The rise of the novel coronavirus outbreak has upended life across the globe and contributed to a wide-spread sense of uncertainty. Due to major disruptions to people's daily lives, the potential impact of the outbreak on the world economy, and constant media coverage of COVID-19, many are struggling to cope with the stress and anxiety related to the situation.
We've asked three mental health experts to weigh in on how individuals can manage their coronavirus-related anxieties. Read on for five tips to help you establish a sense of normalcy and maintain your mental health during this time.
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5 Expert Tips For Dealing With Coronavirus Anxiety
1. Limit Social Media and News ConsumptionThose who are now spending a majority of their time at home might find it hard to unplug from the 24-hour news cycle. According to Haley Neidich, a licensed mental health professional whose practice specializes in anxiety, depression, and PTSD, continuously reading fear-inducing information can seriously affect both depression and anxiety. She encourages the public to limit their news and social media consumption to less than 30 minutes each day.
Alicia Murray, a licensed mental health counselor who owns an online therapy practice, also emphasizes the importance of limiting time spent on social media. "Studies have been done showing an increase in anxiety and depression symptoms when more time is spent on social media," she says, adding to "notice when it is not serving you, and take a much-needed break."
2. Focus On What You Can Control and Let Go of What You Can'tKathryn Ely, an associate licensed counselor in Birmingham, Alabama, stresses the importance of understanding the difference between what we can and cannot control. With the coronavirus epidemic, people should rely on recommendations from trusted media sources to minimize their risks. They should also review proper hand washing practices, refrain from touching their faces, and cough or sneeze into their elbow rather than their hands, also making sure to stay home if they feel they are getting sick.
Ely also encourages people not to fall into the trap of overthinking the possibilities of what could happen. "Tune into your trusted news sources once or twice a day," Ely says. "Find out what you need to know, then move on to as many regular activities as possible. Coronavirus can not and should not be your only focus."
3. Make Use of TechnologyWe will need to become increasingly dependent on technology as isolation continues. Video chat apps like FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Skype, and Zoom allow extroverts to socialize with their friends and family without leaving home.
Ely further suggests using technology to uplift loved ones who might be feeling especially far removed from family right now. "Check in on elderly family members who may be isolated because of their age or health conditions," she recommends. "FaceTime them. Talk about something other than coronavirus."
Murray recommends taking advantage of resources such as virtual yoga and exercise classes, online educational material, and reading to children.
Parents staying home with their children whose schools are closed can access a variety of online learning resources to help keep their children busy as well.
4. Stay BusyDistraction is key in avoiding anxiety associated with the COVID-19 outbreak. Blaring news headlines and the spread of misinformation on social media make it easy for people to become consumed by fear. While it is important to keep updated, understanding that there are other things to focus on besides the news can allow individuals to live more normally.
Deep cleaning, home projects, and even rearranging living spaces can serve as an excellent distraction. "Tackling the chores you've been putting off and keeping your space tidy is a great way to keep your mind busy and minimize the impact of clutter on your mental health," says Neidich.
5. Stick With a Schedule and Establish NormalcyFor many people, staying at home is not part of their normal routine. Many people who normally leave for work while their kids are in school are now working from home with their children in the house. Since most people operate on a consistent schedule, during this time, they should adapt their schedule to meet their new restrictions to establish a sense of structure, according to Murray. "If facing a quarantine at home, it is important to honor your body's habits and routines and maintain a schedule. Wake up around the same time each day, get dressed, eat breakfast, and make a list of things you would like to get done that day," Murray says. Staying home and remaining isolated can cause people to grow bored and increase their likelihood to feel depressed or anxious, but remaining productive can provide them with a sense of "new normal."
Meet Our Experts
Haley Neidich, LCSW, is a licensed mental health professional in private practice specializing in anxiety, depression and PTSD. Neidich is a graduate of Columbia University School of Social Work and was on the clinical faculty of Yale University School of Medicine prior to founding her private practice. Neidich is a passionate advocate for the use of mindfulness and meditation in mental health treatment, particularly in improving anxiety disorders and chronic stress.
Kathryn Ely is an associate licensed counselor in Birmingham, Alabama. She earned her master's degree in clinical mental health from the University of Alabama, Birmingham and has advanced training in Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT). Ely works with patients seeking counseling for anxiety, stress, depression, and low self-esteem, among other issues.
Alicia Murray is a licensed mental health counselor who has been practicing within various populations for six years. She is also the founder and owner of an online therapy practice, providing mental health therapy via telehealth to those in New York and Connecticut. She earned her MS in mental health counseling from State University of New York at Oswego.