A Mental Health Expert’s Ideas for Managing Anxiety about COVID-19 - Virtua Health

A Mental Health Expert's Advice for Managing Anxiety about COVID-19

By Jay (John) Case, MD, Psychiatrist
Program Director, Virtua Behavioral Health
Chair, Department of Psychiatry, Virtua Memorial Hospital 

Currently, we’re all being flooded with information about COVID-19 (Coronavirus 2019).

As communities and governments around the world work to control the spread of the illness and its severity, we’re seeing dramatic impacts on our daily lives.

This global pandemic also has led many to feel increased anxiety and panic. Certainly, some anxiety is appropriate—it’s okay to not be okay—as some experts have said. However, some people are experiencing “out-of-control” anxiety and panic that, in itself, is causing unnecessary distress, and even harm.

Below are some suggestions that can be helpful for managing anxiety now and at other times of high stress.

Identify what your concerns are—which are realistic and which are exaggerated.

When people are anxious, it’s common to catastrophize, or think you’ll experience the worst possible outcome. A useful exercise is to write down your concerns or fears, list the worst possible outcome (or what you dread), and then list more realistic outcomes and think about what’s most likely to happen.

Identify the things that are in your control, using this list for planning or action.

Don’t worry about the future—identify the things you’re concerned about and make plans to cope with them.

Here are some things that are in your control and actions you can add to your list:

  • Contact with others: “I can keep a distance, and I can teach my family and friends to do the same.”
  • Contamination with virus through inhalation: “I can keep a physical distance, and I can avoid those with an active cough.”
  • Contamination with virus through touch: “I can learn how to wash my hands properly and do so. I can avoid touching my face. I can use alternatives to shaking hands or touching others.”
  • Adequate resources for a 14-day quarantine: “I can make a list of reasonable needs, and I can order much of it online.”
  • Disruptions in routine daily work and school structures: “I can develop a home schedule including work, chores, entertainment, meals, home schooling, and common errands.”

Identify what is out of your control, and develop healthy strategies to manage your related anxiety.

Many worries are the results of catastrophizing, as explained above. Try not to anticipate terrible things happening. When things DO happen that are out of your control, the best you can do is work on healthy acceptance. Trying to affect or control something you have no control over simply causes you more anxiety and frustration.

Take things day by day, focusing on what’s happening today and what you can do today:

  • Provide structure and routine for yourself and your family.
  • Focus on the tasks at hand.
  • Make plans for the future, but don’t worry about the future.

Take conscious breaks from the onslaught of information:

  • With a 24/7 news cycle and social media, there’s non-stop news about COVID-19. Some of the information isn’t necessary or useful. Limit the time of the day and the amount of time you watch or consume news about COVID-19, and spend more time focused on useful information, education, entertainment or socialization with friends and family through calls and video apps.

At a minimum, anticipate realistic outcomes and plan for them. Try to put things in perspective. Take things day by day and focus on taking care of yourself and your family in—here and now.

Remember, you have already planned for things—so you don’t need to worry about them.

Updated March 26, 2020

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