The coronavirus itself may be novel, but the outbreak is stirring some very primal instincts in people - warning and coping mechanisms that have been with humankind since the dawn of time - fear and anxiety. According to mental health experts, feeling worried in such a situation is absolutely normal and even healthy. There is a reason this evolutionary trait has stuck around for millions of years -it alerts us in times of danger and prompts us to come up with new survival skills.
The catch is when the anxiety becomes disproportionate to the situation. It can turn into fear or a feeling of hopelessness and starts interfering with our day-to-day lives and wellbeing. Following official instructions (staying at home, social distancing, etc.) is important because it engages problem-solving behavior. But the uncertainty of how long this situation will last, the constant stream of new information and the social isolation all create fertile ground for growing anxiety.
Panic, too, can be contagious. To get through this time as calmly and healthily as possible, it is important to be familiar with ways to calm ourselves. All the tips on this list are confirmed by the CDC and professional mental health experts.
1. Acknowledge Your Anxiety
As mentioned above, feeling a certain level of worry is absolutely normal. If you feel your anxiety increase to a point it starts to exhibit physical symptoms like shortness of breath or a racing heart, don’t immediately try to eradicate or deny them. Instead, experts recommend to acknowledge their presence, make space for them and describe what you are feeling as it happens.
Sit down, count your breaths, in and out, for 10 seconds and repeat. There are other actions you can take to shift your focus like slow centering stretches or even simply sitting on the floor. You can look them up online, or use a guided breathing app to help.
2. Unplug as Much as You Need
Staying informed does not mean you have to be connected and follow live news 24/7. It can really become exhausting. Turning the push notifications off on news apps can help relieve some of that pressure. Choose one or two reliable sources, like the CDC or WHO, and keep track of their updates at allocated times once or twice a day.
It is also recommended to set a specific length of time for social media to avoid getting caught up in it, which is likely to increase anxiety.
3. Separate Speculations from Facts
This is an extension of the previous step. It isn’t possible or recommended to completely bury your head in the sand, and you are bound to see some unnerving headlines on social media and in news reports. Remind yourself that a lot of it is speculation - not fact. Follow the clear instructions of the health organizations and try to avoid news headlines that don’t contribute to your wellbeing.
4. Do Some Exercise
Do not be deterred if the class you’re enrolled in isn’t taking place at the moment. Aerobic exercise is known to mitigate anxiety, especially if it was already a part of your usual routine. Practicing a dance routine, exercise sequence, or yoga are all healthy ways to keep your mind distracted and channel your adrenaline elsewhere. You can turn your garden into a workout area, or move around some furniture in your living room for the purpose.
5. Connect with Others
Staying indoors means being by yourselves, or with your family or housemates for a much longer period of time than you are used to. Some might be asked to self-quarantine, but that doesn’t mean completely isolating yourself. Maintaining human interaction at such times is very important.
Being able to express your thoughts concerning the virus, exchanging opinions and making jokes will make you feel supported and make it easier to overcome the anxiety. In this case, technology is quite a blessing - call, video chat and check on your friends and acquaintances daily.
6. Maintain Structure
For some people, it isn’t catching the virus itself that is causing stress, but the feeling of emptiness and the disruption of daily routines. Spiraling into destructive behavior is easy when confined to your home, and while sleeping in and walking around in your PJ’s might feel nice for a couple of days, it will only increase anxiety in the long run.
Try to keep your sleeping routine as consistent as possible and get at least 7 hours of sleep. Wake up at a reasonable time in the morning, change out of your pajamas and set a structure for yourself. Work or study from home if possible, cook for yourself and eat 3 meals a day.
7. Remember the Anxious State is Not Permanent
When anxiety takes over, it can feel like it will ever end. But it always does. It’s a worrying time for almost everyone, but this situation, just like the way you feel, is temporary. Be kind to yourself and your loved ones. It may sound cheesy, but we will overcome this together.