A Comprehensive Guide to Reducing Anxiety and Fear from COVID-19
The life-threatening new coronavirus is spreading quickly. For many, the uncertainty surrounding the virus creates feelings of panic and anxiety. These feelings are natural and expected. There are steps you can take to ease the fear and worry and withstand COVID-19.
The emotional, physical toll of the coronavirus
When it comes to COVID-19 stress, don’t be alarmed if you face:
- Sleep disturbances: You may find it difficult to fall or stay asleep. Difficulty sleeping may lead to daytime fatigue
- Mood changes: Along with feelings of helplessness, many people will feel sad from losing out on milestones, planned experiences or even day-to-day activities.
- Lack of focus: Whether you are tired or simply preoccupied, you may find it hard to concentrate and complete tasks in a timely manner.
- Fear: The life-threatening aspect of COVID-19 can create anxiety, worry or panic. You may find yourself fearing people who appear sick or worrying that your body may fail you.
- Loneliness: Physical distancing means you may no longer have the face-to-face, personal connections you are used to. Feeling disconnected can cause feelings of loneliness to fester. Research shows that loneliness may lead to increased levels of inflammation and a weaker immune system.
- Physical changes: You may experience headaches, stomach problems or have worsening chronic health problems.
If any of these feelings go beyond mild-to-moderate or you experience them frequently, contact your health care provider.
Control what you can to reduce coronavirus stress
To combat COVID-19 anxiety, it’s important to put energy into the areas of your life where you do have control:
1. Take steps to protect your body
To protect yourself from the new coronavirus, continue flu prevention strategies:
- Wash your hands for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
- Use a tissue or your elbow to cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough
- Keep your hands away from your face
Plus, take these extra COVID-19 precautions:
- Stay at least 6 feet from others when out for a walk or on an errand
- Only go out for essential supplies
- Take your shoes off outside the house when returning home
- Use soap and water or a disinfectant wipe to clean groceries and packages
2. Optimize your news intake
While staying informed is important, nonstop COVID-19 information can be stressful. Identify a few trusted news sources and check in only once or twice a day. Remember to pause and take mental breaks instead of channel surfing, leaving the radio on all day or going through your social media feed.
3. Stick to a schedule
Your life may feel upended if you are no longer working, are working from home or suddenly have homeschooling responsibilities. But, routines are calming for adults and developmentally necessary for kids. A schedule can help you avoid undue stress. Do your best to:
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule and meal times
- Schedule times to exercise, connect with friends and family or have downtime
- Continue other daily habits you had before physical distancing
4. Maintain healthy habits
Having consistent, healthy habits is crucial in order to feel a sense of balance in these unprecedented times:
- Plan simple, home-based exercises into your day. This could include yoga, pilates or tai chi. Even just 20 minutes of aerobic activity will help your blood circulate and help you feel refreshed. Tune in to video tutorials from the comfort of your home.
- Get creative with meal planning to ensure well-balanced, healthy meals that include lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Avoid tobacco and drugs and excessive amounts of alcohol.
- Get enough quality sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends seven or more hours per night for adults.
5. Stay connected
Physical distancing doesn’t mean being completely socially isolated. Technology makes it easy to stay in touch with friends and family. Eye contact allows for deeper connection and fulfillment in relationships. So choose face-to-face video calls over phone calls.
Other options include team-based online games to play together such as Skribbl, Mahjong, Pictionary or Charades. Studies have shown that a strong social support system helps improve health outcomes.
6. Focus on your emotional health
Extra stress can cause your body to produce too much of the stress hormone known as cortisol. Since too much cortisol makes you more prone to illness, identify relaxation techniques that will help boost your resilience:
- Take care of your mental health and be mindful of major stressors. When stressed, take deep, slow breaths to oxygenate the body and calm your mind. Create a daily gratitude journal and write down three things you are grateful for in your life.
- The UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center offers a range of wellness resources, including free guided meditations and a weekly virtual mindfulness session via Zoom. Even five minutes a day can lower your heart rate and blood pressure.
- Be mindful of your thoughts: Positive thoughts are calming and help you reduce stress.
Stay up to date with coronavirus information from UCLA Health. Our new Chatbot is available to answer your questions or link you with a provider.