The novel coronavirus creates, to paraphrase Sia, more than 1000 forms of fear. To manage these emotions, we need compassion and optimism.
Outbreaks such as the coronavirus, ZIKA, or SARS, are a stressful experience for everyone affected. Pandemics trigger our instinctual fear of death, which puts us in survival mode. As a result, our fight-or-flight response pumps stress hormones such as adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol through our bodies. While it is normal to feel some degree of fear right now, prolonged exposure leads to chronic stress, which wreaks havoc on our immune system. It can also make us more vulnerable to health issues such as cardiovascular disease, depression, or substance abuse.
While fear and anxiety are interrelated, they are triggered by different events. Fear is an emotional reaction to an immediate danger, such as COVID-19 in public places. In contrast, anxiety is a response to a perceived threat — such as the long-term impact COVID-19 will have on our lives. Fear manifests itself in physical symptoms and will usually dissipate once the danger has been avoided, i.e., once we are at home. However, anxiety feels more like an unpleasant and indistinct sense of impending doom. Because the sensed threat cannot be pinpointed in our environment, it is much harder to control. Fear can create anxiety and vice versa.
To navigate these emotions, we, at Paracelsus Recovery, recommend using these five mental health techniques.
Five Tips for Managing Fear and Anxiety During the Coronavirus Pandemic.
1. Observe Your Thought Patterns
Until we know what the future holds, our anxiety will keep creating worst-case scenarios in our heads. In doing so, it increases our fear and can lead to panic. Symptoms of panic include a racing heart, increased heart rate, and tunnel vision. If you are experiencing these symptoms, mindfulness techniques are a great way to regain control of your mind.
For example, when panic hits, try to focus on everything around you that you wouldn’t usually notice. When your mind settles on an object, recall a positive memory that occurred with it. Activities like these will help ground you and decrease stress.
2. Pay Attention to the What, When, Where, and How of Your News Consumption.
The news right now is fear-inducing. If you are already struggling with anxiety, limit your news consumption. Stay informed but create a routine with set times each day. We recommend a max of three — once in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Turning off notifications will also provide you with a sense of control. When we are bombarded with stories 24/7, it leaves our brains little time to adapt. Further, the World Health Organization emphasizes only gathering information from legitimate platforms.
When we feel anxious about the future, it can make us feel powerless and out of control. To navigate these emotions, we must focus on what we can control. Right now, these include our reaction and our perspective. To manage our reaction, we need to listen to the experts and take the necessary measures.
In the case of our perspective, try to adopt a positive attitude with an honest evaluation. For example, if you feel fear kick in at the grocery store, remind yourself that yes the coronavirus can be severe, but the vast majority of cases are mild. An optimistic attitude is critical because when we are positive, we feel hopeful and confident. In doing so, we can face the reality of the crisis without angst or fatalism. If you are in need of inspiration, the caremongering movement on social media is an excellent source of COVID-19 related positivity.
4. Practice Compassion
When we are compassionate to each other, we feel supported, which will give us strength. Neurochemically, this is because kindness releases oxytocin into our bodies. Otherwise known as the ‘love hormone,’ oxytocin has been shown to reduce blood pressure, modify our heart rate, and increase levels of happiness.
To show compassion, make sure to reach out to those you know are self-isolating alone. Further, actively show kindness, for instance, by telling people what traits they have that you love about them. However, don’t forget to also practice self-compassion. This means being gentle with yourself, and giving yourself the same advice you would give a loved one. Further, find time each day to do activities that bring you joy.
5. Be Mindful of Substance Abuse.
Substance abuse can occur when we feel unable to cope with painful feelings or traumatic experiences. Not only are fear and anxiety uncomfortable feelings, but the coronavirus pandemic has created some challenging circumstances. For example, financial loss is a widespread and painful experience that can lead to mental health issues such as depression. In turn, substance abuse can arise as a means of coping with depression. If you find yourself relying more on substances to manage COVID-19 consequences, create boundaries for yourself. For instance, if you usually only have a drink on a Friday, stick to this routine. However, if you are finding yourself unable to control your substance use, seek professional help.
To end, remember that adversity always beckons in change. Albert Einstein once said, “the world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” The coronavirus has given us an entirely new way of thinking about our interdependence, our lives, and our values. There are few things human beings fear more than change, but there are also few things we are more grateful for once we come out on the other side. We are not alone in our present feelings of fear. Keep in mind that, at the very least, we will come out of this pandemic more resilient, aware, and appreciative of each other than we have been in a long time.
Angier, N. (2009). “The Biology Behind the Milk of Human Kindness.” The New York Times. 16 April. Retrieved from:
Dhabhar, F.S. (2009). A hassle a day may keep the pathogens away: the fight-or-flight stress response and the augmentation of immune function. Integrative and Comparative Biology. 49:3. Pp. 215–236. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/icb/icp045.