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Coronavirus Anxiety: 6 Things You Can Do Now to Stay Calm

February 6, 2020 Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Perhaps you've heard of 2019 n-CoV, a new strain of coronavirus that is causing high anxiety worldwide. It's part of a family of viruses that includes germs responsible for the common cold as well as much more serious viral infections like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV) and has been causing many people to become ill very quickly.1 Reports of "coronavirus" have caused health anxiety to flare, and many people are worried and fearful about what might happen because of it. If you are experiencing coronavirus anxiety, there are things you can do to stay calm, avoid panic, and reduce health anxiety. 

The key to reducing coronavirus anxiety is to develop a balanced perspective, a happy medium between apathy and alarm. This virus is real, and it has been causing a lot of illness. Ignoring its existence can prevent you from taking precautions that keep you healthy, precautions that apply to any contagious sickness. However, alarm fuels anxiety, inspires panic, and leads to unhelpful thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. 

Striving for a healthy perspective, one of concern that falls short of panic, can drastically reduce coronavirus anxiety and free you from unhelpful worries and fears. The global anxiety surrounding 2019 n-CoV, however, makes finding this balanced concern difficult. The following six tips can help you ease your worries and reduce health anxiety. 

6 Tips to Reduce Coronavirus Anxiety, Maintain a Balanced Perspective

Here's how to avoid panic and take proper actions for your mental health and physical health:

  1. Be responsibly informed. It's important to be aware of what's happening globally and locally regarding this scary, new illness. Consult credible sources to equip yourself with correct, neutral information, thereby easing anxiety. Sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are excellent places to learn about 2019 n-CoV. Unlike other information outlets, the CDC and WHO are scientific organizations driven by neutral, factual data. Sources that seem reputable, such as major, established news channels (CNN, Fox News, New York Times, Washington Post, and others) aren't always reliable. Their information might be technically correct, but it is often presented irresponsibly and thus contributes to coronavirus anxiety and health anxiety in general. (Next week's article will examine the news.)
  2. Take charge of your mental health when you're on social media. Navigate away from alarmist pages and posts that are emotion-driven rather than fact-driven. If you encounter alarming data, verify it on sites like the CDC and WHO. They post reliable information for quick reference on their social media pages, too, so go there to quell anxiety sparked by people sharing their fears online. 
  3. Watch for hot-button words. Media sites and people in general, fueled by fear, frequently use emotionally laden words. Pay attention to words such as "plague," "pandemic," "contagion," "infestation," "death toll," and even seemingly innocent phrases like "tune in for live updates throughout the day." These convey a sense of extreme urgency and provoke anxiety and panic. For example, while the virus has caused deaths, "death toll" makes it sound like people are dying at an alarming rate. The World Health Organization informs us matter-of-factly that as of February 5, 2020, there were 24,562 cases of this coronavirus and 492 deaths.2 While some people who have contracted the virus have died, the death rate is just two percent. Ninety-eight percent of people who have this virus haven't died. The numbers and rate might change, but using language like "death toll" causes needless anxiety. When you read or hear information, listen for heated, emotional terms and put them in perspective to calm your worries while still acknowledging that the situation is serious.
  4. Consider possibilities realistically. Anxiety can skyrocket when people hear information and jump to conclusions (jumping to conclusions is a common automatic negative thought that is problematic in anxiety). For example, a concern with any virus is its spread. The "potential spread" refers to how a virus and infections will multiply if nothing is done to stop it. The "actual spread," on the other hand, is how much the virus is really spreading given efforts to stop it. These concepts are often misused, resulting in fear and panic that nearly "everyone" will become infected. To ease your anxiety, pause and thoughtfully consider the meaning of the information you're receiving. Again, checking it with the CDC or WHO is helpful.
  5. Allow for uncertainty. So much regarding the novel coronavirus is still unknown. Anxiety happens when people attempt to fill in the gaps by making assumptions and, again, jumping to conclusions. Scientists are working continually to learn about and stay ahead of the virus. Until official information becomes available, reduce anxiety by allowing yourself to accept the uncertainties and let them be unknown. 
  6. Do what you can in your own world. Determine what logical actions you can take in your life to keep you and your loved ones healthy. Frequent hand washing, sanitizing surfaces, covering coughs and sneezes, minimizing time spent in crowded public places, and altering international travel plans are practical ways to stay healthy, feel in control, and reduce your chances of illness in general. 

The 2019-nCoV is disconcerting, but understanding it with a balanced perspective can reduce coronavirus anxiety. Being concerned, but not panicked, will help you remain mentally and physically healthy. 

Sources

  1. World Health Organization, "Coronavirus."  Accessed February 5, 2020.
  2. World Health Organization, "Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) situation as of 05 February 2020, 16:00 CET." Accessed February 5, 2020.

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2020, February 6). Coronavirus Anxiety: 6 Things You Can Do Now to Stay Calm, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, March 28 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2020/2/coronavirus-anxiety-6-things-you-can-do-now-to-stay-calm



Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of 101 Ways to Help Stop Anxiety, The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal, The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps, and five critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges. She also speaks nationally about mental health. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Barbara Dillon
March, 20 2020 at 1:44 pm

This article is out of date already. As of today (3/20/20) the coronavirus and accompanying illness has spread a great deal more in the United States. Social distancing, closure of public places. self-quarantine , and for some, shelter-in-place have all become realities. I think this article needs to reflect this increased level of anxiety/

March, 20 2020 at 4:51 pm

Hello Barbara,
You are of course correct that the situation is evolving and escalating. The beautiful things about the techniques I've mentioned is that they are timeless and apply to all situations. In fact, the more anxiety-provoking a situation is, like COVID-19, the more useful and effective they are. They are about perspective and controlling ourselves rather than controlling any external situation. What's important now is that everyone finds approaches that work for them. I genuinely hope that you discover ways that resonate with you to keep your anxiety in check right now and in the future.

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