When it's all too much, here's how to quell coronavirus anxiety, according to experts
Millions of people are working from home and schools are closing. Grocery store shelves are empty. Your over 60 parents won't take coronavirus seriously, even though Tom Hanks has it.
There are so many sources of stress during the COVID-19 pandemic (pandemic!), it's normal to feel some anxiety when a global infectious disease is impacts every realm of your life.
Here are some ways to cope with stress and anxiety amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Know you're not alone
"Fear and uncertainty are the hallmark response to things that people don't understand and that they feel threatens their safety and the safety of their loved ones," Joshua Morganstein, Chair of the American Psychiatric Association's Committee on Psychiatric Dimensions of Disasters tells CNBC Make It.
Indeed, information about COVID-19 is changing rapidly. The virus has infected at least 136,000 across the globe, and 1,200 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
From an emotional perspective, "this event appears to be having a wide-ranging impact on nearly everyone," Simon A. Rego, associate professor and chief of psychology at Montefiore Medical Center, tells CNBC Make It. During a pandemic, you might feel unsafe, have trouble sleeping, experience distressing emotions or social isolation and grapple with an imbalance in your work-life issues, Morganstein says.
The most important thing to keep in mind if you are extra anxious? "Remember we're not alone," Richa Bhatia, a board-certified child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist tells CNBC Make It.
Manage your media diet
There's a fine line between staying informed and feeling overwhelmed by the news. In times like these, "the tendency is to really almost drown in [the news]," Morganstein says. Research has shown that in natural disasters or terrorist events, as people's media exposure increases, so does their distress.
While you shouldn't avoid the news entirely, it's important to "dial down our exposure to media content," Morganstein says.
This is particularly true about social media, which can be vague or sensationalized. Rely on trusted forms of communication, such as the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, he says, and give yourself a break from the news and social media from time to time.
Stick to a routine
Your usual commute and schedule might be uprooted, especially if you're working from home, but following a new routine can be very calming, "especially when it feels as though a lot of things are changing around you, or that a lot of things are altering quickly," Morganstein says.
For example, set a schedule for yourself if you're telecommuting that allows you to take proper breaks for meals and get enough sleep. It's also important to continue to exercise and eat healthy foods, he says. (Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can increase your anxiety.) If you usually relax on the weekend with books or movies, continue to do that in this new normal, Bhatia says.
Look out for others
It might feel like your life is out of control right now, so it's important to focus your mind and efforts on the things that are within your control, such as cleaning your hands, avoiding close contact and keeping loved ones safe, Rego says.
To that end, looking out for your neighbors, family, friends and coworkers can also provide some relief. "When we're supporting others it gives us a sense of purpose," Morganstein says.
It's a reminder that we're all in this together, and there are people who support you during difficult times, he says. Also do what you can to stay connected, because the pandemic can be incredibly isolating, Bhatia says.
Give mindfulness a try
Not knowing what the future holds is one of the main reasons why people feel anxious about COVID-19, Bhatia says, so focus on the present. A great way to do that is to use meditation or other mindfulness exercises, which encourage you to notice what's happening with your feelings in the moment in a nonjudgmental way, she says.
Your instinct might be to seek out ways to distract yourself or escape your anxiety, but that won't make you feel better in the long run, she says.
Find other things to talk about
"In anxious times such as this, utilizing your support network can be very helpful, just be sure that you reach out to people who will give you support as opposed to amplify your stress," Rego says. Keep in touch with your friends, and talk about other topics (like pop culture) so you're not just exchanging and amplifying each other's worries, Morganstein says.
If you find that your anxiety is interfering with your work, school or interpersonal relationships, you should consider reaching out to a mental health professional, like a therapist or psychologist, Bhatia says. And if you're already in treatment for an anxiety disorder, you should continue to treatments amid the pandemic.
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