Coronavirus Anxiety Is Everywhere. Experts Explain How To Feel Better.
With the number of cases rising by the day, coronavirus anxiety is everywhere. If you're feeling anxious about how COVID-19 might affect you or your loved ones, from worrying about lost income to wondering how to take care of yourself in isolation, you're not alone. Experts say that the best defense is staying calm.
"Our brains pay attention to startling news and possible threats — which means we easily get swayed into thinking something is worse than it is," Catherine Franssen, Ph.D., director of the NeuroStudies minor and an assistant psychology professor at Longwood University in Virginia, tells Bustle. "We don’t always make the best decisions when we respond to a panic."
Because so much information around the coronavirus is evolving daily, uncertainty about the virus — like how it's transmitted and how quickly people recover — can cause stress and unease in healthy, low-risk individuals. People are also concerned about how the coronavirus will affect their lives over the short and long term, including disrupted schooling and income, postponed travel plans, and the mental health impacts of social distancing or isolation.
"We ... are especially concerned about the level of anxiety that everyone seems to be feeling," says Ashley Womble, head of communications for Crisis Text Line. "We're seeing more conversations from texters every day about this, especially from texters who identify as Asian. The top issues for texters about coronavirus and anxiety, coronavirus and school, and coronavirus and finances." Talkspace, which connects people with therapists online, tells Bustle that they've seen a 25% increase in enquiries since February 17.
Managing your anxiety around coronavirus means acknowledging your feelings while also being practical about the virus' spread, experts say. Here is an action plan for feeling less anxious about coronavirus.
1. Educating Yourself In Controlled Doses About Coronavirus Can Help Anxiety
Knowledge is power when it comes to fighting anxiety, because it's easy to fear something you don't understand. "Educate yourself on the virus and the possible risk factors to you and your family, and then take appropriate precautions," therapist Heidi McBain, L.M.F.T., tells Bustle.
"Fear catches our attention and sells headlines (and hand sanitizer), but it doesn’t lead to our best thinking," Franssen says. "Stick to reading one to two reliable sources a day." The CDC and WHO are primary sources for information about the spread of coronavirus.
2. Practicing Self-Care Can Lower Coronavirus-Induced Anxiety
Anxiety symptoms can wreak havoc on mood, sleep, appetite, and other aspects of health. It's important to take care of yourself to feel better emotionally and physically.
"Focus on self-care to help keep you present and grounded in this moment," McBain says. "This might include exercise, meditation, eating a healthy diet, mindfulness, getting a good night’s sleep, doing something you find relaxing, and so on." It's not selfish to try and calm yourself down if anxiety is damaging your heath and quality of life.
3. Consider How You're Sharing Information About Coronavirus
Anxiety around coronavirus may be leading you to share a lot of information with those you care about, but the consequences may be negative for them, too, experts say. "If you’re sharing sources, think [about] why," psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman, M.D. says. "Are you adding to hysteria or are you helping someone get to know facts that will help them?" If you're finding that sharing a lot of news isn't helping you or others, pausing that process can be helpful.
4. Distract Yourself From Ruminating About Coronavirus
When stress begins to climb it can be hard to manage, but getting your mind off of it can help, McBain says. Anxiety around the coronavirus is no different. "Try distracting yourself when your anxiety is escalating, with activities such as reading, watching a movie, making plans with family and friends, and so on," she tells Bustle. These distraction techniques can help you refocus and get a bigger-picture view on your situation and risks.
5. Make An Action Plan To Deal With Coronavirus To Lower Anxiety
"Make an action plan in case the risk gets worse," Dr. Lieberman says. "I, personally, am being more conscious of washing my hands more often and trying not to touch elevator buttons or railings with my hands."
Experts tell Bustle that a few simple rules, like washing hands, avoiding touching your face, staying away from big crowds, and wiping down your workstation regularly are the best options for care right now. Plan what you might need to do if there are shutdowns of transportation systems, work, or schools.
Make sure you have supplies — nonperishable foods, medications — in case officials in your area recommend you self-quarantine (typically, for a period of 14 days, or the maximum incubation period for the virus). Being prepared can help alleviate feelings of uncertainty.
6. Create Space For Feeling Anxious About Coronavirus
Sometimes anxiety just needs to be expressed. "Creating time and space in your schedule to really feel your feelings instead of resisting them can be helpful," McBain says.
She suggests setting a timer for a short amount of time — try five minutes — and sit with the fear and the emotions attached to it. This is the time to express any anxious thought patterns about COVID-19. "When your timer goes off, process these feelings further by journaling about it or talking to a friend or loved one about your struggles," she says. Processing anxiety in this way may help it feel less intense in the future.
7. Try To Avoid Feedback Loops Of Coronavirus Anxiety
Even if you're managing your own anxiety successfully, an encounter with a panicking person who's bought all the hand sanitizer on Amazon can trigger renewed fears. Dr. Lieberman suggests avoiding people who are likely to be panicking, or cause you to panic.
8. Talk To A Therapist About Your Anxiety About Coronavirus
Professional help can be a source of neutral, impartial support during tough times. "Consider speaking with a therapist who specializes in anxiety for support, and to help you come up with new coping strategies during this hard time," McBain says. If your therapist isn't taking in-person clients right now or you feel a bit too anxious to leave the house, organize a Skype or phone call. If you don't already have a relationship with a therapist, telehealth services can also help you make that connection. If you're experiencing acute anxiety, reaching out to Crisis Text Line (text "home" to 741741 or 85258 in the UK) can help you work through immediate mental health needs.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and coughing, call NHS 111 in the UK or visit the CDC website in the U.S. for up-to-date information and resources. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here, and UK-specific updates on coronavirus here.
Catherine Franssen Ph.D. director of NeuroStudies at Longwood University
Dr. Carole Lieberman M.D., psychiatrist
Heidi McBain LMFT, therapist
Ashley Womble, head of communications for Crisis Text Line
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