Coronavirus Is Triggering Anxiety and Depression. Here’s What You Can Do
Some people are naturally prone to anxiety; others are naturally prone to depression. This is a trying time for my patients on both ends of the spectrum. But make no mistake: COVID-19 can take an emotional toll on anyone, even the most even-keeled. After all, we do not yet have a cure for this potentially serious disease, and the social restrictions designed to protect our health can also make life more difficult.
Here are some of the ways I’ve helped reassure many of my concerned patients. I hope this advice can also help others care for their emotional health.
If you feel anxious in general…
Anxiety can develop when we worry about the future, not about what’s happening in the moment. Some anxiety is a normal part of life. The problem is when it interferes with your life, from your job performance to your relationships.
The advice to take deep breaths may sound cliché, but research shows it can help calm your mind, lower your heartbeat, and improve your blood pressure, among other benefits. When you feel anxiety build, take a step back, identify that feeling, and take ten deep breaths. Think about something relaxing or visualize your “happy place.”
If you’re worried about your health…
At this moment, there is little you can do about COVID-19. Your best defense is staying healthy from the start, so recommit to the basics: Get some exercise every day, enjoy a little sun, eat better, and get adequate sleep. Be sure to take social distancing and handwashing seriously.
Controlling stress is another important way you can protect your health. Stress temporarily weakens your immune system, which makes you more susceptible to all illnesses.
Meditation is a simple technique that can reduce stress and promote sleep. Start by setting aside a few minutes (or more) to sit in a quiet place, breathe, and focus on the present moment. You may also want to try a meditation app for your phone, which can help you get into the practice. Consider Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer, and others.
If you feel down, depressed, or despairing…
Step away from social media, cable news, and most online news sources. The information you get from these sources isn’t always accurate, but it does often fuel negative thoughts. If you want information to help you take practical steps to prepare and protect yourself, turn to reputable public health agencies once or twice a day.
Now that you know what to avoid when you’re feeling down, call a friend to help lift you up. A wise or practical friend can help “talk you off the ledge.” A friend with a good sense of humor can provide light in the darkness.
If you want to feel more in control of your life…
You may feel you have very little control over your life, from shelter-in-place orders to canceled trips. The truth is, you have more control than you might realize.
Each one of us can do our part to decrease the spread of a deadly virus simply by staying home. We can help protect ourselves against the virus by becoming healthy – perhaps healthier than ever – through diet, exercise, sleep, and efforts to reduce stress. We can chase the dreams we never had time to pursue, such as learning to paint, or learning a foreign language.
You may be bold enough to volunteer in community efforts to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak, such as childcare for medical personnel stuck in hospitals. But you can help on a smaller scale, too. When I call my patients to see how they’re feeling, I help lower their anxiety just by letting them know I’m here for them. You can offer the same support to your friends and neighbors, especially those struggling with the isolation of social distancing.