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Many people deal with anxiety every day.
Nearly 40 percent of Americans have some type of anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Many more people experience stress, worries, or concerns about events big or small.
Worldwide events – natural disasters, wars, financial crises, or global pandemics – can cause an increase in people experiencing anxiety or stress.
The global pandemic COVID-19 is the latest example of a worldwide event that can cause anxiety on a personal level. The disease, caused by novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, has spread worldwide, causing millions of illnesses and hundreds of thousands of deaths.
“Worry and anxiety is actually a normal bodily response to stressors,” says Abigail Schlesinger, MD, chief of Behavioral Science at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital. “There are stressors in our world every day, and obviously larger stressors are going to bring out more worry. Anxiety is quite common. Worry is quite common. Anxiety disorders are quite common.”
Dr. Schlesinger says much of the anxiety related to COVID-19 comes because of unknown information about the disease and about the future. But she says people can take steps on a personal level to manage their own anxiety.
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What’s Causing COVID-19 Anxiety?
Many different factors – the health of you and your loved ones, finances, work – can cause anxiety related to COVID-19. Those triggers could lead to trouble sleeping, diet changes, and more. People with existing health conditions could see them worsen.
COVID-19 also is causing some people to go into quarantine or isolation or to practice social distancing, which can create feelings of isolation.
“Some of the things we’re talking about with the novel coronavirus are things that we haven’t ever had to do before,” Dr. Schlesinger says. “So that also can make people worried.”
Another personal stressor is stigma, when people associate events in society with a group of people or places. Dr. Schlesinger says it’s up to everyone to fight that.
“Get data from reputable sources,” she says. “Check in with the people we love and care about. And stay alert to the potential stigma that we could be inadvertently expressing. It’s really each of our responsibility as citizens, as humans, to try to avert that.”
How to Manage Your COVID-19 Anxiety
It’s important to recognize that everyone deals with anxiety differently, Dr. Schlesinger says. That’s especially true for children, who may not fully understand what is going on.
There are some steps people can follow individually to manage their stress during COVID-19.
- Stick to the plan: With so much about COVID-19 out of your hands, you should control what you can control. That means following prevention advice like washing your hands, cleaning your house, and avoiding large crowds. You also can create your own diet, sleep, or exercise routine. “I think that’s really helpful,” Dr. Schlesinger says. “Going into the planning mode of how you can help your family, how you can help yourself, how you can clean your hands.”
- Talk to your loved ones: Even in times of social distancing, you should stay connected to your family and friends, whether it’s in person or remotely. If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, talk to them – they may be feeling the same way.
- Stay up to date: Keep yourself updated on the latest COVID-19 news and information. Make sure you use reputable sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
- Don’t go into information overload: While you should stay informed, you also shouldn’t overdo it. If you find out that the news is causing you anxiety, step away from it.
- Talk to your kids: If you have children, you may want to share information about the COVID-19 situation with them. But let them take the lead on the conversation and where it goes, Dr. Schlesinger says.
- Find a way to relax: If you feel your anxiety growing, try to find a way to relieve your stress. That could include meditation, exercise, or other common relaxation techniques.
- Seek help: If you think your anxiety is beginning to become a larger problem, you can get help from many places. You can call your own doctor or seek out various other sources. Western Pennsylvania resources include resolve Crisis Services (for Allegheny County residents), UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital, and UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
Other options for help in times of crisis include 911 (for emergencies) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration’s national hotline (1-800-662-HELP (4357).
“I really recommend that people have a low threshold for getting help,” Dr. Schlesinger says. “There’s so many things we can do to help people with worry.”
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