It can always be challenging to stay calm when circumstances are uncertain—especially when those around you are confirming your worries. The recent coronavirus outbreak is no exception!
Know that if you're experiencing anxiety related to the virus, you're not alone. With over 1,000 cases confirmed in the United States as of the writing of this piece, questions of safety may be looming particularly heavy if you’re already prone to anxiety.
Here are five ways you can ease your stress level as the situation continues to unfold.
1. Know the facts, but don’t linger
With so much changing every few hours, it can be difficult not to become glued to news coverage of the situation. While it is always important to stay up to date on local warnings, diverting excessive time to read and watch for the latest info is not likely to pay off.
To keep things simple, refer to reputable sources like the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to stay up-to-date on necessary precautions. You can also seek guidance from your local health department, such as New York City’s health department, Rhode Island Department of Health, and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
For now, know that the recommended prevention strategies are pretty simple. They include:
- Washing your hands often, for at least 20 seconds
- Avoiding touching your face
- Getting a flu shot
- Staying home if you feel sick
- Cleaning surfaces (like your phone) that you touch often
Don’t overthink it – if you’re doing those things, you’re doing the best you can!
If you’re concerned about how the coronavirus might affect your work, check with your employer about their preparation plans and how they might affect you. For instance, you might be able to work from home or commute at a time other than rush hour. Knowing what your employer has in mind can help address some of the unknowns of the situation.
2. Make plans and connect with others
There’s no need to panic or stockpile supplies, but it never hurts to use the opportunity to make plans. Talk to your loved ones and community authorities about what you’ll do if the situation worsens, or in the event of a totally separate scare.
Put together a household plan by asking yourself these questions:
- Who is part of my household, and what will each person’s needs be if there is an outbreak in our community? You might note things like medication, food, and other day-to-day supplies.
- What nearby resources and organizations could we rely on? You might include healthcare providers, mental health supports, and organizations that supply food and supplies.
- Who might we need to contact in case of an emergency? Write down names and contact info of people like family, friends, neighbors, teachers, healthcare providers, and anyone else you might need to contact quickly.
As you plan, be sure to check in with friends and family about how they’re feeling and what their plans are. Doing so can be a practical resource and will also remind you that you’re not alone in this!
3. Introduce a grounding exercise to ease stress
Once your plans start coming together, use that as a cue to take a break. If you feel frenzied while checking things off, you’re not likely to make the most sound decisions. Plan for what you can control and then trust that if you’re following instructions, you’re doing enough for now!
It’s important to remember that while this situation may be unique, the anxiety you’re experiencing isn’t. In other words, the same things that work for stress management in general can also be helpful now!
Even though the gestures might feel small, do your best to keep up with the habits that you know work for you, or try out a new technique that you haven’t explored before.
Square breathing is a simple but powerful tool to relax head to toe, while simultaneously slowing down your thoughts.
How it works: Start by taking a deep inhale, while you counting to 4, then hold that breath for another 4, followed by a long exhale (up to seven counts). Repeat this a few times and notice how your mind and body respond.
And remember—go easy on yourself! The coronavirus situation can make everyday life feel unfamiliar or worrisome, which is never easy. Even just acknowledging that you’re feeling stressed (and that it’s normal to feel that way) can be a step toward reducing anxiety.
4. Reframe your risk factors
Here are a few examples of how you might counter catastrophizing thoughts about the epidemic:
- Worry #1: “I live in a highly populated city, a virus could spread to me quickly." Reframed: "My city has a lot of infrastructure and resources in place to face a challenge like this."
- Worry #2: “I’m pregnant and may be susceptible to severe symptoms if I contract the virus.” Reframed: "I have a well-informed healthcare provider who will let me know if or when I need to make changes."
- Worry #3: “I should not have left my home today. Anyone could threaten my health.” Reframed: "I’m doing the best I can, and so are the people around me."
When you find a way to reframe a negative belief, try to commit to it for a while. You might be surprised at how your energy and mood can shift, just by adding a more generous alternative to your concerns.
5. Continue (or start!) therapy remotely
If your response to the recent epidemic feels particularly overwhelming, you might consider talking to a mental health professional about what you are experiencing. Also, if commuting to therapy becomes a barrier for you , your therapist can set up sessions through Doxy.me, which is a free and secure tele-therapy platform.
Online therapy has its pros and cons, but especially if you can’t meet with your therapist in person as usual, remote therapy can be a great alternative.
If you do set up remote sessions, keep the following best practices in mind:
- Put away distractions (especially your phone!) so that you can focus on the session
- Find a space where you won’t be interrupted
- Use a laptop instead of a phone so that you can see your therapist more clearly and avoid distractions
- Make sure you have a strong internet connection and a charger for your computer
Whether you see your therapist remotely or in person, remember that even though this situation is potentially challenging, it can also be an opportunity to work on building comfort around uncertainty.
Plus, having a designated time to discuss your concerns can help you remain present when it’s time to focus on other things. Therapy is a great resource to explore and manage fears around any of life's uncertainties, and this is no exception.