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by Ken Goodman, LCSW
Ken Goodman LCSW

During this time of national crisis, we must manage two things simultaneously: 1) Protect ourselves from the Coronavirus, and 2) Protect ourselves from anxiety. If your anxiety, fear, and worry has been overwhelming, put these ten strategies into practice. 

1. Media Distancing: To stop the spread of COVID-19, we’ve had to practice social distancing. But to stop the spread of anxiety, we must distance ourselves from the media. All anxiety stems from uncertainty and an active imagination which produces catastrophic thoughts. The media, which is 24/7 Coronavirus and virtually all negative, is the driver of those thoughts. (The CDC estimates that the flu this season has killed between 24,000 and 62,000 people in the United States. We are not panicking because the flu is familiar and the media does not give it attention). My patients who are the most anxious about the Coronavirus are those who are consuming the most news from social media, online, and traditional outlets. The more anxious you feel, the more you should distance from the media. And if you are extremely fearful, stop watching and reading altogether. Do no Google or research. Stop checking the latest news about the virus (as well as your investments). Any vital information you need to know, you will find out.

2. Do Not Engage with Worry. Take Action: Whether you are worried about contracting the virus, your struggling business, or being unemployed, the more your mind focuses on worst-case scenarios, the more anxious you feel. You can’t stop thoughts from entering your mind, but you can choose to stop dwelling and you can choose to take action to solve problems. There is a huge difference between worrying and problem solving. When your mind tries to bait you into worry, don’t take the bait. If you do, like a fish in a lake, you will be caught. Anxiety will try to bait you with many “what if” questions. Don’t answer them. Respond, “Not taking the bait,” turn your attention away, and focus elsewhere. Spinning your wheels with questions that don’t have answers will take you down the rabbit hole of fear. Instead, find creative measures to get you through this storm until you can get back on your feet. None of these measures will be comfortable. Like an umbrella and a raincoat, we use them to get through the storm, not to stop it. Much of anxiety stems from a lack of confidence in our ability to handle challenges. Push yourself to take one uncomfortable step at a time.  With financial stress these steps might include seeking out loans, asking for help, paying portions of bills, cutting back on spending, and finding creative ways to make money including selling items on Ebay. The goal is to stay afloat until the storm passes. 

3. Focus on Present Odds: All deaths are tragic, but we must maintain proper perspective. The vast majority of people infected with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms or no symptoms at all. And the mortality rate if you do contract the virus ranges from 1.4% to 3% (The exact mortality rate is unknown at this time). The number of deaths will continue to climb (and the news will report every one) and yet, the chance of you or a loved-one dying is still remote, especially with everyone’s effort to maintain distance and isolate. But death is possible and that’s why anxious people take the bait and dwell. Possibility becomes probability. Remind yourself of the present odds, which are very good. After all, if you went to Vegas and had a 97% chance of winning, you would be excited to take those odds. If you take care of yourself properly, even if you are in a higher risk category, your risk of death is still low.

4. Do Not React to Physical Symptoms: If you cough, it does not mean you have the COVID-19. The same is true for others who cough.  Allergies, bronchitis, post-nasal drip, and the cold are more common and a more likely explanation. Accept uncertainty as you do in other areas of life and assume what is most likely. Do not scan your body looking for symptoms. This behavior reinforces your worries and will increase anxiety. And if you are worried about your investments, stop checking those as well. 

5. Focus on Being Productive and New Ways of Enjoying Life: Although we have no control over the national crisis, we must focus on where we do have control – our response to the crisis. This is an opportunity to try something new and do things we haven’t had time for. Organize a messy room, paint a fence, clean the garage, edit the photos on your phone, clean a rusty bike and take it for a ride, and play a board game ¬— remember those? You can also learn a new skill or start a new hobby from videos on You Tube or various apps and websites. My son, who hasn’t played piano in six years, downloaded a free piano course and is practicing once a day. Creating and accomplishing puts your attention on what is satisfying. Consider starting something new: genealogy, gardening, photography, knitting, drawing, cooking, woodworking, video editing, ballroom dancing, or chess, just to name a few. You can start and learn all of these online. Put your attention on creating and accomplishing, not on the virus or being unemployed. 

6.  Engage in Stress Reduction Activities: Focusing on what you are grateful for, exercising your body, and relaxing your mind will help give you the peace you desire. Guided meditation, yoga, exercise, and a gratitude journal are all practices that lower stress. Select one or two, learn about them so you do them correctly, and practice each day. If you and your loved ones are not severely sick or experiencing dire financial hardship, be grateful. Once this crisis has passed, perhaps we will all appreciate what we take for granted: a healthy society, freedom to gather, dinner with friends, a night at the movies, and a simple haircut.

7.  Do Not Go Beyond CDC Guidelines: Compulsive hand washing until your hands are dry and red, taking off all of your clothes before entering the house, and isolating indoors are anxiety’s guidelines, not the CDCs. Check the CDC for appropriate measures. 

8.  Preserve Some Sense of Normalcy
During World War II, second-tier baseball players filled in for the professionals who were entering the army. Baseball, during a time of war, was important for the morale of the country. To the extent you can, maintain your day as you normally do with modifications. Be creative. Instead of exercising at the gym, workout inside your home or in your neighborhood. Have a dinner with friends over a video chat platform and watch the same movie at the same time with a sync-watching app. Attend a live religious service online. Maintaining a structure to your day and some semblance of normalcy will help reduce anxiety.

9.  Be Kind to Yourself and Others and Have Faith: It’s normal to feel anxious and worried during a national crisis. Reaching out to relatives and friends who are isolated or in need will boost their spirits and yours. If you are in good financial standing, be grateful and continue to pay others for the services they cannot provide. Venmo or mail checks to your housekeeper, hairdresser, or others who are unable to work. If you are unemployed or your business is suffering, your new job is to weather this storm as best as you can until it passes. It always passes. Have faith that it will, despite not having all the answers. Having faith or imagining the worst is a choice. Which one will you choose? 

10.  Seek Out Professional Help: You don’t need to do this alone. If you are experiencing an escalation of anxiety, talk to a professional who can help you through this difficult time. Almost all therapists are using telehealth, so you are not limited to professionals in your area. Medication for anxiety, depression, and insomnia might also be needed and can be prescribed by a psychiatrist or your primary care physician. You can find a therapist and psychiatrist at the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA.org)

This list is a recipe to reduce anxiety. Review it again and put it into practice. Otherwise it’s like reading a cooking recipe in bed – in the end you have produced nothing and have nothing delicious to eat. So…start cooking. 


About the Author

Ken Goodman, LCSW treats anxiety and OCD in Los Angeles.  He is the author of The Anxiety Solution Series: Your Guide to Overcoming Panic, Worry, Compulsions and Fear, A Step-by-Step Self-help Audio Program., and Break Free from Anxiety, a coloring, self-help book for anxiety sufferers. Ken Goodman is an ADAA board member and Clinical Fellow. Visit his website.

Sir your words is exactly what I was looking for and needed. Thank you for this article and God bless you and your fam.

Orlando El Paso TX

Ive had GAD for many years. This is such helpful advice! So glad I stumbled upon it today! I am certainly going to try your wonderful suggestions. Thank you!

I can’t tell you how helpful this was to read. I have really succumbed to reading numbers and panic inducing articles and have been feeling sick from anxiety. Printing this list out!

Thank you for your blog post with all sorts of sound advice. However, please stop comparing this to "the flu." I practice in NYC. While most of us can avoid infection with sensible precautions, NYC ER's and hospital staff are seeing a tidal wave of patients needing intubation. Not enough ICU beds are available. A shortage of ventilators. Even in the worst flu season, these dire conditions never occur. It is not simply a case of anxiety being triggered by COVID-19 because it is "unfamiliar." Sound advice can be given about managing Coronavirus anxiety without the inaccurate comparison of the disease to the more manageable influenza viruses for which we have vaccines and known treatments. One can accept the facts about the pandemic and still manage anxiety in all the ways you wisely advise.

Thank you for responding to my article and I’m glad you brought up this point. You are correct. COVID-19 and the flu are completely different. I was comparing the way the media covers these deadly diseases and how the 24/7 coverage over COVID -19 has contributed to an escalation of anxiety. If the media had provided similar coverage of the 2017 flu when 80,000 people died in the United States, there would have been high anxiety as well. Most likely not as much, but there would have been fear and hysteria. The same is true for car accidents. More than 100 people die every day in this country in car collisions. If they media provided non-stop coverage of car accidents on a daily basis there would be an increase in the fear of driving and more people would be afraid to drive.

This COVID-19 pandemic is on top of the flu, car accidents, etc. This is something completely new and highly disruptive, and worthy of being treated as such in the media. We don't see worldwide lockdowns for flu or car accidents. This is different. It makes 100% sense that this is in the media 24/7. It feels a bit like gaslighting every time someone makes these comparisons. I understand the advice to limit consumption, which is wise in general, but the comparisons are very unhelpful.

Even so, I do appreciate the rest of the article.

You and the above mentioned MD, of course you need to tell us your vast knowledge of the current situation being an MD. The point of this article is to provide an outlet for people to cope and manage their mental capacity at this time. The comparison was made to ease people’s anxiety. The vast majority of the general public needs something less negative to hear. As an md your bedside manner sucks.
T

Sorry, but if you feel that it's somehow promotive of national mental health for the media to report this 24/7 in completely negative terms, I worry for your mental health. I've met few people with less innate understanding of mental health than infectious disease experts. It is not pollyanna behavior to give oneself a break, a long break from all this terrible news, just as we do with all other disasters. There is nothing to be gained in terms of knowledge about how to stay healthy from reading and listening to more and more of the bad Covid-19 news, just a reinforcement of one's anxiety, dislike of certain politicians, etc.
People need to live their lives based around what and whom they love, not around a vast crisis of indefinite duration.

this state of events makes me feel like i should make things quicker for myself then letting the corona virus get me. I'm an obese 22 year old with severe anxiety. Upon tonight reading factual cases on obesity and its complications with covid, I am in a mental wreck

José Luann Oli…

April 12, 2020

Hello everyone from ADAA, first of all I want to thank you for this wonderful article, it helps me a lot! Can you give me the permission to translate it to portuguese? I'm from Brazil, COVID-19 is increasing very fast here and the population is very scared. I whould like to share these informations with people in my social media. Is it possible? Obviasly I'll give the total credit to the author Ken Goodman.

Thank you for reaching out to ADAA Jose.  I have spoken with Ken Goodman and he would fine with you translating this blog post into Portugese as long as you clearly state credit along with Mr. Goodman's bio and cite the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (www.adaa.org) as the source. If you could also site QuietMindSolutions.com that would be much appreciated. Once the blog post is translated could you send a link to information@adaa.org.? Thank you!

 

I see a lot of stress reducing activities - I was doing fine until I had to drop my adult daughter at the hospital. No information was given to me. No forms were filled out, so I'm not on the contact list should something go terribly wrong. We didn't think to grab her phone charger, so she may run the battery down sooner than we'd like, so she is powering down and only using it to give me an update first thing in the morning. I'm a bit overwhelmed, to say the least. No visitors is making this even more stressful. I have yet to tell other family members because I have no idea what I would say.

Respected sir, I am from India. Read your article. Sir, thanks for the wonderful and very helpful tips to fight anxiety and depression caused by corona. God bless you!

I've read a lot of strategies for reducing anxiety and these have been the most helpful to me. Thank you!

Wonderful to read such an understanding human being.

Any advice for those of us who have covid and the symptoms are lingering for months? Besides having little energy I don't have much of an appetite. Have lost weight. Now my anxiety is going through the roof about never recovering, never having a normal quality life, etc.

Thank you for publishing this. We all know the things to do, but we need people to remind us so we actually do them. Thank you.

Thank you so much for your page. I have an anxiety disorder and every little symptom I get, I worry about. Then it is a viscious cycle of what if's. Which in turns makes my physical symptoms of anxiety worse. I have your page in my favorite places and will reread often. Just knowing someone understands is a precious gift. Thank you very much!!

I’ve also been very dizzy since my release to work and it’s been going on for a month have gone to the doctor they’ve checked me with ekg X-ray and say there is nothing wrong with me and have prescribed anxiety pills they help a lot but I still get dizzy...

Fantastic Article, I have been stressed and dealing with this for 8 months like the rest of us. Your suggestions are RIGHT ON TARGET. Don't watch the news who is 'sensationalizing', spend as much time as you can excercising and getting out into nature. Parctice mindfullness, it works!! Support your friends and neighbors and be extra nice to everyone as there are a lot of stressed out people!

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