Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19):  Worry & Anxiety over COVID-19

In March 2020, the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).  The virus first appeared in Wuhan, China in December 2019 and has rapidly spread to over 185 countries, infected over 400,000 people, and claimed more than 16,000 lives.  Cases of COVID-19 first started appearing in the United States in January 2020 and as of this writing, has infected over 40,000 Americans.  Questions abound regarding how the virus is transmitted, the availability of tests to diagnose the illness, what can be done to treat it, how the outbreak will ultimately impact the global economy, and when the pandemic will dissipate.  Couple the uncertainty of the situation with the sense of isolation people are having from being forced to stay at home, and it is natural that feelings of stress, anxiety, and worry are prevalent.  In this article, we will investigate ways that people can cope with these feelings while still protecting their health and the health of their loved ones.

Know the facts of COVID-19

With the seemingly 24 hour a day news coverage, in some cases from dubious sources, there is an abundance of information floating around regarding COVID-19.  Separating fact from fiction and speculation, is one of the best ways people can reduce the stress and anxiety over the virus outbreak.  Not all information sources are created equal though, so it is important that people focus on what the medical experts with reputable organizations say about the virus.

According to health experts with the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the WHO, COVID-19 spreads from close human to human contact with respiratory droplets, from a cough or sneeze, being the primary method of transmission.  The virus is able to live on surfaces so spread is possible if a person touches their eyes, nose, or mouth after coming in contact with an infected surface.

Symptoms of COVID-19 generally present between two to 14 days after exposure and can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, tiredness, aches, and shortness of breath.  Not everyone infected will feel sick from the illness (asymptomatic) but those that do, show symptoms ranging from mild to severe.  Early evidence suggests that the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions (diabetes, lung disease, or hear disease) are at a higher risk for developing severe illness.  Complications from the virus can include pneumonia, organ failure, or death.  Anyone showing symptoms of the virus, have been exposed to someone infected, or have recently traveled to areas of outbreak, are advised to contact their doctor for testing.

Currently, there is no approved medicine available to treat the disease.  Using over the counter cough medicines, pain relievers, getting adequate rest, and drinking plenty of fluids, are the best methods available to combat the symptoms of COVID-19.  Should symptoms be severe, hospitalization could be required.

Coping with stress and anxiety over COVID-19

As previously mentioned, the media coverage of the coronavirus outbreak is frenzied and it is virtually impossible to avoid hearing updates on the radio, television, or internet.  According to Mayo Clinic psychiatrist, Dr. Sheila Jowsey-Gregoire, this overload of information can cause anxiety to grow from rumors spreading and the general feeling that the situation is out of our control.  To mitigate this external stress, limiting the amount of exposure and time spent monitoring the news is advisable.  Seeking reputable sources of information, such as the CDC and WHO, can also help people avoid anxiety while still staying informed.

With businesses reducing hours or closing and the stock market taking a tumble, the COVID-19 outbreak is having a massive, negative impact on the global economy.  Many people with investments and retirement accounts (401k and IRAs) may be tempted to check the balances of their accounts regularly to monitor any losses.  This can exacerbate anxiety, particularly with people nearing retirement.  While some people may be in a financial position to capitalize on the economic downturn, it is advisable to take a long term, wait-and-see approach whenever possible.

Another great method of reducing anxiety, while improving overall health, is to take care of yourself physically.  Countless studies have shown that exercise improves both physical and mental health so doing enjoyable physical activities, can be a great method for coping with stress and anxiety.  While many gyms have temporarily shut down in an effort to limit person-to-person contact, going for a run, riding a bike, doing yardwork, stretching, or working out at home, are all ways to stay physically active during the outbreak.

What you put into your body can not only impact stress levels, but overall physical and mental health as well.  Eating a healthy, balanced diet and avoiding alcohol or drugs, will not only help stave off illness, but can also provide anxiety relief in this time of uncertainty.  Diets should be high in nutrients so consuming plenty of vitamin rich fruits and vegetables is recommended.

Similar to schools and businesses, many places of worship have been shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Despite not being able to be physically present at these locations, many organizations are live-streaming worship services online to support their members.  Meditation and prayer can be done from home to maintain spirituality and many find these practices to be ideal stress-relievers.

When to seek medical treatment

Anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 should clearly contact their healthcare provider to make an appointment for diagnosis and treatment.  But contacting a health care provider is also recommended if you are feeling anxiety and are overwhelmed mentally.  Should you experience trouble sleeping, depression, loss of appetite, feelings of helplessness, or hopelessness, contact a mental health provider whenever possible.  Several hotlines are available that people can call from the safety of their home.  Confidential and offered free of charge, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Disaster Distress Hotline, can be called 24 hours a day by dialing 1-800-662-HELP (4357).  Available in both English and Spanish, this hotline can refer patients to support groups and local treatment facilities in addition to information and free publications.