Is a six foot distance enough? Does wearing a mask make a difference? Do I need to sanitize my groceries? Who knows! What I do know is that there are ways of managing COVID-19 anxiety.
I admit it. I’ve spent hours nervously curled up on my sofa worrying about a virus I may (or may not) ever get. And I only have so much control over that – unless I live alone, leave only when necessary and take every precaution short of donning a hazmat suit. Note to self: the hand sanitizer must have a minimum alcohol content of 60%, of course.
We’ve been doing this shelter-in-place thing since early March. That means I’ve had plenty of time (okay, way too much) to obsess over constantly changing statistics, heartbreaking stories of loss, and reports from the media that dodge and weave more than a champion boxer.
COVID-19 is frightening for healthy people, for people working in high risk jobs and for people who have loved ones “at risk”. I fall into that “at risk” category – I’m immune-compromised due to my autoimmune disease. And sometimes words like “scared” don’t seem to express the depth of my fear.
Worrying won’t fix this – we need to get of our own heads!
I’ve mastered the art of worrying. It’s just the way I’m hardwired. Add in a deadly virus, a crashing economy and my weakened immune system, and I feel like I’m living under a perpetual storm cloud. Have you ever seen the movie Love and Death? I feel like Woody Allen’s character, relentlessly stalked by the Grim Reaper. It’s time to start managing COVID-19 anxiety.
I’ve tried to have rational discussions with myself (yep, I’m one of those people with an inner monologue). So sometimes I feel like I waver between two extremes. I’ll be fine! I just need to take all of the right precautions given my risk level. The other extreme? It’s going to take me down! It’s just a matter of time! Let’s be real. The “news” isn’t even news anymore. It’s spin, and frankly, it’s bullshit. The only thing I know for sure is that COVID-19 is more contagious than the flu, and it’s brand new. So I’ll err on the side of caution.
Four Realistic Ways to Manage Anxiety
After the first few weeks of quarantine, I started to feel a little safer. How much danger was I really in if I (and my family) rarely left the house? Not much. But now that restrictions are slowly being eased, the anxiety is progressing from a simmer back to a full boil. Sure, I can be ultra-cautious. I can continue to shelter-in-place and leave only when needed. But I can’t expect my family to stay in a self-imposed lockdown forever. I know that they will be cautious but I’m still nervous.
How can we manage our pandemic panic when we’re highly vulnerable to a dangerous virus? Managing COVID-19 anxiety is possible. We can do it by adapting the same methods we use to manage any other type of anxiety. There are common strategies that everyone can apply, but each of us is different and we need to pick, choose and customize the approaches so that that they work for us.
My tips for managing anxiety? They’re focused on staying informed with what you need know, having a routine that keeps you centered, setting a short-term goal, and managing your stress level. Easier said than done, right? Not necessarily – there are practical ways to do all of these things:
1. Shut off your smart phone or tablet if you have to. Focus only on what you need to know to protect yourself and your family.
The emphasis is on the word “need”. Do you need to understand your own and your family’s personal level of risk? Yes. Do you need to know what the risk level is in your community, and what special requirements your community has? Of course. Do you need to get guidance from your doctor about what special steps you should take, given that you have an autoimmune disease and are at higher risk? Absolutely!
That’s where it ends. Managing COVID-19 anxiety means limiting the news and the noise. Find a few trusted sources of information and filter out everything else. Get guidance from your doctor. The CDC has helpful information for high risk groups. Your state’s Department of Health will have current information for your community. You can find more information tailored to your condition through these resources.
Practical tip: Give yourself a strict time limit each day (15 to 20 minutes) for reading or listening to COVID-19 news, and please, people, don’t read the news right before bed.
2. Find a routine that works for you and stay with it.
If you have the discipline to form some new habits, I applaud you. Yet for many of us, adjusting to a different lifestyle doesn’t come without resistance. In addition, we’re all spending far more time at home than we’d like to. I’d love to tell you that I’ve settled into a satisfying and productive routine. But I’m still working on it. And that’s okay, because I’m doing the best that I can. I’m keeping it easy and simple because that means I’ll stick with it.
Practical tip: Keep a regular schedule. Get up at the same time each day, go to bed at the same time each day, and eat your meals at the same time each day. Get a little sunshine and some exercise. A routine gives us comfort – we can predict it and we can control it. It’s one of the few things we have control over right now!
3. Set a short-term goal.
This is really just a way to distract yourself – but it’s distraction with a purpose. What do you love to do? Is there something that you’ve wanted to learn? Can you do it from home or at least do it without putting yourself at risk? Lots of people have taken the time to declutter. I’m not one of them. But I love to read and decided that I would read a book a week. It amounts to 30 or 40 pages a day. When you’re engrossed in a good book you can’t be focused on anything else.
Practical tip: Set your goal for whatever timeframe works for you – it could be a goal for the day if that’s all you can do. Make sure it’s something you want to do, something you can do without putting yourself at risk and something you’ll feel good about doing.
4. Reduce your stress.
This one is more personal. Because what works for me might not work for you. for instance, my husband reduces his stress by taking an 80-mile bike ride. My oldest daughter exercises. My youngest daughter takes the dog for a long walk to the beach. I enjoy cooking.
Connecting with other people is a great way to reduce stress. I have two wonderful sisters – neither of whom lives close. We used to take “sister trips” – long weekends where we’d meet somewhere and just enjoy each other’s company. Now we have a three-way call every week. While it’s not as good as being with them in person, we can still be “together” and look forward to when we can see each other again.
Check in on people who are alone – call them, send them a card, and have a meal delivered to them.
Practical Tip: Ask yourself these questions: When do I feel most at peace? Which activities make me feel calm? What makes me feel happy? What makes me feel grateful? Pick something and go do it!
Oh – and if there was ever a time to easily justify binge watching anything on Netflix – it’s now! (By the way, all the cool cats and kittens are watching Tiger King.)
Give yourself some grace. Be patient. We’ll be dealing with this for a while. These are tough times – emotionally, financially and physically. If we can get through today, we can get through tomorrow. So just take one step at a time – it’s the only way forward.