It’s common to feel anxiety when life is uncertain and things are changing quickly. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic definitely qualifies in both regards. In a few short weeks, schools and businesses have closed, and stores are emptied of everyday items. Social distancing, self-isolation, and quarantines are new experiences for many of us and may be confusing. Little is known about this new disease. New information comes out every day, and instructions are changing quickly, even from official sources.
If you’re anxious, sad, or scared—those feelings are perfectly normal, and they are even valuable reactions to stress. But at the same time, it’s important to take steps to manage your anxiety so it doesn’t spiral out of control. Here are suggestions that may help you and, if you’re a caregiver or parent, your loved ones as well.
Control What You Can
Controlling what you can will help keep anxiety at bay. Here are some concrete steps you can take.
- Reduce your risk of infection. Practice good hygiene (sneezing or coughing into your elbow, frequent hand washing for at least 20 seconds, etc.) and limit your exposure to other people as much as possible.
- Take care of your physical health. Eating well and getting plenty of sleep are important ways you can keep your immune system strong.
- Move! Exercise is a well-known stress buster, so make sure you—and your loved ones—get daily activity. If a walk in the park isn’t sensible right now, dig up your old exercise videos or search YouTube for episodes of “American Bandstand” or “Soul Train” to dance to. You’ll get your heart pumping, and maybe have a few laughs, too.
- Keep your daily routines intact. This is especially important if you have children or are caring for someone with dementia or cognitive impairment. Your loved ones may look to you to see how they should react, and they may become frightened or disoriented by unexpected change. Familiar activities are reassuring, so keep to a regular schedule as much as you can.
Maintain Social Connections
Staying in touch with friends, family, and colleagues is especially important with social distancing.
- Reach out to older adults. Loneliness can take a toll on physical and mental health.
- Find ways to help others. Let your child walk an elderly neighbor’s dog. Check with someone who’s self-isolating to see whether they need anything before you head to the store. Encourage your elderly loved one to read a book to the grandchildren via video call, or suggest that they check on their friends by phone. Organize a campaign to send postcards to veterans or hospital patients. Helping others is a wonderful way to reduce anxiety.
- Use video calls to meet with friends for coffee or cocktails. Sit on your respective stoops or set up lawn chairs in the driveway and have a happy hour beer with your neighbors. Take your reading group or knitting circle meetings online, too.
Manage Media Flow
Setting limits on media consumption can reduce the anxiety and confusion caused by information overload.
- Choose trustworthy sources for news and information (such as New York State’s coronavirus website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization), and check for updates only once or twice a day. New York City residents can sign up for updates from the NYC Health Department (@nychealthy). If you live outside of the five boroughs, find your county health office here. Elderly folks may appreciate your assistance with selecting reliable news sources.
- Help children interpret what they hear. Start by asking whether they have questions or what they think is happening. Answer their questions honestly, and confirm that they understand your answers. But be sure you give them age-appropriate information and that you don’t tell them more than they want or need to know.
Seek Help if You Need It
Finding a new normal in troubled times is stressful, especially when there are many unknowns. In such situations, it’s normal to experience
- Difficulty concentrating
- Irritability and anger
- Trouble sleeping
- Stomach aches or stress-related skin issues
However, you should seek out immediate help if you experience any of the following:
- Constant worry, or worry that doesn’t go away or that keeps you from carrying out important everyday tasks
- Changes in energy level or in eating or sleeping patterns
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Thoughts of self-injury or suicide
You can get help by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or texting Got5 to 741741.