For months we’ve been hearing about the spread of the coronavirus and rising COVID-19 death rates. Some areas of the country have begun to slowly reopen, but others still remain either locked down or people are very restricted. While we tend to think of the virus in terms of health and physical illness, there is also a mental health toll to the fear and stay-at-home orders that have resulted from the pandemic.
What Are The Effects Of COVID-19 On Mental Health?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the mental health effects of the stress generated by coping with COVID-19 can include:
- “Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Worsening of mental health conditions
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs”
We all react to stress differently, therefore not everyone will experience the same concerns. Some people, however, are dealing with several of these challenges, particularly if they suffered from anxiety or depression before the pandemic.
People who may have a harder time dealing with the mental health effects of the coronavirus are those who:
- Are first responders, such as front-line doctors and nurses
- Have loved ones who have gotten the virus (whether or not they have recovered)
- Are already dealing with mental health concerns
- Engage in substance abuse
- Have been temporarily laid off or have lost their jobs
- Are in abusive relationships
- Are over age 65
- Have chronic medical conditions
When we are faced with the unknown, fear and anxiety can take on a life of its own.
If you are already someone who is anxious, you might find that you are now having physical symptom, as well. Maybe you are having headaches or stomach problems. Maybe you aren’t sleeping well or are having trouble or eating. Whenever someone experiences new symptoms, worry and fear can quickly become overwhelming.
Anxiety can also become evident through psychological symptoms, such as:
- Having trouble concentrating or insistently worrying about the virus
- Being short-tempered with your family or others
- Feeling like you are constantly “on edge”
- Worrying that you are losing control
In addition to psychological symptoms, there are other physical symptoms of anxiety that can include:
- A rapid heartbeat and/or shortness of breath
- Insomnia and problems sleeping, which leaves you fatigued
- Headaches or an increase in migraines
- Nausea, sweating, muscle tension
Reducing Stress And Anxiety During The Pandemic
These self-care tips can help you regain control and reduce your anxiety about the coronavirus:
Stop watching coverage of the pandemic: The first thing you should do is to stop watching the news and reading about the pandemic online. When something grips us with fear, it is sometimes hard to break away from the catastrophic thoughts that come along with it. By continuously engaging in news coverage, however, you don’t give your mind a chance to gain some mental distance from it.
Keep in mind that news coverage is often designed to be presented in a way that makes us tense and concerned. This is what compels us to click on the new report or tune into the television station – and it’s what keeps the reporters or news channels in business.
Don’t focus on physical symptoms: If you know a symptom of the virus is a cough, for example, it’s natural to scrutinize every tiny cough you have. But remember that there are other, more likely causes of a new physical symptom than the coronavirus.
This is also allergy season, which can cause a cough. You may have been around dust or be dehydrated, which could cause a sore throat. The point is that there are numerous reasons for many of the symptoms of the virus that are normal and not a result of being sick.
Do some stress reducing activities: Meditate, take a walk, sit on your patio in the sunshine, or try an online yoga class. Take one of the endless online classes and virtual museum tours that have popped up during this time of social distancing. Being active lessens the stress hormone, cortisol, and also serves as a distraction.
Additionally, you might focus on doing something you’ve been meaning to do, such as clean out a drawer or a closet, organize a closet, paint a room, or plant spring flowers.
Professional Therapy For Covid-19 Anxiety
Sometimes self-care is not enough to get relief from anxiety. If your symptoms seem to be getting worse or if you find that a couple of weeks have gone by and you are still feeling more anxious than you think you should about the pandemic, you may have developed an anxiety disorder. In that case, it’s best to turn to a professional.
They can help you sort out your fears and gain a new perspective. Just talking through your concerns may be enough to reduce them, however speaking to a therapist can benefit you in many other ways as you navigate this pandemic.
The vast majority of mental health practitioners are using tele therapy to aid their clients during the shutdown, as well as after reopening. With tele therapy, you can talk to your therapist from your home – there is no need to go into the office.
If it is decided that you would benefit from therapy, treatment may include one or a combination of these:
- Cognitive behavior therapy, which can help you get a better understanding of your anxiety and teach you ways to cope.
- Mindfulness training, which teaches you to refocus your attention away from thoughts about your fears and your symptoms.
- Medication, which is also sometimes used short term and in combination with other forms of therapy. If you would benefit from a medication, the therapist may prescribe it or your primary care physician could do so.
Virtual Anxiety Help
If you find that you are experience anxiety due to the coronavirus pandemic that is persistent, seemingly uncontrollable, overwhelming and disabling, you may have an anxiety disorder. If your symptoms get worse or persist for longer than two weeks, please speak to one of our trained mental health professionals.
For more information, please contact The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida at 561-496-1094 today.