As the novel coronavirus grows on a global scale, it is no surprise that worry, and panic is also on the rise. For the general population, anxiety levels rise when a threat is unpredictable and uncertain, e.g. COVID-19. The constant stream of media attention which this particular threat has received and continues to receive, has likely exacerbated this for many people. For those with health anxiety, anxiety levels can become distressing and severely impact their day to day functioning.
Health anxiety is an “excessive or inappropriate anxiety about one’s health, based on misinterpretation of symptoms (e.g., pain, gastrointestinal distress) as indicative of serious illness”. When individuals think they have an illness their anxiety turns into panic which often exacerbates physical symptoms.
The following are some reactions an individual might experience during the COVID-19 outbreak:
Fear and worry about your own health status and that of your loved ones who may have been exposed to COVID-19
Changes in sleep or eating patterns
Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
Worsening of chronic health problems
Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
If you have noticed any of the above reactions, it is important to acknowledge it and to make an effort to take care of your mental health during this time. The following are tips on how to cope with the unduly stress that is COVID-19:
It is normal to feel sad, stressed, confused, scared or angry during a crisis. Talking to others you trust can help. Share your concerns and how you are feeling with a friend or family member. Maintain healthy relationships.
If you must stay at home, maintain a healthy lifestyle – including proper diet, sleep, exercise and social contacts with loved ones at home, by email and phone.
Don’t use substances i.e. alcohol or drugs, to help you cope. Have a plan of how to speak to someone regarding your mental or physical health. Talk to a mental health professional or support worker, if you feel overwhelmed. There are many organisations that you can contact through phone or online chat.
Get the CORRECT facts. Gather information that will help you accurately determine your risk so that you can take reasonable precautions. Find a credible source you can trust such as WHO website or the HSE website.
Reduce anxiety by reducing the amount of time you spend looking at media coverage that may be upsetting to you. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
Draw on coping skills you have used in the past for previous life’s adversities and use those skills to help you cope during this challenging time.
Maintain a sense of hope and positive thinking.
If your anxiety continues to rise, try the following tips:
Ban yourself from googling information or symptoms on COVID-19. Especially if you suffer with health anxiety.
If you have persistent negative thoughts for example, people you love, will contract the virus and die. Stop and think of a counter argument, for example, people you love might not even get the virus, and even if they do, the survival rate is very high.
Try some meditation or breathing exercises. This is where google will come in handy. The internet has loads of credible sources for mediation and breathing techniques.
If you can’t stop yourself from worrying, then allocate a specific time of the day to do so. For example, at 11am you are going to worry for one hour and for the rest of the day you are not allowed to worry. Try reducing the time a little every day.
Lastly, remember self-care. Do things that you know will make you relax and happy, for example, having a bubble bath, reading a new book, watching a series/film, or exercise.