Managing coronavirus-related anxiety as numbers continue to rise

Coronavirus case counts and death tolls continue to rise throughout the U.S. and world, raising fears among many about what this virus may bring with it should an outbreak occur in their own communities. While health officials maintain that the majority of patients who contract COVID-19 will experience mild symptoms, the mystery surrounding the virus has sent thousands to the store to stock up on supplies, including face masks and hand sanitizer.

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“When we first started hearing the news of coronavirus it was easier for us to compartmentalize it in our lives,” Dr. Nathaniel Mendelsohn, a psychiatrist with PlushCare, told Fox News. “It was a problem that seemed very distant and was unlikely to have an impact on our lives. Now, it’s harder to convince ourselves of that.”

Mendelsohn said concern for how the virus will impact us on a personal level is causing anxiety levels to increase, as well as the constant rise in deaths and cases.

“With each passing day as the spread of the disease becomes greater and closer to affecting us, we don’t know what to think,” he said. "Will the virus disappear? Will I get sick? Will I get quarantined? As the uncertainty grows, we can’t push the thought of the coronavirus out of our minds as easily and that causes us to feel more anxious.”

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There are steps you can take to calm your fears, Mendelsohn explained, including continuing to “control what you have control over.”

“If you feel like you’re taking reasonable steps to protect yourself that will give you a sense of control and help manage your stress and anxiety,” Mendelsohn said. “For example, washing your hands and making sure you have all of your medications filled are measures we can all take to help prepare for any possible disruption, both practically and emotionally.”

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Adding physical exercise, breathing exercises and other coping mechanisms like listening to music can also help to calm your fears.

“Also, try not to overwhelm yourself with the numbers and charts,” he said. “It’s important to stay up to date with the news, but don’t go down the rabbit hole of reading everything you can find on the internet about coronavirus.”

And amid warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that disruption to your everyday life may be great, Mendelsohn said it will be important to keep up with your typical interests and practices as much as possible. In the event of quarantine or isolation, Mendelsohn said it will be important to continue doing things that “usually bring you joy,” such as reading books, watching movies, exercising and staying connected to the outside world through FaceTime and social media measures.

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If at any point the worrying becomes too much and begins impacting your ability to work or care for yourself and others, it’s important to seek help from a mental health professional, Mendelsohn said.

“Certainly, if you’re already someone who struggles with anxiety, then you should make sure you’re up to date with your refills and already in contract with your therapist or doctor,” he said.