These are uncertain times. We are battling a silent, invisible killer that you, your partner, parents orbest friend could be carrying without symptoms. Transmission is like a game of Russian roulette, where the most vulnerable take the bullet. Our lives are on hold, as are any future plans – holidays, music festivals, weddings; all these things are cancelled until further notice as the measures to contain the virus get stricter week by week. This is an international emergency and the media coverage blares it in our faces daily.
Is it any wonder that many of us are on ‘high alert’ in order to protect ourselves and those close to us?
A certain amount of worry can be useful in helping us to foresee and solve problems. Yet worry can lead to anxiety when we apply these problem-solving strategies to a situation that’s outside of our control or where we can’t affect change. It can feel as if our worry is giving us back a semblance of control – panic buying is one example. But worrying itself can affect health and for many it can become crippling.
Individuals who suffer with health anxiety know this only too well – it is not uncommon to hear someone say that they wish they already had the life-threatening illness they fear, only to relieve the uncertainty of worrying that they have it or will get it imminently… Our fear system reacts the same whether we are imagining a frightening scenario or actually living it.
So what can you do to manage Coronavirus anxiety?
Firstly, step back and ask yourself what is it that you are most worried about? What is the likelihood of this happening? What would happen if this did actually happen (the awfulness)? Stay with the facts and think about how these are framed: chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, estimates the mortality rate of Covid-19 as 1% or lower. This would mean that 99% of those who contract Covid-19 will get better. But The news is primed to focus on the worst case scenario, or in plain terms, the deaths, rather than its survivors.
With this in mind limit your exposure to news and social media, looking only to reliable sources of information, such as the World Health Organisation website.
Also try postponing your worry, an effective anxiety-reduction technique where you identify a period of, say, half an hour of ‘worry time’ a day. Choose the same time each day and when worries crop up outside of this time tell yourself ‘I will worry about that later’, at your agreed time. Simply telling yourself ‘stop worrying’ won’t work and is actually likely to increase worry!
Whilst there is a lot we still don’t know, it can be helpful to focus on what you can do that will help, such as regular handwashing and maintaining appropriate social distance from others (see NHS guidance here). Despite the gloom, this pandemic can bring out the best in humanity; doing something community minded, perhaps as simple as checking in with elderly neighbours, can actually ease worry and inward-focus.
If you dread the thought of being holed up at home ask yourself how you might reframe this: what can you do that you otherwise wouldn’t have time to? If you are expecting disagreements or chaos being in ongoing close proximity to your nearest and dearest, make sure to agree and respect boundaries, maintain a work/school day routine and designate a space to ‘escape’ to if needed!
Remember that life itself is uncertain, so take joy in present moments and the ‘mundane’ things that you wouldn’t do without. Think to a future where all this is over and how you might look back on this time…
If you are struggling with anxiety, online therapy is available and at reduced cost – you can get in touch here.