As the coronavirus spreads and more cases of COVID-19 pop up, it can feel hard not to panic — even though keeping calm is one of the main pieces of advice health officials are giving us. On top of the spread of disease, the spread of misinformation is also rampant, only serving to heighten fears. If you’ve started to freak out about the coronavirus, and feel like the world is just one big germ, you’re definitely not alone.
So, how can you cope with coronavirus anxiety?
KNOW THE FACTS
The first thing you can do is to arm yourself with the facts — and no, TikTok doesn’t count as a reliable source of information.
Teens have so much access to content on social media, but how much hard science is really guaranteed?
The World Health Organization is putting out factual, up-to-date information and answering common questions about the outbreak.
The Department of Health has a designated page with National toll free numbers on their website to assist us with any questions about Covid 19. SAcoronavirus.co.za
FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL
One of the scariest parts of an epidemic that has no clear endpoint like the one we’re experiencing is feeling like we can’t control our own lives or bodies. Disease is random, and that can feel scary. Rather than focusing on the things you can’t control, figure out what you can control, and run with that.
There are quite a few things you can do to take control and keep yourself healthy. Avoiding close contact with people who are sick, avoiding touching your face, disinfecting frequently touched objects, and washing your hands often for at least 20 seconds each time. If you don’t have access to soap and water, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content.
It’s important to remember that remaining calm and practicing vigilant hand and respiratory hygiene is the most effective way to combat any further spread. And if you are feeling ill, stay home and be sure to communicate with your doctor when needed.
While these are practical steps that are mostly in our control, it’s true that sometimes our best efforts just aren’t enough. If you start experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 (like coughing, shortness of breath, or fever) and think you might have been exposed to it, call your health care professional, go to the local clinic and they can guide you toward next steps. This is also where it could be helpful to remember the facts. Most illness caused by the coronavirus outbreak is mild, according to the World Health Organization.
PRACTICE RELAXATION TECHNIQUES
Sometimes the facts aren’t enough to calm your coronavirus anxiety. That’s totally valid, and that’s also why we have relaxation techniques.
There are so many relaxation techniques but there are some real basic ones like belly breathing or deep breathing. You can do it just about anywhere. Take a very deep breath in through your nose for four seconds, and out through your mouth for four seconds. You should feel your lungs and chest cavity expand as you breathe in and drop as you breathe out.
Other techniques include progressive muscle relaxation and mindfulness, and the list certainly doesn’t end there. You can try things like distracting yourself by singing your favourite song, focusing on things you can touch and feel, writing in a journal, drawing or blogging.
It might feel scary, but telling the people in your life that you’re experiencing anxiety about the coronavirus can be super powerful. Not only will speaking up about your anxiety help stop people from talking constantly about the epidemic, it will probably relieve those around you too.
Tell the adults around you. Let them know you’re having an uptick in anxiety. Also, tell your peer group — it’s totally okay to tell your friends, “I’m maxed out on the coronavirus talk today.” Let’s talk about anything else.” I’m sure the whole group will be relieved to get out from under that cloud of panic.
You’re not the only one experiencing anxiety because of this outbreak, so voicing that can be a relief for you and others who might be struggling but haven’t said anything about it. Additionally, it’s okay to opt out of the constant coronavirus updates on social media and the news. It can feel hard to log off, especially if you want to feel informed. Constant refreshing of the news goes beyond collecting the facts, and into a potentially panic-inducing place.
Be self-aware and attuned to what’s giving you that anxiety. If constantly reading every story is making it worse, that’s not staying informed, that’s overwhelming your system. Go onto the websites that we know are giving us accurate, updated, and fact-checked information. Don’t take it all in all at once.
TALK TO A PROFESSIONAL
Access the school social worker, your pastor other mental health professionals, it can be helpful to talk to them about your anxiety. This can be especially true for people with existing mental illness, who might feel triggered. For people with obsessive compulsive disorder or who are germaphobic, as the advice to increase hygiene practices could feel triggering.
Bring it up to a mental health professional if you have one. Find that balance and realise preventative advice is not advocating hand washing every five seconds. Stay in check.
Ultimately, it’s about finding balance.
Fortunate, indeed, is the man who takes exactly the right measure of himself and holds a just balance between what he can acquire and what he can use.” – Peter Latham