‘Life is one thing after another’: Dealing with coronavirus anxiety

The coronavirus pandemic has caused stress, anxiety and hardship for millions of people. COVID-19 is affecting 183 countries and territories around the world, with the number of confirmed cases growing each day. Social distancing, isolation, quarantine and economic uncertainty—these are scary and unsettling times.

Simran Sethi of The New York Times interviewed noted psychologist and author Dr. Harriet Lerner. They discussed ways to tackle the panic caused by the novel coronavirus.

While many COVID-19 reports are alarming, Sethi notes that there is room for at least a bit of optimism. In Italy, recoveries now outnumber fatalities. A new study shows that often-milder cases—while abundant—are not nearly as infectious as confirmed ones. And researchers from McMaster University and the University of Toronto have isolated the COVID-19 virus. This will lead to improved diagnostic tools and, eventually, a vaccine.

In between handwashing and social distancing, here are 10 suggestions from Dr. Lerner on how to stay calm and centered during the pandemic.

  • Know the facts: Without information, anxiety can increase. Pay attention to trusted sources and follow current instructions. One caveat—don’t overdo it. Too much information can cause undue stress.
  • Perspective: It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. Lerner’s advice is to avoid labeling ourselves as “weak” or comparing ourselves to others. Another key part of putting the coronavirus in perspective is balancing what we should and should not do. Lerner suggests being vigilant/overly cautious rather than underreacting.
  • Identify the source(s) of your anxiety: Recognizing what causes anxiety can help us separate from it, leading to more level-headed thinking.
  • Refrain from scapegoating: We’re all in this situation together. It’s important to remember that humans are more alike than different.
  • Ask for help if you need it: According to Lerner, “…it’s essential to have other perspectives.” Now is the time to turn toward each other.
Dr. Harriet Lerner
  • Don’t procrastinate: Anxiety can cause us to under- or overreact—“Passivity and inaction will make fear grow,” said Lerner. Make sure to get a couple weeks’ worth of food and/or medicine.
  • Connect: Social distancing doesn’t mean isolation. Use phone, text, email and video chats to communicate with family, friends, neighbors and other resources.
  • Self-compassion: To be afraid is to be human—don’t be hard on yourself for feeling this way. We should care for others and be gentle with ourselves.
  • Self-care: Slow down, embrace healthy practices and try to maintain a routine. Comforting activities could include writing, singing, exercise, meditation or therapy.
  • Don’t let fear and anxiety become pandemics: From Dr. Lerner—“We should not let fear lead us into isolation or stop us from acting with clarity, compassion and courage. Terrible things happen, but it is still possible to move forward with love and hope.”

This pandemic won’t last forever. We have to remember that we’ll get through it. As Governor Mike DeWine said, “Out of every cloud there’s some sunshine.”

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