If you’re feeling anxious about the rising threat of a novel coronavirus pandemic, you’re not alone. Research shows that different threats push different psychological buttons. Novel, unique or exotic threats (like a new virus that originated in China), raise anxiety levels higher than more familiar threats do. People’s worries tend to be focused in two categories: What’s precious to them and what they don’t know. In this situation, fears are expressed as concerns for family and friends who could become ill, the possibility of quarantine and isolation, scarcity of resources, and lack of trust in organizations responsible for managing response to the threat.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), uncomfortable psychological responses to infectious disease outbreaks are common. We’ve learned about how people respond by observing behavior during other epidemics such as the avian and swine flu outbreaks. Those who are feeling anxious may experience insomnia, distractibility, changes in appetite, reduced feelings of safety, increased use of alcohol and other substances, and physical symptoms such as fatigue and overall aches and pains.
Anxiety, in and of itself, is not pathological. You can use anxiety as a prompt to take steps to be prepared. Listening carefully, and in measured doses to reliable sources for health information can help you know how and when to prepare for the spread of novel coronavirus. When you aren’t preparing or listening, though, how can you manage your anxiety?
- Educate yourself. Several resources are providing trustworthy, current, and useful information about the emerging coronavirus situation. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a web page devoted to this disease, and they refresh regularly with information you should know, specific situation updates, and advice for special populations. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html. Additionally, the World Health Organization (WHO) provides up to date, accurate news about the virus’ global movement and impact. https://www.who.int/. If you have children in school, listen to messages from your school district. They take their cues from local and international health advisors, and are concerned about children’s safety and mitigating disease spread.
- Limit media consumption. Choose your sources carefully, and then take regular breaks from the news. Overconsumption of media can contribute to mental health issues, so it’s important to be mindful of your anxiety level, and limit exposure to news and social media accordingly. Our minds work off the power of suggestion; you need enough knowledge to prepare adequately, but beyond that amount, you may only be heightening your fears.
- Stick to your routines. As much as possible, avoid unnecessary disruptions in your patterns of living. Even in the event that schools and businesses close temporarily, you can keep to familiar routines of meals, sleep patterns, and exercise.
- Do things you enjoy. Be aware of how much time media consumption and preparation may be taking from your day, and make room for the things that usually bring you joy.
- Stay connected. People tend to isolate themselves when they feel anxious, believing that they are the only ones feeling this way. Sharing your fears with someone else can be normalizing, and can help you process your emotions.
- Talk with your children. Children are receiving information in bits and pieces, and are at risk of putting together those fragments in ways that cause them unnecessary alarm. We can share about the emerging situation in age-appropriate language, and more importantly, model emotional stability and responsible preparation.
- Take action. Recognize those things over which you do have control, and exercise that control. Although you can’t direct the virus’ course, you can practice good hygiene, and prepare in the way government and health officials advise.
- Try to focus on the present. With so much future prediction and fear around you, it requires more effort to practice living in the now. Doing so, though, allows you a break from worry. Practice mindful living by listening intently to music, keenly observing your surroundings, or engaging in some breathing exercises.
- Reach out for help. If you find yourself experiencing increased anxiety or sadness that you can’t control with the measures above, reach out for help from a counselor or therapist. They can assist you in processing your feelings in a productive way and provide you with additional coping strategies.