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Managing Anxiety Related to Coronavirus

"Coronavirus is certainly wreaking havoc around the world. Here in South Florida, although our cases seem low, anxiety is running high. Many of my clients are worrying about their elderly parents or their immunocompromised friends. The stock market is tumbling. Publix can’t keep Lysol wipes on the shelves. Our travel plans are up in the air, and we are spending much more time washing our hands. We’ve all heard the CDC guidelines for keeping our physical health in check. And here are some tips to keep your mental health in line as well.

Give yourself a break.  Feeling stressed about a health epidemic is pretty normal. Anxiety is a natural human response to fear, and our innate “fight or flight” response can actually help us to avoid perceived threats. The boost of adrenaline we get when we feel anxious can propel us forward in our action plan. Charles Darwin theorized that species who “fear rightly” increase their chances of survival.  

The first step to managing your feelings of anxiety, regardless of the trigger, is to recognize what those symptoms are.  Some common ones include: increased heart rate, sweaty palms, tummy aches, and headaches. 

These symptoms mean that your body is trying to tell you something. Slow down. Take a breath. Sometimes we don’t realize we are tensing up: Relax your muscles. 

Manage your symptoms. Once you’re aware of what your symptoms of anxiety are, try to find healthy ways to manage these symptoms. We don’t have to allow the anxiety to dictate our behavior. Self-care is generally the answer to managing feelings of worry and stress, and what that means is specific to each of us. Exercise, cook a healthy meal, chat to a supportive friend, give yourself a 5-minute break in your work day to breathe and meditate, go for a walk. All of these are helpful. What works best for you? 

Avoid catastrophic thinking. Ruminating on what may or may not happen is not helpful. Let’s try to keep our thoughts focused only on what we know, and what we can control. 

Avoid information overload. The news channels are reporting on Coronavirus almost 24/7. Constantly changing statistics are coming from every news source. Although it is generally a good idea to know what’s going on in the world, if the news is giving you anxiety... give yourself permission to stop watching or reading, or at least limit the amount of time you spend doing so. 

And if you have respiratory symptoms, and you’re Googling them.. .call your doctor instead. Dr Google is not licensed. 

Have a detailed game plan. In the case that you do contract Coronavirus, it is helpful to know who to call and where to go. Have your doctor’s office number saved in your phone. Know the location of the closest urgent care center and hospital. Ask your HR department for the company policy on sick leave. If you have a trip planned, call the airline and hotel to find out how to cancel/re-book if need be. Order some chicken noodle soup (or ask your mom to make it for you), and store it in the freezer. Sometimes the best way to manage anxiety is to prepare for the worst. 

Get some perspective. Yes, Coronavirus is a serious and contagious respiratory illness. But, being in a constant state of worry and anxiety isn’t helpful. The same coping skills we use to manage symptoms of anxiety, are research-proven to boost our immune systems. So, let’s increase our emotional and psychological well-being, and protect our physical health at the same time. "

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