This article was originally published on March 13, 2020. It was updated on April 4, 2020, to reflect new information about this rapidly evolving situation.
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It seems like the entire world is talking about coronavirus (COVID-19). The internet is a blaze with articles and information, your mom is (still) frantically texting you and it’s all your co-workers are talking about in your new virtual meetings.
The uncertainty about a potentially life-threatening virus has created a buzz of public anxiety. So if you find yourself starting to get worked up and overwhelmed at the thought of COVID-19, you’re not alone.
“For everything that we don’t know about COVID-19, there’s a lot that we do know,” says infectious disease specialist Susan Rehm, MD. “Coronaviruses are a special class of cold viruses – and the good news here is that we know how to manage people with respiratory viruses.”
Dr. Rehm says that when it comes to easing fear and anxiety around COVID-19, take these two things into consideration:
- Doctors know what to do and have been trained to manage respiratory illnesses.
- You can take steps to protect yourself and others.
“Healthcare providers and hospitals are working hard to respond to the spread of COVID-19,” says Dr. Rehm. “It’s important to understand that managing viral respiratory illnesses is not new in the medical community. We continuously prepare for outbreaks like this. Guidelines are in place and they’re updated as new information becomes available.”
And when it comes to yourself – you should know what to do to avoid getting sick because it’s the same as protecting yourself against influenza and lots of other infections. Wash your hands, use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose, don’t touch your face, avoid those who are sick, avoid crowds and stay home if you’re not feeling well.
The CDC also now recommends wearing a cloth face mask in public, especially in places where it’s hard to maintain at least 6 feet of distance between yourself and another person. Cloth face masks are being recommended because we now know individuals with COVID-19 could have mild or no symptoms, while still spreading the virus to others. The cloth face coverings recommended by the CDC are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators, which should be reserved for healthcare workers and first responders.
While this virus is unpredictable and the situation continues to evolve, focus on what you can control, says Dr. Rehm.
It’s only human to go through a range of emotions as we learn more about COVID-19.
You might experience:
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Trouble concentrating.
- Anger, anxiety, worry and panic.
- Being overly sensitive about your health and body.
- Feelings of helplessness.
- Fear of people who are coughing or appear sick.
- Social withdrawal.
Ways to manage your anxiety about coronavirus
Dr. Rehm urges caution, but within reason, regarding COVID-19. She offers a few tips to help you get a handle on the situation:
- Get your facts straight. It’s important to stay up-to-date with the latest news from trusted sources regarding COVID-19. Be careful about what you read on the internet, especially comments and articles that are being shared via social media.
- Keep things in perspective. Although you’ll want to stay informed about COVID-19, it’s important to focus on what you can control. Take a break from media coverage or social media if you find yourself panicking about the news or an article you just read online. If talking endlessly about coronavirus is upsetting to you, change the topic of conversation when you can.
- Be mindful and self-aware. Not everyone you come in contact with has been exposed to COVID-19. Although caution and preventative measures are extremely important right now, not everyone who coughs has the virus. Being self-aware is a big component of easing public anxiety. Focus on what you can do.
- Try to keep some normalcy. It can be hard with trips and events being cancelled, schools being closed and the concept of “social distancing” always at the top of your mind. But it’s important to try to maintain some sort of schedule. Routine makes most people, especially children, feel safe. Try to keep your normal sleep and meal times and focus on activities that make you feel happy – like reading a book, watching your favorite show or playing a board game with your family. Or take a walk, as long as you’re not in quarantine, a little fresh air is always a good idea!
If you find that you just cannot seem to get a grip on your worry, seek help from a mental health specialist. He or she can help you identify triggers and give you tools to practice when you find your worry taking over.