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Managing anxiety in the face of COVID-19

Psychological effects of COVID-19 are being experienced by many.

Concerns about catching the novel virus touch upon core fears we all have regarding the health, safety and ultimate mortality of ourselves and loved ones. Grocery stores struggling to stock shelves instigate primal fears about survival during scarcity. A volatile stock market exacerbates worries about money and stability.

Disruptions in routine (e.g., school closures, telecommuting) decrease our sense of control over our own lives.

Recommendations for social distancing can potentially lead to isolation and subsequent depression.

Closures of nonessential businesses (e.g., entertainment hubs such as shopping malls and movie theaters) have some concerned about how they will distract themselves and keep their moods buoyant during these stressful times.

With churches pausing their public Mass schedules, many faithful are worried about how they will cope without this major source of support. Many are experiencing feelings of sadness and loss as long-anticipated events, such as weddings, are postponed indefinitely.

Indeed, the World Health Organization has acknowledged that the pandemic is wreaking havoc on our psyches. Times of great stress, such as pandemics, can negatively impact our bodies, emotions and thinking processes.

Signs of stress in the body may include gastrointestinal upset, headaches, changes in appetite and difficulty sleeping. Emotionally, you may feel more anxious, fearful, overwhelmed, apathetic, depressed or irritable.

Cognitively, you may have difficulty concentrating or remembering things. However, there are things you can do to maintain your sense of well-being during these trying times.

Have some self-compassion

Understand that this is a difficult time for many people and you are not the only one struggling. As humans, we are hardwired to feel anxious in response to new, uncertain situations. It is a survival mechanism designed to keep our species safe and alive.

Take time to thank your brain for trying to keep you safe, rather than getting upset with yourself.

Find comfort in routine

Rapidly altered schedules can make a person feel out of control. Your usual schedule has undoubtedly been thrown off course. Try to set a routine for your family that is as close to normal as possible.

Control what you can

Follow basic guidelines for health and hygiene.

Wash your hands, disinfect commonly used household objects, and follow government-issued travel warnings.

Get out and get moving

Do not neglect your exercise routine just because your gym or yoga studio is closed. Check out YouTube and other online resources for free workout routines that can be done at home. At the very least, get outside and go for a walk, run or bike ride.

Increase pleasurable solitary activities while social distancing

Health experts have advised us to avoid public gatherings, stay home and keep our distance from others in order to slow the spread of the virus.

While following these directives, be sure to engage in plenty of solo self-care activities in order to ward off feelings of anxiety and depression.

Read more books, complete a jigsaw puzzle, or do some arts and crafts.

Telecommunicate with loved ones

Social isolation can increase feelings of anxiety and depression. Luckily, advances in technology allow us to communicate with loved ones even if we must be apart physically. Reach out to friends and family via text, video chat or a phone call.

Limit your media consumption

Limit yourself to checking for coronavirus updates 1-2 times daily for only 5 minutes at a time. This should provide you with enough information to keep yourself informed, without needlessly fueling your anxiety.

Be wary of social media, which tends to be sensationalized and unreliable.

Take only what you need

Many people live paycheck to paycheck and aren’t able to “hoard” in times of crisis. They have to wait for their next pay period to do their shopping, only to arrive at a store that has been picked clean.

Be considerate of others during these times and supply your home with only what you realistically need. Check in on loved ones, especially those who are more vulnerable (e.g., the elderly, the poor).

Focus on facts, not feelings

Make decisions based on guidelines from trusted sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, WHO and your primary care physician, rather than your own anxiety.

Get professional help

If you find that anxiety and depression associated with coronavirus are interfering with your relationships and work, consider connecting with a psychologist.

If you are already in treatment, continue working with your provider. Many psychologists now offer telehealth appointments.

Dr. Amanda Sellers is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Allentown. She specializes in the treatment of anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Anxiety in uncertain times can rule a person's life. COURTESY OF METROGRAPHICS