As the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to spread globally and the number of diagnosed cases continues to rise, anxiety about the outbreak is also on the rise.
As a psychologist, I can already see this in my practice. While feeling anxiety in response to a threat is a perfectly normal human reaction, a constant high level of anxiety can compromise our psychological resources in times of crisis. And people who already suffer from anxiety and related disorders are particularly likely to experience more psychological difficulties during the coronavirus crisis.
The following suggestions can help you manage the anxiety associated with the crisis we are going through.
1. Train yourself to accept uncertainty
Not coping with uncertainty makes you more vulnerable to anxiety. A study carried out during the A (H1N1) influenza pandemic of 2009 showed that people who had a harder time accepting the uncertainty of the situation were more likely to experience high anxiety.
It is therefore necessary to learn to gradually cope with uncertainty in daily life by relaxing control behaviors.
Start small: For example, refrain from texting a friend immediately the next time you search for the answer to a question. Go hiking without checking the weather first. By increasing your tolerance for uncertainty, you can reduce your propensity to use the Internet to stay on top of developments.
2. Fight the anxiety paradox
Anxiety increases in proportion to the amount of things you try to get rid of. Or as Carl Jung said, “Whatever you resist persists”.
The fight against anxiety can take many forms: drink more than you need to, eat a little too much or abuse Netflix series… You can also constantly seek comfort from friends, family or health specialists. . It can also result in obsessively consulting online news feeds, in the hope of allaying fears. While these behaviors can help momentarily, they can make anxiety worse in the long run. Their avoidance strategies almost always backfired.
Instead, let the thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations of anxiety overwhelm you temporarily, accepting that anxiety is an integral part of the human experience. When waves of anxiety related to the epidemic roll in, take notes or describe this experience to others, without any judgment. Resist the urge to run away from these thoughts or feelings, or allay your fears by compulsively educating yourself. Paradoxically, dealing with anxiety in the moment helps tame it in the medium term.
3. Get past your existential anxiety
What threatens our health triggers the fear that underlies all other fears: the fear of death. In the face of these reminders of their own mortality, people can find themselves consumed with anxiety about preserving their health, and focusing disproportionately on any sign of illness.
Try to connect with what is meaningful to you, what matters in your life, be it spirituality, relationships with those close to you, or commitment to a cause that is close to your heart. Start an important project that you had put off until later, and fully embrace your life choices. Focusing on or seeking to find out the “why” of life can help you overcome inevitable anxiety during this time of crisis.
4. Don’t underestimate your resilience capacity
Many people fear they will not be able to do so if the virus shows up at work, in their family or in their home. They worry about how they will cope with a quarantine, a daycare closing or a loss of pay. The human mind is good at predicting the worst.
But research shows that people tend to overestimate the severity of the consequences of difficult events and, at the same time, underestimate their ability to cope and adapt to difficult situations.
Remember, you are tougher than you think. It can help you ease your anxiety.
5. Don’t overestimate the threat
Admittedly, the virus can be dangerous, due to its estimated death rate of between 1.4% and 2.3%. Everyone should therefore seriously take all necessary precautions to fight against its spread.
But keep in mind that humans tend to overstate the danger associated with unknown threats over ones they already know, like seasonal flu or car accidents. Constant media coverage contributes to the sense of danger, leading to heightened fear and escalation of perceived danger.
To reduce anxiety about this news, I recommend that you limit your exposure to information about the coronavirus to 30 minutes per day, maximum. And remember, we are more anxious when we are faced with situations that we cannot compare to a known situation. The anxiety this causes, this is the vicious cycle, makes things even more terrible to live with.
6. Take – even more – care of yourself
In these difficult times, it’s important to remember the proven methods of preventing and reducing anxiety. Get enough sleep, exercise regularly, practice mindfulness, spend time in nature, and use relaxation techniques when you are stressed.
Focusing on these behaviors during the crisis we are going through can go a long way in improving your psychological well-being and strengthening your immune system.
7. If necessary, seek professional help.
Those most affected by anxiety and related disorders may be particularly hard hit by this time of the epidemic. As a result, they may experience symptoms that interfere with their social relationships, their ability to work, or their ability to care for themselves and others.
If you feel concerned, seek professional help from your doctor or mental health professional. Cognitive behavioral therapy and certain medications can help treat anxiety problems effectively.
While you may feel helpless during this stressful time, these strategies can help you avoid being overwhelmed by anxiety and get through the epidemic better.
Jelena Kecmanovic, Adjunct Professor of Psychology, Georgetown University