As I sit on my couch in Seattle to write this, there are 15,219 cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States. The coronavirus is highly contagious; it spreads via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes and between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet). COVID-19 can travel through the air and live on surfaces for days.
I know it’s really hard. Between state emergency declarations and isolation recommendations, it may feel hard to escape the sense of panic around COVID-19.
I’m struggling to manage my mental health throughout this time in our lives, and I have a feeling you might be too.
All around the world, people dying or quarantined in their homes. At this point, we’re living in the unknown with hyper-vigilance about getting sick, obsessed with hand-washing and germs, making sure we’re using antibacterial hand sanitizer if we touch anything, and worrying about the economy collapsing. Late-stage capitalism in the United States was not prepared for a pandemic. No one was.
If you’re starting to feel anxious or panicked, that’s because these are difficult times. It’s hard to imagine that life will go back to normal after this and when will that be? Are we going to be quarantined for the next month? Two months? Six months?
It’s easy to spiral out of control because everything is unknown right now. Our “fight or flight” stress hormones–which kick in when we feel like we’re in harm’s way–are now on overdrive. The result is a sense of alarm that affects our thinking and bodily sensations that signal the brain to activate hyper-vigilance in the form of excessive worry. Stress can have a profound effect on your immune system, so it’s important for both your physical and mental health to soothe stress to manageable levels. The more stressed you are, the more likely you can get sick.
I know it’s terrifying right now, and I can’t promise it will get better soon. For now, you should try to calm the fuck down.
Stay focused on what you can control right now, do what you can to make it through, and know there’s a light somewhere on the other side of this. Understand that it’s okay to feel anxious or panicked.
Do you have COVID-19 or is it anxiety?
If you think you’re experiencing COVID-19, contact your health care provider immediately and quarantine yourself.
You may have never experienced anxiety before this, and that’s okay. It can feel like you’re sick, but it might be anxiety. There are symptoms of anxiety that will manifest as physical sensations including but not limited to:
- stomach pain, nausea, or digestive trouble
- insomnia or nightmares
- weakness or fatigue
- rapid breathing or shortness of breath
- pounding heart or increased heart rate
- trembling or shaking
- muscle tension or pain
Ways to manage anxiety and isolation during a global pandemic
In a time of heightened stress, we must use even more coping mechanisms. Scheduled, purposeful relaxation in the face of stress is needed. Enjoyable activities are critically important. This list is full of pleasant activities that can be done for free and with little effort.
- Keep a schedule!
- Controlled breathing at a slow rate – slower than you normally do, and diaphragmatic – breathing fully, as if down to the belly.
- Hum to calm your nervous system.
- Connect with others via technology (text, FaceTime, Instagram stories, etc.).
- Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling!!!!
- Go outside. Fresh air and Vitamin D strengthens your immune system.
- Deep breaths, stretch, or meditate.
- Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, and get plenty of sleep.
- Avoid using excessive alcohol and drugs to cope.
- Watch something funny.
- Start a craft or DIY project.
- Make space for your feelings.
- Keep a journal about this unprecedented time.
- Solve a puzzle.
- Write a letter and mail it.
- Bake cookies.
- Put on your favorite song to dance to.
- Spring cleaning!
- Do yard work.
- Water your plants.
- Pop bubble wrap.
- Watch puppy videos.
- Make coffee.
- Meditate with the Calm app.
- Use the Curable app to learn about the mind-body connection.
- Learn a new language on Duolingo.
- Speak with an online mental health professional via your health care plan, BetterHelp or Talkspace.
What to do if you feel yourself panicking
Know you are not in control of the virus, only your reaction. Accept uncertainty in these times.
Slow down. Take a deep breath. Focus on solvable vs. unsolvable problems.
Make sure to take breaks from social media and the news. Hearing about the pandemic can be upsetting. Log off immediately if you get upset.
Look for the silver lining
This is such an incredible moment in history. We may experience a huge shift in our society after this. Amidst all of this, our shared societal purpose also gives rise to sudden profound acts of humanity and connections. We may witness acts of unsung heroism or find solace in an unexpected place.
People are thinking about more than just themselves. There is a heightened sense of community. We are supporting each other and small businesses. We are using this time to refocus, spend time with family, and really hone in what matters most.
Yes, our society appears to be collapsing in real-time, but what if we care about each other more than we care about dollar signs? What if this gives us the “reset” we all needed to realize that health care is a human right?
Remember, we are all in this together. You are not alone. We will get through this.