

Coronavirus fears: Tips for coping with your anxiety

By Dr. Judiann Jones, Supervisor Outpatient Behavioral Health | Licensed Psychologist-HSP
Posted: March 20, 2020

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak may be causing anxiety or stress for individuals and communities.

These anxiety symptoms can be overwhelming and can cause strong emotions. In some cases, it can be so extreme that it can become difficult for someone to perform daily tasks.

You aren’t alone in dealing with these sorts of feelings, but it’s important for those who struggle with anxiety to be able to recognize the symptoms and/or triggers — and know ways to manage it effectively.

The CDC has put together guide to mental health and coping mechanisms related specifically to COVID-19. You can read more from them here.

Anxiety can show itself in different forms. Some people have trembling voices and avoid eye contact. Others are the polar opposite; they are bubbly and positive, but they feel panic underneath it all. Whether a person’s anxiety symptoms are noticeable or not, it is important to know anxiety can affect an individual physically, emotionally and behaviorally.

Physical symptoms for anxiety include:

Heart palpitations

Nausea

Shortness of breath

Numbness/tingling of finger/toes

Behavioral symptoms include:

Avoidance

Irritable

Isolating

Self- medicating (through drugs/alcohol)

Psychological symptoms include:

Sleep problems

Poor diet

Difficulty concentrating

Racing thoughts

Mind going blank

Worrying

Thoughts of doom

How can you protect yourself and others from COVID-19?

Social distancing is very important, even for those who are young and healthy. This is the best way to prevent the spread of disease to the older and more vulnerable individuals.

Engage in hygiene practices that limit the risk of infections. Especially washing hand frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds and/or with the use of alcohol based hand sanitizer among other good practices

How to reduce stress in yourself and others?

Access only resources that have the facts about actual risk of the virus to yourself and others can help reduce stress of the outbreak (e.g., CDC).

Staying connected with others — family, friends, mentors, clergy — through use of technological resources like phone, email, texts, video calls, social media.

Reduce exposure to possible triggers that increase anxiety and/or stress such as watching the news and accessing social media.

Engage in calming activities like deep breathing exercises and mindfulness practice — or behavioral activities like yoga, exercise — along with listening to music

Maintain a routine even while temporarily working from home and/or having children are home from school.

Remain hopeful and celebrate successes, including the completion of tasks (even small ones).

Draw on your spirituality and inspiration.

Create new family traditions, like board games or movie nights.

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An important question to ask yourself is, “Are you eating? Sleeping? Breathing?”

Anxiety symptoms can be magnified or minimized based on the food we eat, our sleep hygiene and how we breathe.

For example, drinking coffee or soda can increase anxiety symptoms due to the caffeine and its stimulating effects on the body.

Positive self-care choices such as reducing or eliminating caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and processed sugar can reduce susceptibility to anxiety related symptoms. Maintaining a balanced diet to include fresh fruits/vegetables and good hydration can also help with decreasing ones vulnerability to anxiety and mood symptoms.

Sleeping well can be difficult for a person struggling with anxiety.

Sometimes, an anxious individual may stay in bed developing a to-do list in their head, worrying and/or reading social media posts. Appropriate sleep hygiene — such as avoiding caffeine and other stimulants several hours before bedtime, limiting alcohol use, turning off electronics and establishing/maintaining a sleep schedule will aid in getting better rest.

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia can also be an effective treatment intervention for those who continue to struggle with sleep problems.

The whole body is affected based on how a person breathes.

Shallow breathing can increase the heart rate, cause perspiration and magnify anxiety symptoms. Deep breathing lowers the heart rate, lowers blood pressure and creates a calm mind.

Instead of short quick breaths, it is more effective to take a deep breath in until you feel your belly slightly rise and then exhale slowly. Deep breathing helps with mental clarity and it is recommended to practice deep breathing exercises daily. Consider diaphragmatic breathing strategies as a possible intervention.

If you are looking for more effective ways of dealing with anxiety symptoms, consider embracing uncomfortable feelings.

Anxiety can cause people to feel vulnerable, unsettled, and overwhelmed — all of which are feelings that individuals typically avoid. When these feelings arise, most people desire to feel differently as quick as possible. When one ignores the uncomfortable feelings, the individual often tenses up and cause more anxiety symptoms to arise.

Other Effective Tips for Dealing with Anxiety:

Challenge your thoughts: Individuals may worry about stories that are not true. How often are you challenging these thoughts to determine their accuracy?

Consider the Likelihood: How often are you worried about things that may almost never happen? An analysis of possibility can be helpful to confront this worry. “It is possible that... but is it likely to occur?

Give yourself credit: People typically cope with situations much better than what they give themselves credit for. This is because people often construct the worst-case scenario stories (and the situation is oftentimes better than the constructed story).

Resources

Living Well Network — 901-762-8558

SAMHSAS Disaster Distress Helpline — 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs 66746

National Crisis Hotline — 1-800-273-TALK