By Dr. Charles Herrick, Chair of Psychiatry, Nuvance Health
Newswise — Does the COVID-19 pandemic have you feeling anxious and worried? If yes, please know that you’re not alone! Being nervous about the chances that you, a loved one, or a friend may come down with this novel coronavirus is common. These feelings can be intensified by the seemingly nonstop news coverage on the topic. While meant to provide information and, to some degree, to reassure the public, such round-the-clock coverage can lead to panic, especially as the COVID-19 outbreaks are now closer to home.
Thankfully, there are a number of ways to deal with these feelings, including that old favorite, taking a deep breath. Doing so enables more air to flow into your body and can help calm your nerves while also reducing stress and anxiety. So let’s start there. Deep breath in … deep breath out …
Here are answers to common questions and more tips to help you during this stressful time:
What can we do to manage anxiety and fear during this COVID-19 pandemic?
Recognize it’s normal to panic: As human beings, we’re susceptible to panic during unknown and stressful events. Having this awareness can actually help to manage the panic because you know it’s not uncommon. If you already have existing anxiety, focus on the coping strategies you regularly practice when there are triggering events like this outbreak of COVID-19.
Stick to the facts: Focusing on facts is a better way to judge the risk, rather than relying on peers and social media. Even with standard media, make sure the sources of your information are from trusted sources. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is an excellent and sound source for factual, current information, as well as your state and local health departments and hospitals.
Stick to what you can control: Keep to your routine as best you can, while following the guidelines provided by the CDC, state and local health departments, and your local hospitals. Routines can be soothing because they are familiar. Remember to exercise, eat well, stay hydrated, and get enough sleep to keep your immune system strong, which is important to reduce the risk of getting sick with other illnesses (we’re still in cold and flu season) and to help manage stress.
Remember that you’re not alone: Touch base with loved ones, family, and friends through your usual daily activities; if that doesn’t include in-person get-togethers, try phone calls or video chats. Keep in mind that everyone is going through this now. With all of us in essentially the same situation, you can achieve a sense of “we’ll figure this out together.” This mindset can be empowering and uplifting.
Put things in perspective: The vast majority of viral infections are not from this new coronavirus; they continue to be common cold and flu. Refrain from thinking that anyone who has a cough or fever must have COVID-19. The risk of serious illness from COVID-19 remains low. Most infected people will experience mild upper respiratory symptoms, including cough, nasal congestion, and a fever.
As of this writing, more people have died from flu this year in just the United States alone, compared to deaths from COVID-19 worldwide. The CDC estimates that from October 1, 2019 to February 29, 2020, between 20,000 and 52,000 Americans died from flu, and predicts that at least 12,000 Americans will die from the virus in any given year. Consider opioids too, which were involved in a staggering 47,600 overdose deaths in the United States in 2017, according to the latest data from the CDC.
Continue to enjoy life: The sun is still shining. Babies are still being born. People are still producing great work, such as your care teams and staff at Nuvance Health who are continuously working to keep you safe as we fight against COVID-19. So continue to enjoy your life, and feel good when you follow guidelines to reduce your risk of possible exposure to COVID-19.
Is there anything we can look forward to?
Yes! Every crisis is an opportunity. If you end up in self-isolation, and your routine changes in some way, find something positive in that. For example, take up a new home-based hobby that you’ve been wanting to do, such as meditation or yoga; start that book you’ve been wanting to read.
Strong bonds are formed during times like these that probably wouldn’t have formed under normal circumstances. Remember that we’re facing adversity together, and that strong social connections are how we survive these types of events.
Again, fear — and even panic — are normal emotions to experience during events like these. Accept that, stay informed with accurate facts, and remember that we’re all in this together.
And, yes, take a deep breath.
Nuvance Health is keeping the communities informed on our website at nuvancehealth.org/coronavirus, and on social media @NuvanceHealth, or search for your hospital’s name.