Deana Sobel Lederman
The novel coronavirus is swiftly invading cities and overloading hospitals across the US, causing residents to experience anxiety over the unknown, the health of their loved ones, the economy, and more.
Psychologists say feeling worried and anxious is normal in a crisis like this, but it can be managed.
To cope, limit your media exposure to the issue, do your part in helping control the virus's spread, reach out to others, and follow these other expert tips.
Know that feeling anxious about coronavirus is OK and normal.
With news of rising death tolls and massive job layoffs, orders from city leaders to "shelter in place," and reports from hospitals that supplies are running short, Americans are shaken, if not downright panicked, about the novel coronavirus.
According to an Axios/Ipsos Poll of 1,092 adults in the US conducted between March 13 and March 16, 78% of men and 82% of women are either somewhat or extremely concerned about the outbreak.
According to psychologists, anxiety is a natural response to the unknown, so it's normal to feel unsettled since much about the virus is unknown, even to experts.
"Anxiety is mother nature's way of trying to protect us by pushing us to resolve uncertainty and figure out a solution," Julie Pike, a clinical psychologist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who specializes in anxiety disorders, told Business Insider.
Top that off with job losses, family issues, and, for many Americans, ongoing mental health conditions, and you've got a recipe for very valid, and very serious, stress.
But while eliminating coronavirus-related stress is a tall order, it can, and should, be managed so you can maintain your mental health — and your immunity.
Business Insider talked to mental-health professionals about what works best in these crises situations.
Limit your media exposure, especially if you struggled with anxiety before the pandemic.
Because panic arises when people overestimate a threat and underestimate their coping abilities, "watching coverage that repeatedly emphasizes both the rapid spread of coronavirus and lack of effective treatment" is a fuel for the anxiety fire, Pike said.
"While it is fine to have a general idea of what is happening, especially if you live near an area with high concentration of cases, it's important to limit media exposure, particularly from undocumented or potentially unreliable sources," she said.
On Friday, the World Health Organization's director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also encouraged people to check the news from reliable sources only once or twice a day.
Do what you can to protect yourself and your family, including excellent hygiene and social distancing practices.
Crystal Cox/Business Insider
Action is the antidote to anxiety, and there's actually a lot individuals can do to protect themselves and their families.
Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, sanitize high-touch surfaces, avoid sick people, make sure you have a decent supply of nonperishable food and other supplies, and stay home as much as possible.
Do your part in protecting your community, whether by helping more vulnerable neighbors with groceries or staying home even if restaurants or other public places are open.
Crystal Cox/Business Insider
You can also take action to help your community, whether that means helping an elderly neighbor get groceries, donating blood, or staying in even when you feel heal hty and are able to go out.
Because asymptomatic people can carry and spread COVID-19, "the choices you make about where you go can be the difference between life and death for someone else," the WHO director general said to young people on Friday.
Todd Herman, an entrepreneur and business coach in New York City who's quarantined with coronavirus, also encourages people to think outside of themselves.
"This is inconvenient for everybody," he previously told Business Insider, and urged people to understand public health restrictions aren't personal.
"If we all just sort of chew on what's uncomfortable for a couple of weeks, how it mitigates and prevents this being a prolonged and terrible event can't be underscored," he said. Doing so can ultimately save lives, he said, by buying the healthcare system time to care for all the patients flooding it.
Try to focus on what you are grateful for, not wish you would change or go away.
Rather than marinating in worries that you'll get the coronavirus, your wedding will be cancelled, or your kids will be out of school until fall, "focus on what you value and what you are grateful for."
For her, that means being able to spend more time with her children and that spring, and its accompanying warmer and longer days, is around the corner.
She recommends people make a daily "gratitude list" in order to build psychological resiliency.
Doing so "also helps us to stop narrowly focusing on potential threats or negative elements in our environment, which our limbic brain ... is wired to do," she said. "Widening our perspective and recognizing that while things are challenging and uncertain, there are also good things in our daily lives" can make a big difference.
Seek virtual help from mental-health professionals, or download a de-stressing app.
Some services are changing their offerings in light of coronavirus; TalkSpace, for one, is offering free therapy for healthcare workers on the front lines of fighting the pandemic.
And some therapists are holding free online group therapy sessions, Business Insider previously reported.
Some de-stressing apps can help more immediately and cheaply, too, Melissa Robinson-Brown, a therapist based in New York City, said.
She recommended the guided meditation apps Calm and Headspace, the latter of which is currently offering free subscriptions, and Daylio, which helps you track your mood and daily activity so you can keep a mental-health promoting schedule.
You don't even need to download an app to experience the anxiety-reducing magic of simply breathing.
Psychiatrist Dr. Mimi Winsberg, the co-founder and chief medical officer of Brightside, recommends the 4-7-8 method, which can reinstill a sense of calm when you feel out of control.
The method involves breathing in for four seconds, holding for seven, and exhaling for eight, Briana Borten, clinical ayurvedic specialist and founder of The Dragontree wellness company, previously told Insider.
But more than the particular count, what matters is that the exhale is longer than the inhale. "Lengthening the exhale emphasizes the release. You're releasing whatever is going on and relieving stress," Borten said.
Attempt to maintain a routine.
Herman and his wife, who are quarantined in a New York City apartment with their three kids, are trying to maintain a routine for the kids, with scheduled reading times and other activities.
"We're trying to bring as much normalcy as possible to for them," he said.
That strategy is important for adults as well, as daily routines like commutes and dinner dates come to a halt.
Winsberg, for one, recommends following the same sleeping and eating schedule as pre-COVID-19.
Eat healthy, don't smoke, and exercise when possible.
Good nutrition and sufficient movement are good for both body and mind.
WHO's Tedros recommended eating "a healthy and nutritious diet, which helps your immune system to function properly," limiting alcohol and sugary drink consumption, and not smoking.
"Smoking can increase your risk of developing serious disease if you become infected with COVID-19," he said.
He also encouraged people, in compliance with local and national guidelines, to go out for a walk, run, or bike ride while keeping a distance from others, or otherwise getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day for adults and an hour for children.
"If you can't leave the house, find an exercise video online. Dance to music. Do some yoga, or walk up and down the stairs." For people working at home, he added, get up for a short break every 30 minutes.
Use the time to reach out to loved ones and reconnect with old friends.
Joey Hadden/Business Insider
Social isolation can fuel depression and, over the long term, is even linked to a shorter life span.
So just because you may be physically distant from other people, you can, and should, stay socially connected to them.
"If you check in with people once a month, check in four times a month," Herman said.
And fortunately, doing so is easier today than ever.
Tools like FaceTime and Skype "may help us still feel and maintain those connections without potentially putting ourselves at risk of being exposed to the virus," loneliness researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, previously told Business Insider.
She recommended being proactive about reaching out to others and asking how they're doing — you'll boost your mental health as well as theirs, since they'll at least experience the perception of support, which research shows can reduce stress.
Holt-Lunstad added that the silver lining to something like a directive to reduce contact with the outside world is the ability to slow down and connect with the people closest to us.
"When you're having people still express love and support in a variety of ways, it can make those periods of relative confinement more bearable."
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