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We’re living in very frightening times

Fears about the coronavirus can take an emotional toll, especially if you’re already living with an anxiety disorder.

We are living in very frightening times. We’re in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, with cities and even entire countries shutting down. Some of us are in areas that have already been affected by coronavirus. Others are gracing for what may come. And all of us are watching the headlines and wondering, “What is going to happen next?”

For many people, the uncertainty surrounding coronavirus is the hardest thing to handle. We don’t know how exactly we’ll be impacted or how bad things might get. And that makes it all too easy to catastrophize and spiral out into overwhelming dread and panic.

Uncertainty about a possible future threat disrupts our ability to avoid it or to mitigate its negative impact, and thus results in anxiety.

The human brain, it has been written, is an “anticipation machine, and ‘making future’ is the most important thing it does”. The ability to use past experiences and information about our current state and environment to predict the future allows us to increase the odds of desired outcomes, while avoiding or bracing ourselves for future adversity. This ability is directly related to our level of certainty regarding future events – how likely they are, when they will occur, and what they will be like. Uncertainty diminishes how efficiently and effectively we can prepare for the future, and thus contributes to anxiety.

But there are many things we can do – even in the face of this unique crisis – to manage our anxiety and fears.

Stay informed – but don’t obsessively check the news.

It’s vital to stay informed, particularly about what’s happening in your community, so you can follow advised safety precautions and do your part to slow the spread of coronavirus. But there’s a lot of misinformation going around, as well as sensationalistic coverage that only feeds into fear. It’s important to be discerning about what you read and watch.

Stick to trustworthy sources such as the Ministry of Health announcements and credible newsmedia outlets.
Limit how often you check for updates. Constant monitoring of news and social media feeds can quickly turn compulsive and counterproductive – fueling anxiety rather than easing it. The limit is different for everyone, so pay attention to how you’re feeling and adjust accordingly.

Step away from media if you start feeling overwhelmed. If anxiety is an ongoing issue, consider limiting your media consumption to a specific time frame and time of day.

Ask someone reliable to share important updates. If you’d feel better avoiding media entirely, ask someone you trust to pass along any major updates you need to know about.

Be careful what you share. Do your best to verify information before passing it on.
We all need to do our part to avoid spreading rumours and creating unnecessary panic.

Focus on the things you can control. We’re in a time of massive upheaval. There are so many things outside of our control, including how long the pandemic lasts, how other people behave, and what’s going to happen in our communities. That’s a tough thing to accept, and so many of us respond by endlessly searching the Internet for answers and thinking over all the different scenarios that might happen. But as long as we’re focusing on questions with unknowable answers and circumstances outside of our personal control, this strategy will get us nowhere – aside from feeling drained, anxious, and overwhelmed.

When you feel yourself getting caught up in fear of what might happen, try to shift your focus to things you can control. For example, you can’t control how severe the coronavirus outbreak is in your city or town, but you can take steps to reduce your own personal risk – and the risk you’ll unknowingly spread it to others – such as: washing your hands frequently with soap and water or a hand sanitizer; avoiding touching your face, particularly your eyes, nose, and mouth; staying home as much as possible, even if you don’t feel sick; avoiding crowds and gatherings of 10 or more people; avoiding all non-essential shopping and travel; keeping safe distance between yourself and others when out; getting plenty of sleep, which helps support your immune system and following all recommendations from the Ministry of Health.

Plan for what you can. It’s natural to be concerned about what may happen if your workplace closes, your children have to stay home from school, you or someone you love gets sick, or you have to self-quarantine. While these possibilities can be scary to think about, being proactive can help relieve at least some of the anxiety.

Make a list of all the possible solutions you can think of. Try not to get too hung up on “perfect” options. Include whatever comes to mind that could help you get by.

Focus on concrete things you can problem solve or change, rather than circumstances beyond your control.
Relinquishing our desire for certainty and control is easier said than done. If you feel yourself start to spin out into negativity or panic, grounding yourself in the present moment can stop the negative spiral and allow your rational brain to come back online.

Don’t let coronavirus dominate every conversation. It’s important to take breaks from stressful thoughts about the pandemic to simply enjoy each other’s company – to laugh, share stories, and focus on other things going on in our lives.

Emotions are contagious, so be wise about who you turn to for support.

All of us are going to need reassurance, advice, or a sympathetic ear during this difficult time. But be careful who you choose as a sounding board. The coronavirus is not the only thing that’s contagious. So are emotions! Avoid talking about the virus with people who tend to be negative or who reinforce and ramp up your fears. Turn to the people in your life who are thoughtful, level-headed, and good listeners.

Take care of your body and spirit. This is an extraordinarily trying time.

Be kind to others. An infectious disease is not connected to any racial group, so speak up if you hear negative stereotypes that only promote prejudice. With the right outlook and intentions, we can all ensure that kindness and charity spread throughout our communities even faster than this virus.

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