It’s been said thousands of times in the last month or two, but these truly are unprecedented times. Nobody alive today has experienced anything like this, so naturally, it’s normal to feel unsettled, nervous, anxious, or fearful.
Feeling anxiety during stressful times is normal and common, but it’s beneficial to learn to manage and cope with anxiety. “Anxious thoughts can build upon themselves until they sort of spiral out of control,” says Susan Samuels, MD, psychiatrist at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine.
Unmanaged, anxiety can become debilitating. It might lead to negative coping mechanisms (like substance misuse) or progress to an actual mental illness diagnosis, such as generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or eating disorders.
Ignoring the anxious thoughts isn’t recommended—that’s what allows them to fester. Instead, here are some tips to cope:
1. Remind yourself of the facts
Some facts can be overwhelming, such as daily counts of infections and deaths. However, there are many promising numbers out there. For example, even though infection rates are still going upward, stay-at-home policies have slowed them down in some areas.
“We have all done our part, and we have made a big difference by staying home, and reminding ourselves of facts like that is very, very important,” says Dr. Samuels.
2. Limit social media and news intake
“A lot of us use social media now more than ever. The challenge is sometimes that information can actually contribute to that anxiety,” says Dr. Samuels. “Give yourself a specific amount of time that you'll allow yourself to be on social media.”
The same goes for watching the news. When something so “big” is happening, it is tempting to want to devour every possible minute of the news, but you don’t actually need all of that information. You really just need to know major updates—such as changes to social distancing policies or prevention strategies.
In fact, you could skip the TV news programs altogether and go straight to the source by checking for updates on your local or state government website, or the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
3. Stick to a healthy routine
Your everyday routine might have been thrown for a loop, but building a new routine can help give you a sense of stability. This may include starting your morning with a walk, doing yoga with your significant other after work, or cooking dinner with your kids.
“It's important not to forget all of those healthy habits that we normally would be integrating into our life,” says Dr. Samuels. “Try and maintain that routine of healthy habits as best as you can, and everything else will be that much easier.”
Need more tips to ease COVID-19 anxiety?