Anxiety has many faces. Some who suffer from anxiety will feel their heart palpitating. Some will have sweaty palms, back and forehead. Some have dry mouths and others will have headaches. Some will become withdrawn and tearful. Others will cry and shake. Some have obsessive thoughts about their fears echoing the dread over and over in their minds. Others have nightmares most nights that keep them from having restful sleep. Some will be compulsive in their actions repeating and repeating behaviors that are nonproductive but to them seems somehow comforting. And some may feel so upset that their anxiety causes a fog of depression to the point that they contemplate hurting themselves, even suicide. Coping with the fears that cause anxiety aren’t always based on reality but are often based on fears that are deeply unconscious and not objectively understandable.
We are living through a time that is indeed fear provoking. We have reason to be concerned and excessively careful even compulsive in avoiding exposure to the Covid19 virus. Most of us take this concern with seriousness and a healthy level of unease. There is good reason to have some apprehension and to take the necessary precautions. We need to physically isolate from others and wash our hands with soap for 20 seconds and do all the things necessary to mitigate transmitting of this novel corona virus. To do so is reasonable and healthy. There are those, however, who because of their anxiety driven reactions end up harming themselves mentally in ways more than the virus might.
I have been asked to react to many cases of pathological reactions to this new virus and to try to offer therapeutic assistance. First though some examples of excessive anxiety reactions. Most common are the beliefs in rumors some that seem uplifting and some that are more gruesome than can be imagined. One person told me that they heard that if they eat three lemons a day and take mega doses of vitamin D they will have a natural immunity to this virus. So, to feel as if they are successful in fighting the Corona virus, they have six to ten lemons a day. Along the same lines another person believes that taking a medication for hypertension will prevent them from getting the disease. They have called every doctor they know to get the prescription. The only problem beyond the fact that there is no evidence to support their belief of the medicines ability to stave off the illness is that the person does not have a cardiac disease. Then there are those who, in part because of their anxiety, must prove to themselves that they cannot get ill and invite friends over or join in large group meetings. They mistakenly believe that exposure, an appropriate form of treatment for a phobia but not in this situation, will help them overcome their fears. There are other more private examples of how fear drives reactions during times of stress. Take for example the woman who wears a mask all day in her own home and will not speak to her husband or children. Not because she has been exposed to Covid19 but because she is afraid that they may infect her. Her anxiety is driving her away from the family she loves who are in their home with her, and she is modeling pathological reactions in her children.
I do not take anxiety lightly and that is why I offer some basic techniques to help us all get through this time. We do not necessarily need to deeply understand the unconscious cause for our anxiety, but we do have to learn to control our fear reactions to maintain a healthy quality of life.
First and foremost, do not listen to rumors. There are very reliable sources to get information. These sources are accurate, descriptive and discuss how best to protect yourself from potentially getting ill. There are government health sites that should be consulted not a neighbor’s elderly aunt who suggests keeping a clove of garlic in your mouth all day, or the media sites that call the pandemic fake news while suggesting that treatments are available. Getting information from the right sources is actually quite calming.
Take time out to exercise. Yes, you can and should go out for a walk just stay six to eight feet away from anyone you meet or just take an online cardio class. Exercise relaxes you and allows healthy neurotransmitters to circulate in your brain.
Meditate for 10 minutes. You can do that by simply sitting down in a quiet space and take some deep cleansing breaths. Breathe in to a count of seven, hold the breath for two to three seconds and exhale slowly to a count of ten. This will slow down the racing that accompanies anxiety and help physically calm you.
Read a good book that is emotionally uplifting. If you practice religion, there are many such books available. The classics are always a good place to start as well. This will help you focus and center yourself.
Most of all engage with the people you love, those in your home and others via digital media. Play games, help children do homework and do creative projects. You can play checkers with a friend using skype or FaceTime. You can make a puppet with your child from an old sock. There are so many things that can be done to create a sense of ease and emotional support. Push through the fear and start the work of calming. Remember, everyone is stressed. If we all work together to be together in the ways that we can we will come out of this healthier and hopefully conquer our fears.