What You Can Do for Your Anxiety During This Time

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has emotional implications for everyone.  Common concerns include health risk to ourselves, loved ones and acquaintances. Others such as availability of necessities, income, healthcare, stigmatization and guilt are frequently felt.  With social distancing becoming widespread, feelings of isolation and loneliness arise.  Boredom is common, as is frustration with inconsistent advice and opinions from politicians and the media about duration of the crisis and disease transmission.

Anxiety during these times is natural.  Here are some commonsense tips I have seen which may prove useful:

First, for reliable medical information start with your local care providers.  Other reliable resources include the Iowa Department of Public Health, CDC and WHO (www.cdc.gov and www.who.int).  If you don’t have internet access, ask someone who does.

Control what you can and don’t waste emotional energy on that which you cannot.  Practice and review the simple steps, which are often the most effective and are surely the easiest to employ.  Frequent hand washing with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially when returning from public places when you first enter your house.  Avoid gatherings of more than a few persons.  Cough hygiene and six feet of separation will be the most effective measures.  Make or have made for you simple face masks, if you wish, to prevent your own coughs from inadvertently spreading germs when in public.  Don’t rely on them to protect you so that you can avoid social distancing.  I you feel ill, stay home.  Remember, don’t make things too complicated or your anxiety will needlessly worsen, and you will actually accomplish less.

Stay in your routine as much as possible or create new ones.  Structure your time with diversions, pleasurable or not, not keep your mind off your fears.  

Make sure to eat well, stay hydrated and get plenty of rest.  Get regular light exercise.  Try to get outdoors, weather permitting. Take frequent breaks.

Stay socially connected through regular telephone or other digital contact.  Check on family, friends and neighbors.

Maintain a sense of community purpose by helping those who can use it.  Acknowledge and praise each other for helping.  Do not create unnecessary and enduring supply shortages through hoarding.  These activities also help produce a greater sense of control.

Minimize unpleasant media exposure to once or twice a day, just enough to stay somewhat informed.  Try to minimize the triggers for anxiety.

Avoid blame and stigmatization.  Remember, no one created the illness and it serves no constructive purpose to blame or become angry.  It is destructive to others and a waste of time and mental energy.

Acknowledge your own worry and reach out to acquaintances for reassurance and advice.  If you are experiencing persistent changes in sleep, appetite, level of function or will to live, contact your local care providers or mental health providers for further evaluation and advice.

Above all else, try to maintain perspective.  We are a world community dealing with this pandemic and you are not alone.  This pandemic will pass.  Your health care questions and problems will be heard and addressed.

Mark Preston, MD