- How to fight fear and anxiety when quarantine ends
- The pandemic will transform us. Here’s how
- Accept that your anxieties are normal
- Learn to manage your emotional response to fear
- Practice mindfulness, and cut out unhealthy routines
- Fight apprehension by keeping yourself distracted
- Get involved to help stave off feelings of powerlessness
- Coronavirus Anxiety: Coping with Stress, Fear, and Worry — HelpGuide.org
- Stay informed—but don’t obsessively check the news
- Focus on the things you can control
- Plan for what you can
- Stay connected—even when physically isolated
- Take care of your body and spirit
- Help others (it will make you feel better)
How to fight fear and anxiety when quarantine ends
Part of the May Issue of The Highlight, our home for ambitious stories that explain our world.
Governments around the world are rolling back some of the most severe aspects of quarantine. After months of being cooped up and kept apart, friends and family will eventually begin to socialize again. Some workers will return to the office, and public spaces — from restaurants to movie theaters — will begin to implement strategies to make returning customers feel safe.
Few of us will be the same coming quarantine as we were going in: People with preexisting mental health conditions lost many of the routines that helped them cope, exacerbating their problems in the process.
Many have experienced fresh hardship, the loss of a job or the death of a loved one, which they ly weren’t able to properly mourn.
And everyone has been forced to dramatically alter how they live, work, and accomplish even the most mundane tasks, such as shopping for groceries.
Emerging from such circumstances will create unique side effects. Though some states have begun to reopen parts of their economies, with the virus still active, for many people, FOMO may have been replaced by FOGO — a.k.a. the fear of going out.
While some people are ready to rub shoulders with strangers, others will be apprehensive about returning to the social sphere, in part because without a vaccine, leaving our homes will come with a real risk of infection.
But anxieties about resuming public life have also been magnified by our months indoors, with the lack of exposure to people and places only intensifying our fears about the outside world.
“We’re going to have to work through this quarantine state of mind even when the physical quarantine has lifted,” Sheva Rajaee, founder of the Center for Anxiety and OCD in Irvine, California, told Vox in April.
In some countries, the psychic stress is already showing.
In Wuhan, China, where the first cases of Covid-19 were reported, the lockdown has lifted — but restaurants are empty, active temperature checkpoints dot the city, and some residents continue to hide inside, fearing a second wave of outbreaks.
The pandemic will transform us. Here’s how
How Americans will adapt to the new normal is the question on everyone’s minds. Vox asked five psychologists, whose expertise ranges from disaster resilience to the epidemiology of mental health, what they expect to see in the coming months. Their advice for coping with the unprecedented challenges, edited for length and clarity, follows.
Accept that your anxieties are normal
Roxane Cohen Silver, professor of psychological science, medicine, and health at the University of California, Irvine
I’ve been conducting research on how individuals and communities respond to traumatic life events for about 40 years. This is un anything we’ve experienced before, for a variety of reasons: There’s an invisible threat. We don’t know how bad this will get. We don’t know how long this will last. And, importantly, this is a global threat.
There are a few strategies that can help. None of them are perfect. People should moderate the amount of media they’re engaging with; a steady diet of bad news is not psychologically beneficial.
People should understand that their feelings are normal and natural, and they’re not going crazy. This is a very unusual and stressful and worrisome time. It’s okay to be feeling anxious.
And there are many, many, many people experiencing losses — and those are real, and those should not be minimized.
But so much is the control of the individual. It depends on the ability to test whether people have the antibodies to the coronavirus. It depends on whether there is any sort of treatment. And in the absence of a vaccine, we’ll need people to feel confident in the authorities and the science telling us what is risky and what is less risky.
After 9/11, there were large concerns people would never get on an airplane again.
So there were three things that the government did that led people to feel comfortable getting on an airplane: They introduced plainclothes air marshals, the airlines hardened the doors so cockpits can only be opened from the inside, and they introduced screenings at the airport. That’s just one example of the ways our public authorities can engage in an information campaign to make people more comfortable.
Learn to manage your emotional response to fear
Christopher Pittenger, director of the OCD Research Clinic at Yale University
I work primarily with people with obsessive compulsive disorder. They often struggle with uncertainty and difficulty managing what’s dangerous and what’s not. That’s something we’re all struggling with now.
Their reaction to the pandemic has been interesting. Some people with OCD are certainly struggling, but others are doing surprisingly well. Everyone else’s fear of uncertainty and their desire to avoid contamination is validating.
And in this crisis, the ambiguity is gone. That clarity can be reassuring.
As we go back to going out into the world to socialize, it’s going to come with some real amount of risk. And we’re all going to have to deal with the question: How much of that risk am I willing to tolerate?
One of the things to do is to talk through a scenario systematically and just accept the fact that there isn’t going to be absolute certainty, and learn to manage that emotional response to uncertainty. This is something we’ll do in therapy, not just for OCD but for a lot of anxiety disorders.
It’s called exposure and response prevention. We’ll go ahead and trigger the emotional response — we’ll look at the spider, we’ll allow our hands to be contaminated, whatever it may be — and sit there and tolerate the emotion.
What often happens is there’s risk, and that leads to anxiety, and that anxiety leads to more anxiety because we tend to assume, “If I’m anxious, something dangerous must be happening.
” If we can learn to label the emotion and recognize them as signals that may be useful sometimes but don’t mean you’re in danger, then we can try to break that cycle of the anxiety or the fear feeding on itself and learn to tolerate it better.
Practice mindfulness, and cut out unhealthy routines
Rossi Hassad, epidemiologist and psychology professor at Mercy College
If you ask any mental health expert today, they’ll say disaster equals post-traumatic stress disorder. During the Spanish flu, we didn’t have that classification.
But if you go back to anecdotal reports and a few narratives from the 1918-’19 epidemic, the description fits: Spanish flu survivors reported sleep disturbances, depression, mental distraction, dizziness, and difficulty coping at work.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is directly related to the intensity of one’s exposure to the traumatic event. The prevalence is generally reported to be 30 to 40 percent among direct victims, 10 to 20 percent among rescue workers, and 5 to 10 percent for the general population.
After a disaster, there is also an increase in cases of major depressive disorder. There tends to be an increase in substance use problems. And with the Spanish flu, the death rate in the US was positively correlated with the rate of suicide. When there’s so much uncertainty, there are feelings of hopelessness.
Most people are resilient, and they will weather this very well. If they do have mild symptoms, they will bounce back emotionally. But some people will need some form of psychological support, from self-care to professional care.
Mindfulness, as simple as it sounds, runs very deep. We encourage people to be mindful of how they consume the news.
We want them to engage in healthy routines and be mindful of the use of tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs, which can worsen your mental health and physical well-being in the long term.
And if people need more support, we want them to know they can contact their state and city health departments, the CDC, and other organizations to get information on accessing professional services.
Fight apprehension by keeping yourself distracted
George Bonanno, director of the Loss, Trauma, and Emotion Lab at Columbia University Teachers College
This is so unique. And it’s not a traumatic moment. It’s chronically stressful, so we begin to fall apart physically, and the stress response starts to fail to work properly, and then you start getting depressed or anxious.
The natural reactions we have to adverse events are adaptive, but they can become uncoupled from an actual threat and become a general apprehension about the world.
We’ve been trying to identify what makes people resilient for 30 years. We’ve identified a bunch of stuff: optimism, confidence in your coping strategies, mindfulness, social connection. But scientifically, all of these things have small effect sizes.
Optimism explains maybe 3 or 5 percent of resilience. Even if you add all these things up, you don’t get much of the story. The reason is that they don’t always work because life is complicated. There are no magic bullets.
There are no three things or five things that you can do that will solve the problem. We have to be creative.
Friends have already told me that they’re watching movies and [if they] see someone touch, they freak out a little bit now — “Don’t touch that!” I imagine some people will be uneasy for some time afterwards, and will be until there are more assurances. We have to use the tools we have at our disposal in the meantime.
We need social contact — people have been Zooming with their friends. Humor is really good. It’s not a panacea, but smiling and laughing works. People should distract themselves; there are plenty of movies to watch right now.
But the idea is whatever you do, if it helps you, as long as it doesn’t become prolonged or harmful, that’s great.
Get involved to help stave off feelings of powerlessness
Susan Clayton, environmental psychologist at the College of Wooster
Our behavior has been changed so dramatically. Right now there’s this real sense of unreality for a lot of people.
In the early days, it was , okay, we’ll shelter in place for two or three weeks and it will all go back to normal. It quickly became clear that was not the case.
Now, when we transition back to a different lifestyle, we have to go slowly or it could be stressful, especially if we reopen the economy before we have a vaccine or a treatment.
The virus is going to force us to take baby steps. But it will be good for our mental health, and also our physical health, to try not to come the pandemic all at once.
I think there are some things we are doing that are better — that we might want to continue to do — even when worries about the pandemic subsides: having more business meetings virtually, sleeping in, families spending more quality time together. The need to go slowly does encourage us to be mindful and make more deliberate choices.
It’s , “All right, I’m going to do this one thing differently,” and not return to all our old behaviors immediately. We need to think about how this experience can contribute in a positive way to who you are.
With both climate change and the coronavirus, people feel very helpless because it is this global problem, and they feel nothing they can do as individuals will make a difference. But what the response to the coronavirus has shown us is that we can make pretty dramatic changes when we have to.
It is helpful to get involved in some way. People can try to make their community more sustainable, or it could be political action, or it could be finding another group of people to meet with and talk about these problems.
Taking action can help overcome that feeling of powerlessness, and that’s good for your mental health.
Eleanor Cummins reports on the intersection of science and popular culture. She previously wrote about social-distancing scofflaws and misguided celebrity pandemic social media for The Highlight.
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Coronavirus Anxiety: Coping with Stress, Fear, and Worry — HelpGuide.org
It’s a frightening time. We’re in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, with many places at least partially shut down, others struggling to reopen safely. Some of us are in areas where the coronavirus infection rates are getting worse. Others are bracing for what may come next. And all of us are watching the headlines and wondering, “When is this going to end?”
For many people, the uncertainty surrounding coronavirus is the hardest thing to handle. We still don’t know exactly how we’ll be impacted, how long this will last, or how bad things might get.
And that makes it all too easy to catastrophize and spiral out into overwhelming dread and panic.
But there are many things you can do—even in the face of this unique crisis—to manage your anxiety and fears.
Stay informed—but don’t obsessively check the news
It’s vital to stay informed, particularly about what’s happening in your community, so you can follow advised safety precautions and do your part to slow the spread of coronavirus. But there’s a lot of misinformation going around, as well as sensationalistic coverage that only feeds into fear. It’s important to be discerning about what you read and watch.
- Stick to trustworthy sources such as the CDC, the World Health Organization, and your local public health authorities.
- Limit how often you check for updates. Constant monitoring of news and social media feeds can quickly turn compulsive and counterproductive—fueling anxiety rather than easing it. The limit is different for everyone, so pay attention to how you’re feeling and adjust accordingly.
- Step away from media if you start feeling overwhelmed. If anxiety is an ongoing issue, consider limiting your media consumption to a specific time frame and time of day (e.g. thirty minutes each evening at 6 pm).
- Ask someone reliable to share important updates. If you’d feel better avoiding media entirely, ask someone you trust to pass along any major updates you need to know about.
- Be careful what you share. Do your best to verify information before passing it on. Snopes’ Coronavirus Collection is one place to start. We all need to do our part to avoid spreading rumors and creating unnecessary panic.
Focus on the things you can control
We’re in a time of massive upheaval. There are so many things outside of our control, including how long the pandemic lasts, how other people behave, and what’s going to happen in our communities.
That’s a tough thing to accept, and so many of us respond by endlessly searching the Internet for answers and thinking over all the different scenarios that might happen.
But as long as we’re focusing on questions with unknowable answers and circumstances outside of our personal control, this strategy will get us nowhere—aside from feeling drained, anxious, and overwhelmed.
[Read: Coronavirus Mental Health Toolkit]
When you feel yourself getting caught up in fear of what might happen, try to shift your focus to things you can control. For example, you can’t control how severe the coronavirus outbreak is in your city or town, but you can take steps to reduce your own personal risk (and the risk you’ll unknowingly spread it to others), such as:
- washing your hands frequently (for at least 20 seconds) with soap and water or a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- avoiding touching your face (particularly your eyes, nose, and mouth).
- staying home as much as possible, even if you don’t feel sick.
- avoiding crowds and gatherings of 10 or more people.
- avoiding all non-essential shopping and travel.
- keeping 6 feet of distance between yourself and others when out.
- getting plenty of sleep, which helps support your immune system.
- following all recommendations from health authorities.
Plan for what you can
It’s natural to be concerned about what may happen if your workplace closes, your children have to stay home from school, you or someone you love gets sick, or you have to self-quarantine. While these possibilities can be scary to think about, being proactive can help relieve at least some of the anxiety.
- Write down specific worries you have about how coronavirus may disrupt your life. If you start feeling overwhelmed, take a break.
- Make a list of all the possible solutions you can think of. Try not to get too hung up on “perfect” options. Include whatever comes to mind that could help you get by.
- Focus on concrete things you can problem solve or change, rather than circumstances beyond your control.
- After you’ve evaluated your options, draw up a plan of action. When you’re done, set it aside and resist the urge to go back to it until you need it or your circumstances significantly change.
Stay connected—even when physically isolated
Evidence shows that many people with coronavirus—particularly young, seemingly healthy people—don’t have symptoms but can still spread the virus. That’s why the biggest thing that most people can do right now to make a positive difference is to practice social distancing.
But social distancing comes with its own risks. Humans are social animals. We’re hardwired for connection. Isolation and loneliness can exacerbate anxiety and depression, and even impact our physical health. That’s why it’s important to stay connected as best we can and reach out for support when we need it, even as we cut back on in-person socializing.
- Make it a priority to stay in touch with friends and family. If you tend to withdraw when depressed or anxious, think about scheduling regular phone, chat, or Zoom dates to counteract that tendency.
- While in-person visits are limited, substitute video chatting if you’re able. Face-to-face contact is a “vitamin” for your mental health, reducing your risk of depression and helping ease stress and anxiety.
- Social media can be a powerful tool—not only for connecting with friends, family, and acquaintances—but for feeling connected in a greater sense to our communities, country, and the world. It reminds us we’re not alone.
- That said, be mindful of how social media is making you feel. Don’t hesitate to mute keywords or people who are exacerbating your anxiety. And log off if it’s making you feel worse.
- Don’t let coronavirus dominate every conversation. It’s important to take breaks from stressful thoughts about the pandemic to simply enjoy each other’s company—to laugh, share stories, and focus on other things going on in our lives.
Take care of your body and spirit
This is an extraordinarily trying time, and all the tried-and-true stress management strategies apply, such as eating healthy meals, getting plenty of sleep, and meditating. Beyond that, here are some tips for practicing self-care in the face of the unique disruptions caused by the coronavirus.
- Be kind to yourself. Go easy on yourself if you’re experiencing more depression or anxiety than usual. You’re not alone in your struggles.
- Maintain a routine as best you can. Even if you’re stuck at home, try to stick to your regular sleep, school, meal, or work schedule. This can help you maintain a sense of normalcy.
- Take time out for activities you enjoy. Read a good book, watch a comedy, play a fun board or video game, make something—whether it’s a new recipe, a craft, or a piece of art. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it takes you your worries.
- Get out in nature, if possible. Sunshine and fresh air will do you good. Even a walk around your neighborhood can make you feel better. Just be sure to avoid crowds, keep your distance from people you encounter, and obey restrictions in your area.
- Find ways to exercise. Staying active will help you release anxiety, relieve stress, and manage your mood. While gym and group classes may be out, you can still cycle, hike, or walk. Or if you’re stuck at home, look online for exercise videos you can follow. There are many things you can do even without equipment, such as yoga and exercises that use your own bodyweight.
- Avoid self-medicating. Be careful that you’re not using alcohol or other substances to deal with anxiety or depression. If you tend to overdo it in the best of times, it may be a good idea to avoid for now.
- Take up a relaxation practice. When stressors throw your nervous system balance, relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can bring you back into a state of equilibrium. Regular practice delivers the greatest benefits, so see if you can set aside even a little time every day.
Help others (it will make you feel better)
At times this, it’s easy to get caught up in your own fears and concerns. But amid all the stories of people fighting over wearing face masks or lining up outside gun stores to arm themselves, it’s important to take a breath and remember that we’re all in this together. As a quote circulating in Italy reminds us: “We’re standing far apart now so we can embrace each other later.”
It’s no coincidence that those who focus on others in need and support their communities, especially during times of crises, tend to be happier and healthier than those who act selfishly.
Helping others not only makes a difference to your community—and even to the wider world at this time—it can also support your own mental health and well-being. Much of the anguish accompanying this pandemic stems from feeling powerless.
Doing kind and helpful acts for others can help you regain a sense of control over your life—as well as adding meaning and purpose.
Even when you’re self-isolating or maintaining social distance, there’s still plenty you can do to help others.
Follow guidelines for preventing the spread of the virus. Even if you’re not in a high-risk group, staying at home, washing your hands frequently, and avoiding contact with others can help save the lives of the most vulnerable in your community and prevent overburdening the healthcare system.
Reach out to others in need. If you know people in your community who are isolated—particularly the elderly or disabled—you can still offer support.
Perhaps an older neighbor needs help with groceries or fulfilling a prescription? You can always leave packages on their doorstep to avoid direct contact. Or maybe they just need to hear a friendly, reassuring voice over the phone.
Many local social media groups can help put you in touch with vulnerable people in your area.
Donate to food banks. Hoarding has reduced supplies to food banks in many areas, while unemployment and economic difficulties have greatly increased demand. You can help older adults, low-income families, and others in need by donating food or cash.
Be a calming influence. If friends or loved ones are panicking, try to help them gain some perspective on the situation. Instead of scaremongering or giving credence to false rumors, refer them to reputable news sources. Being a positive, uplifting influence in these anxious times can help you feel better about your own situation too.
Be kind to others. An infectious disease is not connected to any racial or ethnic group, so speak up if you hear negative stereotypes that only promote prejudice. With the right outlook and intentions, we can all ensure that kindness and charity spread throughout our communities even faster than this virus.
Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A. and Lawrence Robinson
Last updated: October 2021
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