I walked into the examining room and she had her face buried in her hands. She looked up at me with her tear filled eyes and said, “Doctor, I’m scared.”
I see the fear in her eyes and in many patients seen since COVID-19 has hit. Her reaction is warranted. These are unprecedented times, and it’s natural to be afraid of the unknown. But there are measures we can take to reduce our anxiety.
If you have underlying anxiety, be sure to call your doctor and discuss telemedicine visits with both your physician and therapist. In addition, have an adequate supply of your anxiety medication.
If anxiety is new to you, be reassured that this is a normal response. These are some ways you can reduce your anxiety.
Shift your mindset:
Think about all the things you can do rather than all the things you can’t do.
Reframe the concept of social distancing to physical distancing. You can still call people on the phone, FaceTime, chat online, and be around family, maintaining a healthy distance in small groups of 10 or less. This is the time to socialize, catch up with your best friends, and bond with your family. It’s the physical distance that prevents spread of the virus.
Rather than texting your friends the latest devastating article on COVID-19, consider sending an article that help calm people, spread joy, or positive stories on how this crisis is bringing us together. So many good deeds are occurring; not everyone is hoarding toilet paper.
Stay physically active:
Yes, the gyms are closed but you can still go for a walk in your neighborhood. There are plenty of exercises you can do at home. Schedule an hour in your day for physical activity such as biking, walking, and/or online video workouts. This will boost your endorphins and help you feel better mentally but also boost your immune system to keep you physically healthier.
Keep a routine:
Many of us are working from home, and although staying in your pajamas all day is pure comfort, it can also mess with your psyche. Wake up at your regular work time, shower, get dressed, set a schedule for working, time with your family or kids, if you have them, keep your breakfast, lunch, and dinner schedules, and go to sleep at a reasonable time (as tempting as it is to stay up watching Netflix movies). Allot time for exercise.
Have a plan:
Having a plan helps people feel in control. If you were to get sick, who would watch your children or your pet? If you have an older parent, set up a grocery delivery service for them. If your older parents need help with household chores or cleaning, you can still do that for them by taking the same precautions of keeping a distance of 6 feet or more and proper hand washing. Discuss with your family about an advance directive for your healthcare wishes if you were to get sick. Looking at your current finances and developing a financial plan can help alleviate anxiety of the unknown economic consequences that may lie ahead.
Have a wellness strategy:
For those that are spending more time alone, this is the time to work on the things you always wanted to do but just didn’t have time for. Reorganize your home, sort through old clothes, and have them ready to donate to those in need. Evidence shows that helping others is beneficial for your own mental and physical health. Reach out to your neighbors; see if they need any help with groceries, pet care, child care.
Limit media time:
It’s quite natural to have the news on all the time or your phone set to breaking news alerts. Limit that time to certain hours of the day, perhaps morning, midday and evening. This way you are not constantly hearing about COVID-19 but can still stay informed.
If you find your anxiety is worsening to the point that you are unable to sleep, eat or concentrate, then it’s time to make an appointment with your doctor. Many therapists and physician offices are offering telemedicine visits which are really easy and convenient to use.
Know that you are doing your part to flatten the curve. Together we can be psychologically resilient and look back at this experience as one that taught us many valuable life lessons. This is the time to show the world what we are made of as global citizens, neighbors, families and friends.