Some days, it’s difficult to get away from talk about the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19. It’s plastered all over newspapers, seems to be on every TV and radio news broadcast, and fills social media feeds no matter the platform.
It’s almost as though the anxiety is spreading faster than the disease. It can be difficult not to let that fear of the unknown and what-ifs rule your thoughts and push that unease into panic.
So what do you do if your anxiety is overruling your rational thought and sending you to join long lineups at Costco to stock up on toilet paper in case of a rampant epidemic?
It can be a challenge to avoid getting depressed against the backdrop of this developing story. So here are some tips on ways to calm your anxiety and lift your spirits.
The fact is, the majority of those who have contracted this virus will recover unscathed. Yet media sources can sometimes spin their stories to maximize sensationalism, so as to attract eyeballs to their content—which can exacerbate reader or listener anxiety. So when seeking information, opt for reliable and accurate primary sources of news, like the World Health Organization (WHO), Health Canada and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In other words, the sources that are most likely to provide informed and relevant context.
If you find yourself getting down with the constant onslaught of virus news, reduce your exposure to it. In particular, reduce your use of social media, which can be full of misinformation and may only fuel your anxiety.
Avoid those people who raise your anxiety levels, if possible. Those who are even more worried than you are not going to help you feel better. Anxiety breeds more anxiety.
Radically altering your daily schedule and avoiding or halting all external activities will not help you reduce your anxiety. As much as possible, maintain the daily routines that connect you with colleagues, friends, family and make you feel like yourself.
Pursuing healthy lifestyle behaviours is one of the best ways to prevent illness. Get enough sleep, keep exercising and eat healthy foods. Practice stressbusting tactics such as deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness. Carve out time to do those activities that you enjoy and don’t avoid activities due to fear.
Reasons to worry always exist if you search them out. Action is the best antidote to anxiety. By focusing on the things you can control, especially those activities that also boost your health, you will reduce your anxiety and minimize feelings of helplessness.
Take your technology, with their notifications and beeps, and put them in a drawer or a closet. Then engage in some healthy real-world distractions with your family or friends. That can be as simple as cooking a meal together, playing board games, or listening to music. Focus on activities that make you feel good in your community.
And if you’re still feeling overly anxious after taking these steps, you may want to seek out help from a professional who can talk you through this anxiety and give you additional tools to help you manage your worries.
Dr. Gina di Giulio is a clinical psychologist and Medcan’s Director of Mental Health. She’s on Twitter @DrGinaPsych.