John Sharp, MD
Worrying about all the news on the new coronavirus and the illness it causes? Well, that makes good sense. If you’re wondering how to cope with anxious feelings that are surfacing, this blog post can guide you through steps that may be helpful to many people.
If you often struggle with anxiety, worries about your health, or obsessive thoughts and actions, you might need additional assistance, as I’ll explain in a later post.
Steady yourself around worries about the new coronavirus
Knowing how to manage your own anxiety always takes a little thought. Ask and answer these questions:
- What typically happens to your body when worries mount?
- How worried are you?
- What do you fear the most?
- What usually helps you handle worries?
- When anxiety rises because we’re facing a distressing threat like the new coronavirus, we need to focus on what tends to work for us to ease anxiety — that, plus doing a little bit more of some actions and a little bit less of others.
Keep these thoughts in mind. You’re fully prepared to help yourself. You can take steps to calm and steady yourself. Remember what works for you — because as fellow humans we’re not so dissimilar, but we do tend to have our own preferences and best practices.
Try doing these things more
Connect with friends and loved ones through video chats, phone calls, texting, and email. It really helps to feel the strength of your connections to your friends and loved ones, even though you may not be with them in person.
Stick with sources of credible medical information, so you can avoid misinformation about the virus and the illness it causes.
Try doing these things less
Please don’t overdose on hype or worry or misinformation. I get some regular updates from credible sources in the morning and check again briefly toward the end of the day. There’s no need to stay tuned in 24/7 — it can actually make your anxiety much, much worse.
Take practical steps to lessen risk of catching the new coronavirus
Three healthy, sensible steps we can all take:
Avoid unnecessary travel and crowds.
Wash your hands often with soap and water (or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer) for 20 seconds (see video).
Keep your hands away from your face, especially your eyes, mouth, and nose.
Many people infected by the coronavirus develop symptoms like a fever and dry cough during the incubation period. However, some people may not seem symptomatic. The virus can spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Viral droplets that travel several feet through the air may be breathed in or — much more likely — may land on surfaces that other people touch, such as a door handle or elevator button.
We do have to be careful and cautious. But once we adopt key precautionary measures, we can take a deep breath and do our best to calm ourselves. It’s not necessary or helpful to be on high alert all the time. This will wear you down emotionally and physically. So try to adjust your level of alertness to your immediate surroundings. Then once you come home, wash your hands really well and find ways to relax and feel safe. Safety is a basic need for all of us.
How can you relax despite coronavirus worries?
Here are some tried and true ways to relax:
Yoga. Not a yoga person? No need to start now unless you’d like to try it. Sometimes trying new things and discovering new activities you can benefit from and enjoy can be a welcome, healthy distraction. Yoga Studio and Pocket Yoga are good apps to consider.
Meditation. Regular meditation is very calming. Many apps teach simple forms of meditation, such as Headspace or Calm.
Controlled breathing. One simple technique is called square breathing. Visualize your breath traveling along a square. As you follow the instructions to inhale, hold your breath, or exhale, count slowly to three on each side. Try it now. Inhale up the first side of the square. Slowly count one, two, three. Hold your breath across the top. One, two, three. Exhale down the other side of the square. One, two, three. Then hold your breath across the bottom. One, two, three. After a few minutes of this you should be feeling calmer and more centered.
Tap into other ways you like to relax, too. Maybe you like reading a good book or watching a good comedy. Eat the familiar foods that you always enjoy. Stay in contact with your friends and loved ones. Reaching out can help you and help them.
We’re all on this journey together. News about the virus will likely grow worse, then grow better. Listen to public health experts who can help us navigate the path ahead. Take sensible steps that can help us all: get your bearings, practice good hygiene, use calming strategies that work for you — and maybe try something new. Making healthy, reasonable choices about what to do and what not to do will make a big difference in being able to stay as safe and as well as possible.
For more information about the new coronavirus, please see Harvard Health Publishing’s Coronavirus Resource Center.
Originally Posted on Harvard Health Blog