The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the American public, including the immense impact coronavirus has had on our mental health and well-being. Referred to as coronavirus anxiety, COVID-19 anxiety or pandemic anxiety, many people have experienced excessive unease, tension and worry about their current situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Building understanding about anxiety and learning healthy coping skills can minimize this impact.
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Although anxiety tends to carry a negative reputation, the condition is a typical and expected part of life. In some situations, a bit of anxiety can actually improve mental or physical performance. In other situations, too much anxiety can have a detrimental influence on daily activities like work competence, school performance and relationship satisfaction.
Anxiety differs greatly from person to person according to the type and severity of anxiety. Some of the most common anxiety disorders are:
- Generalized anxiety disorder: a condition marked by increased worry, irritability, physical tension and sleep problems
- Panic disorder: seen in people with recurrent panic attacks that involve a range of distressing physical and mental symptoms
- Social anxiety disorder: a fear of being judged or embarrassed by others, which often results in avoiding social situations
- Phobias: specific phobias involve a person feeling anxious about a person, place, thing or situation to the point of panic attacks
- Other conditions: although disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are not technically anxiety disorders, they share many similarities with the above conditions.
It’s also important to realize that people experiencing stress from the pandemic could have anxiety symptoms that do not fit neatly into any of these categories. One person’s mild symptoms may develop into social anxiety, while another person has generalized anxiety disorder but now deals with new stresses that trigger a panic disorder.
To better understand your anxiety, the triggers and the available treatments, ask yourself:
- When did these symptoms start? Are they new or did they begin after the pandemic?
- How have they changed since the pandemic began?
- Are the symptoms related to COVID-19 directly, such as fear of you or a loved one getting sick?
- Are the symptoms related to other issues related to COVID-19 like changes in finances, changes in lifestyle, concern about balancing work and parenting, relationship issues or disconnection from loved ones?
- Are you more worried about yourself or your loved ones?
Balancing Staying Informed and Self-Care
With significant external stressors like the coronavirus, people may feel torn between staying informed about the state of the virus and feeling anxious when they consume news on the topic. Strive for a balance between getting the information you need to stay informed about COVID-19 information and reducing excess stress caused by that information.
This balance is complicated but possible. To achieve this, start by getting a baseline of your news consumption and your level of self-care by taking note of how much time you spend getting news and how much time you engage in self-care.
Self-care techniques are all the actions you use to take care of your mental, physical, social and spiritual health. Higher levels of stress and anxiety require more self-care coping skills to improve symptoms. If you don’t want to start with decreasing the news content you consume, work on self-care skills and activities first and then reassess. If symptoms do not reduce, it could indicate it’s time to change your news habits.
To shift towards a better balance, set time and content limits for news. Choose a few primary sources for content that you trust and scale back the amount of time you can see them. You can also allow yourself to step away from media coverage if you find yourself getting overwhelmed. Balance is best achieved with a series of small adjustments instead of big changes. Going “cold turkey” with coronavirus news will likely be overly uncomfortable and potentially dangerous, so aim for moderation.
Diagnosing Anxiety During Coronavirus
So much has changed during the pandemic and the same is true for mental health treatment providers. While some agencies have shut down during the pandemic, others have been able to adjust to the public’s needs and changing rules with teletherapy. Some states have rapidly expanded telehealth services over both phone and video conferencing systems to ensure the safety of staff and clients. These changes allow people interested in seeking a mental health diagnosis access to the same professionals in a new way.
No one should delay treatment or dismiss their symptoms due to COVID-19. Doing so could only make symptoms worse. Like treatment providers in other states, The Recovery Village now offers telehealth options to assure your symptoms can be assessed and managed quickly and effectively. If COVID-19 anxiety is negatively affecting your life, don’t wait to speak to a mental health professional to identify your condition and move forward with treatment.
Coping with Coronavirus Anxiety
The statistics are in, and Americans are feeling the stress of coronavirus anxiety.
- 81% of mental health professionals say clients are reporting an increase in mental health symptoms
- Drug and alcohol use are on the rise
- 74% of parents say COVID-19 has impacted their kids’ mental health
- 67% say the government’s response is causing stress
- Contact with crisis hotlines increased by 1000%
Control What You Can
In a pandemic, it can be tempting to spend precious time and energy trying to change the unchangeable. Instead, focus on identifying and addressing the sources of stress you can control. Focusing on items like the government’s response or your favorite sports league’s rule changes is not going to decrease your stress. On the other hand, spending time reducing your anxiety through relaxation and healthy coping skills will be time well spent.
Formulate your Plan
Times of crisis are full of complicated and overwhelming unknowns. Without swift action, ruminating on these unknowns can grow into unwanted anxiety symptoms. Find new ways to access your needs and wants. Goods and services like groceries, cleaners, medications, car repairs and other necessary parts of life may require a new strategy and planning to complete in a way that feels safe and less stressful for you. Of course, you cannot plan for everything, but if your car inspection is coming due, begin preparing your action plan.
The idea of social distancing during coronavirus was an important skill with a terrible name. Physical distancing is an essential way to slow the virus spread, but with the variety of communication methods available, no one needs to be cut off socially.
Reaching out to friends and loved ones in new and established ways is key. Find ways to text, talk on the phone and video chat to maintain and strengthen relationships. Staying connected offers the perfect combination of physical distance and social connection as it helps both you and your loved ones.
People who feel cut off and isolated can also visit online support groups and chat forums structured around coronavirus anxiety. Other like-minded individuals will have encouragement and support to share.
Keep it Honest
You are not the only one experiencing COVID-19 anxiety, so feel free to stay open and honest with your loved ones. Even more importantly, be honest with yourself. Acting tough, being strong or minimizing the impact of coronavirus anxiety may seem like a tempting idea, but ignoring anxious feelings helps no one. Let people know how you really feel so you can receive the assistance you need. It may help you feel better knowing you’re not the only one struggling with anxiety. You can explore and experiment with coping strategies together.
Improve your Physical State
During times of high stress, tending to your physical health and well-being is invaluable. By eating well, exercising and getting enough rest, you can improve your mental health by helping to regulate your brain chemicals and find an escape from stress.
Additionally, dedicating more time to your physical state can act as a protective factor to reduce your risk associated with COVID. Experts believe that people in poor physical health are more likely to note poor reactions to coronavirus infections.
If the above coping skills don’t help reduce your anxiety, it could indicate the need for additional mental health treatment from a professional. You can always contact The Recovery Village for more information about available options, including teletherapy.
Beheshti, Naz. “10 Eye-Opening Statistics On The Mental Health Impact Of The Coronavirus Pandemic.” Forbes. May 28, 2020. Accessed September 3, 2020.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.