The unimaginable has happened — a pandemic like no other has hit the United States and the world like a ton of bricks.  In the minds of most, and rightfully so, is the health and safety of our loved ones, our community, our nation, and ourselves.  We must heed the warnings and directions from medical experts on how to combat COVID-19.  Throughout this process, and even afterward, there will be a need to take care of our mental health.    

It is predicted that, like the opioid epidemic, the majority of us will know at least someone who has contracted the disease or may even know someone who has died from COVID-19.  The response to this disease is increasing levels of anxiety for all, even for those who did not have anxiety issues prior to the pandemic.  It has already been reported that in the most affected area of China there has been a dramatic increase in Agoraphobia, the fear of going outside, keeping people trapped in their homes. 

Prior to COVID-19, anxiety was one of the most common diagnosable mental health conditions within the United States. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates 40 million adults experience anxiety related disorders. Common anxiety related symptoms include problems sleeping, difficulty thinking or focusing on topics, excessive and uncontrolled worrying, sweating, trembling, restlessness, increased heart rate, stomach problems, tension, nervousness, hyperventilation, and a sense of impending doom, danger or panic.  With COVID-19 on everyone’s mind, the constant news coverage of it, the empty grocery store shelves, and the fear it instills in most people, you can see how this crisis will likely lead to many more cases of anxiety. 

In dealing with changes to everyday life caused by COVID-19, there can be a sense of loss of control which causes individuals to worry.  It often has been said that worry can be a waste of emotion if you cannot do anything about what is causing that worry; that is often true.  However, if you can turn that worry into action, then it helps put you in control and reduce the amount of worry.  Focus on what you can control, not what is out of your control.

The following actions can help relieve worry and anxiety and help bring a sense of control to what can seem out of control:

  • Practice good hygiene skills — wash hands thoroughly for 20 seconds or more, practice not touching your face (eyes, nose, mouth), and covering coughs with elbow or tissue.
  • Practice social distancing — keeping at least six feet from people when out in public
  • Stock supplies such as food, medications, and hygiene products in case of a 14-day or longer quarantine.
  • Avoid air and sea travel
  • Modify work schedule and environment to be able to work from home, if possible
  • Practice a good sleep routine
  • Practice self-calming strategies (deep breathing, relaxation exercises, guided imagery, etc.)
  • Enjoy fresh air and sunshine
  • Exercise daily, even if just going for a walk
  • Stay in contact with friends and family through phone calls, text, emails, and video chatting
  • Practice hobbies that involve social distancing

It is also important to recognize that when anxiety is out of control, it can interfere with daily functioning: your job, home life, relationships with others, and school work can suffer. In these cases, it is important to remember that anxiety is a treatable condition and seeking help to address it is normal.  Professionals in the behavioral health community are responding to COVID-19 through telehealth means so individuals can stay in their homes while using video platforms like Skype to connect. If you are experiencing intense anxiety that is interfering with your ability to cope and go about your daily tasks, please reach out for help. At SMA Healthcare, our 24/7 helpline is 800-539-4228.