It is midnight and I’m feeling anxious. I am hearing my daughter cough—she and I returned from New York City four days ago. I’m highly aware of what is known about the incubation and symptom development of the coronavirus. What if she, I, and all the others flying home from NYC last week became the latest vectors of this disease? I have a feeling of dread that I can’t shake, and it’s fueled by the fact that I can’t protect her from any illness, let alone coronavirus.

Anxiety is natural. It’s to be expected in times like these. The news cycle keeps us up to date on every change in the number of infected persons, or the number likely to die. There is a sense of foreboding about whether oneself will get sick, or whether our children or parents will fall ill. We rightly worry about what will happen to the economy and our financial well-being. And, it’s not as if anything else goes away—there is still work, financial obligations, an impending presidential election, countries at unease, and climate change. It is easy to reach the point of feeling on edge, irritable, anxious, or overwhelmed. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel some of those feelings tonight.

Turning the Anxiety Around

Here are some helpful tips to consider as you grapple with the uneasy feelings associated with the coronavirus:

  1. Accept It – It’s important to accept that this is happening; it’s real. Don’t pretend that it’s not. Look for the middle ground here—avoid the Armageddon predictions, as well as the pundits who say this will be over in a week. Accept that your partner, your children, your friends, your parents likely have some level of anxiety—some more than others. Be willing to share those feelings—sharing does not mean that one is weak. That honesty may make one feel less isolated in learning that others feel the same way. Talk to your kids to understand their feelings. My daughter asked me why I was buying extra groceries when I had told her that I wasn’t scared. Her question opened up a wonderful conversation; I am so glad she asked.
  2.  Be Informed – Keep yourself informed, but, don’t fall for the endless news cycle and the counting of the numbers of people who have become infected, or what the politicians are saying. Use legitimate sources such as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control websites. Listen to the science. Know what your public health authorities are saying so that closures don’t come as a surprise, and you are aware of mitigation efforts.
  3. Recognize our Burdened System – Try to understand that the healthcare system is under strain right now. The coronavirus is additive—none of the other needs for healthcare have gone away. This means that triaging is critically important and because for the vast majority of cases—those with mild and moderate symptoms—the care is symptomatic, there is no cure. Demanding to be seen because of cold or flu symptoms doesn’t serve anyone. Those with documented fevers, and with shortness of breath or labored breathing, need to be prioritized and seen first.
  4. Take Advantage of the Time – If you are now working at home, embrace some of the time you’ve saved in not commuting. Use this time to go for an outdoor walk, or to do yoga in the house. Start journaling. Engage in self-care, and care for those who live with you. Read your child an extra story, cook a hot breakfast, watch something that will make you laugh. All of this will support your ability to focus while you are at working from home. And if you are still needed in the office, use this time to focus on the task at hand. Remember to engage in handwashing, and social distancing. Use your commute to focus on something other than the coronavirus. Listen to a book or find new music. While at work, think about starting a desk exercise routine.
  5. Recognize the Challenges – Realize that working from home and social distancing can be hard, especially in our tech-enabled world. If you are someone who travels a great deal for work, and those travels have been placed on hold, understand that you might become antsy at being grounded for weeks on end. Your routine, and the routine of your family has been upset. Talk about it. Understand that while it may be hard for you to stay home, it may be hard for your family to change their usual routine that takes place in your absence. It will take time to adjust and that’s okay. That’s the reality.
  6. Maintain a Routine – Do your best to keep your usual schedule, and keep your kids on their schedule, too. This isn’t a holiday. It’s a time to be productive at home during the usual work and school hours. It’s a time to get a full night’s sleep. Print worksheets for your kids. Read. Keep screen time limited to educational activities. If going outdoors is an option, stay active outside. If it’s not, access an exercise program online. Checkout online books from your local library. Play a game. Do a puzzle. Watch television or stream some of the content you’ve been wanting to watch—but not for endless hours. I have ordered a PSAT prep book, and downloaded DuoLingo for my daughter. While she’s not so happy about that, those unpopular choices are the right thing to do.
  7. Seek Help – Finally, if the anxiety is affecting your ability to carry out your roles, seek counseling. While face-to-face visits may not be possible, look for telemedicine or tele-behavioral health providers. If these are not an option, seek support through app-based services. Apps that focus on cognitive behavioral therapy or problem-focused therapy may be helpful. Look for apps that support relaxation, medication, and techniques to deal with insomnia.

As our country engages in mitigation, and promotes self-isolation and quarantine, realize that none of this is easy. But it is necessary. You aren’t in it alone—the whole community, even most of the world’s population is adjusting to this new state of life. By participating in what is best for the community, you are taking control of the anxiety by doing something to fight the spread of coronavirus. It’s important to recognize the critical role you are playing in this fight. Thank you.

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