The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak may be causing you anxiety and even panic. Here’s what you can do each day to take care of yourself and your mental health:
Get your news from trusted sources, such as the CDC. But limit your time on these and other news sites, because constantly checking the news can increase your anxiety and interfere with your ability to attend to other important parts of your life, such as your work and relationships.
Notice when you are catastrophizing. Our brains usually tell us that the risk of danger is higher that it actually is. Try to notice your worry thoughts and challenge whether they are based in fact. For example, the risk of having complications from coronavirus is actually very low, if you’re not in a high-risk group. And even if you are, there are measures you can take to minimize your risk of infection and severe illness.
Taking care of yourself vs worrying about yourself. Focus on the actions you can take to stay healthy. That means washing hands, social distancing, avoiding crowds, and exercising outdoors or at home. Worry, on the other hand, drains your mental and emotional resources, increases stress, and has a negative effect on your immune system.
When worry comes, notice it without judgment (it’s part of being human!) and take “opposite action.” Anxious thoughts constrict our bodies and our breathing, preparing us for immediate battle (which is not helpful in this situation). Instead, practice deep breathing when you notice your body tensing up. With one hand on your belly, inhale deeply through your nose for 3 counts and then exhale slowly through your mouth for 6 counts. Repeat for several minutes. This helps your nervous system relax, grounds you in the present moment, and gives your mind a rest from worry. This is also a wonderful time to start a mindfulness meditation practice (apps like Headspace, Buddhify, and Calm are worth checking out).
If you need more support, reach out. If you feel that anxiety about the coronavirus is interfering with your functioning, even after trying some of the above practices, reach out to a mental health professional. Dr. Amy Busch is a psychologist who works with our practice to connect patients with therapists in the Bay Area. She can be reached at 415-613-6940 or firstname.lastname@example.org.