In the last few weeks it’s been hard to escape anxiety provoking news articles about contagion from the Coronavirus otherwise known as 2019-nCov. Like the coverage of a high speed police chase, the media is giving the Coronavirus 24-hour coverage with regular death toll updates serving to keep us all engaged and fearful of when it might reach our little part of the world.
Just as I was walking through the city earlier today, I watched rabid office workers swarm over a fresh display of safety masks as they were placed in a store front specials bin. And it would be a lie to say I didn’t think about whether I should walk to the quieter end of the train on my commute to work this morning.
Clearly we’re worried; and that’s fine. The Coronavirus threat meets all the criteria for sending your anxiety into overdrive. It’s uncertain just how likely it is to spread, and it can cause death. That’s about all any normal person needs to get their heart racing a bit faster. But there are a number of things you can do to help manage that anxiety as we all wait to see what happens with the Coronavirus.
Here are our top psychological strategies for dealing with nervousness and anxiety about the Coronavirus:
Anxiety can easily lead you to catastrophising and there are a wealth of websites out there happy to help you on this journey. Remember that the thing you read on a friend’s Facebook timeline probably isn’t scientific fact.
Managing anxiety is all about working with real evidence. Use resources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and your government’s health authority to learn about what is happening.
Managing anxiety isn’t about pretending that nothing bad could ever happen to you, it’s about making sure you’re realistic about the likelihood of something bad happening.
Learn The Symptoms Of Anxiety So You Don’t Get Tricked
When you get anxious your body turns on your parasympathetic nervous system. This sends a whole bunch of your organs to work. Your heart beats faster, your breath gets shorter, you can feel sweaty. If you’re not familiar with these physiological experiences of anxiety in your body it’s easy to mix them up with the feeling of getting sick with something like the a flu or virus.
Mindfulness is a great way to learn a bit more about what is going on in your body. By practicing noticing your body you can start to become familiar with what anxiety actually feels like when triggered. This doesn’t have to involve a classic sitting meditation. It can start with something as simple as just noticing the sensations you feel when having a shower.
By learning the difference between anxiety and being sick you can stop yourself from falling into the cycle of panic where normal physical sensations trigger worries about getting sick, which then causes even more physical sensations.
Control The Things You Can
Anxiety is almost always about uncertainty. We like it when we feel we have control over something. The problem with contagions like the Coronavirus is that they take a lot of control away from us causing anxiety.
Try to control the things you can in your world such as general hygiene and access to accurate information. Research shows us that even if information isn’t positive, you still generally feel better because at least you now know what’s going to happen.
Protective factors such as safety masks may also help you feel that you are in control. But be careful to make sure that these are not becoming safety behaviours. Safety behaviours are habits or objects we use to help us decrease anxiety even though they may not actually be doing anything.
Keep Things In Perspective
Sometimes it’s hard to stay objective when the world is screaming “Coronavirus apocalypse”. These are the times when it’s most important to try and keep things in perspective.
One of the best ways to reframe worries is to look at history for real evidence. For example, we can look at the history of contagions and see how far we’ve come at treating big outbreaks.
The Spanish Flu in 1918 is thought to have been responsible for over 50 million deaths. Now jump ahead to 2003 with the SARS virus and the toll was just 774. When you look at this, you can see just how much better we’ve become at containing these types of outbreaks.
We can also look at the stats from the current Coronavirus outbreak and put them into a larger scope. When we try to consider stats like the fact that as of the time of publishing this article there are 4359 confirmed Coronavirus cases, it can seem like a huge number. It’s generally hard for us to even imagine this many people in our head if we try.
But of course if you stop for a second and consider that there are about 7 billion people on the planet, this means that only 0.000004% of the population is infected at this moment. That’s lower than the annual flu rate of infection.
Of course these stats may change overtime, but by continuing to put things in perspective you can stay realistic no matter what is happening.
Does watching the news every night send you into a cold sweat about our impending doom from Coronavirus? Generally it’s best to confront your fears rather than avoiding them, but if the threat is something less tangible like getting sick it may not be helpful to intentionally seek triggering stimuli.
Until you feel that you can contain your worry, online resources that list symptoms of diseases are not helpful. They tend to exacerbate the problem by making you increase focus on bodily symptoms that may be completely normal.
If you know that these types of things end up making you feel worse, but don’t actually help you resolve the problem then, it may be best to limit your access to them. Google is not always you friend when it comes to managing anxiety in relation to health issues.
Remember That Anxiety Is Normal
Anxiety is an emotion, not a disease. This means it’s there to help you. After all, anxiety is just another word for the fight or flight response which exists purely to get you out of danger.
Even if the threat from Coronavirus at this time is low, it’s okay to feel anxious. You body is just trying to tell you that something bad could happen. And of course this is true, it could happen. Your job is to try and look at objective evidence to determine whether it’s actually likely to happen.
Don’t feel that you need to get rid of the anxiety instantly. But if you are finding yourself constantly thinking about the threat of Coronavirus it may help to talk to someone.
It’s no fun to be stuck feeling anxious for days on end. If you find that anxiety about Coronavirus is starting to have an effect on your such as absenteeism from work, avoiding social gatherings, or rumination that is stopping you from sleeping, it may be a good time to contact a professional.
Your Doctor could be a great place to start as they may be able to provide additional medical information about the risk of infection. They can also facilitate a referral to a psychologist who can teach you further techniques to help you manage your anxiety about Coronavirus with treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy.
The important thing is to stay connected when anxiety strikes. Let your family and friends know how you’re doing so that you don’t feel alone.