Tips for Managing COVID Anxiety From Psychologists
- The increase in coronavirus cases in the United States has caused a resurgence of stress related to the pandemic.
- Psychologists have shared seven tips for dealing with this “covanxiety.”
- Giving back to others and limiting news intake are useful strategies, they said.
Psychiatrist Eva Ritmo received an email from a member of her 20-person book club on Monday saying the friend was wondering if the group should stop meeting indoors due to the increase in cases of coronavirus in Los Angeles.
Such a move was most evident in the pandemic’s first year, when vaccines were only a distant hope and public health councils clearly insisted on avoiding gatherings indoors. But the CDC’s recent decision to recommend masks even for people vaccinated in high transmission areas has led many Americans to guess their behavior.
Daily cases of coronavirus in the United States have increased more than sevenfold in the past month, and daily hospitalizations have more than doubled. Although vaccines protect against serious illness and death, less than 1% of vaccinated Americans can still develop symptomatic “breakthrough infections”, according to the CDC.
Many Americans who thought the worst was over, including retail workers, interpreters, and others required to work in person – are now reporting a resurgence of pandemic stress, or “covanxiety.” A new Axios-Ipsos survey found that half of Americans think returning to pre-COVID activities is risky, and fewer Americans dine out or visit friends and family than in previous months.
This anxiety is not out of place, Ritmo told Insider.
âYou don’t want to have so much anxiety that you don’t do anything, but you also don’t want to have too little anxiety,â Ritmo said. “We must remember that anxiety is our friend and alerts us to danger.”
But there are ways to manage anxiety so that you can make informed decisions and live a fulfilling life in the midst of uncertainty. Ritmo’s book club, for example, decided to meet outside, with masks.
Ritmo and psychologist Emma Seppala each gave insider tips for reducing stress during this Delta variant wave.
Moderate your news intake
Seppala encouraged people to set limits on their diets.
âWhen you’re in a stressed and anxious place, you see everything through the prism of fear,â said Seppala, who works as scientific director at the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University. “You will be more inclined to posts that also have this lens.”
Ritmo said she would rather read the news than watch it on TV.
âYou don’t need to know the COVID numbers multiple times a day. You might not even need them multiple times a week,â she said. “You just need it when making plans to see which direction things are going and what’s safe for you.”
Try to meditate in the morning and evening
Seppala said she meditates in the morning using an app (she puts her phone on
so that she does not get distracted by notifications). Then she meditates again before touching the pillow at night.
âWhen things are continually crazy, you have to have something that permanently anchors you,â Seppala said.
Yoga, exercising, or spending time in nature all help in the same way, she added.
Don’t force yourself into dangerous situations
It’s tempting to give in to peer pressure to dine indoors, attend a party, or go to a bar – but you won’t have much fun if you don’t feel safe, Ritmo said. In many cases, she added, your gut isn’t overreacting.
âEveryone has the opportunity to decide for themselves what they want to do and where they want to draw the line,â said Ritmo. âIf someone pushes you past that, then it’s not respectful, and you really have to look: is this a relationship that really works for you? Or is it someone who really cares. ‘themselves?”
Remember to breathe if you feel panicked
Stress activates our sympathetic nervous system – a state of excitement that alerts you to danger – so you might experience an elevated heart rate or start breathing faster. Breathing exercises counteract this stress by activating our parasympathetic nervous system or in response to rest.
âMake sure to pay attention to your breathing, take very slow breaths, hold on high, and then breathe out even longer,â Ritmo said.
Eat a meal or snack to calm you down
Sharing a meal with someone or having a snack can activate our resting response – if done mindfully, Ritmo said.
âEating is something that we are supposed to do to help us relax,â she said. “That’s why we’re supposed to do it with our friends or with our family or a good book. We’re not supposed to do it with the TV yelling at us.”
Dine indoors in restaurants may not align with current CDC guidelines, however, because it requires going without a mask.
Do something nice for others
Whether it’s laying flowers for an elderly neighbor or sending a small gift to a friend who is feeling overwhelmed, acts of service are “hugely beneficial to your mental well-being,” said Seppala.
Studies have shown that people derive satisfaction from helping others, which in turn can lead them to happier and healthier lives.
Think about what you’re grateful for
Seppala recommended focusing on one of the silver liners of the pandemic in your life to distract from negative thoughts.
âMaybe you’re home with your kids and it’s hard to work, but at least you’re with them,â she said.
“Life is unpredictable. Current events are unpredictable,” she said. “The only thing you can take care of is the state of your own mind.”