When Coronavirus Fears Trigger Your Preexisting Anxiety Disorder

Battling an anxiety disorder is tough on its own. But in the midst of a global pandemic (COVID-19), it can be very difficult.

Just like the virus affects different groups of people physically, it also does so mentally. If you already have an anxiety disorder, not only do you worry about you and your family getting sick, but you may experience a deeper level of fear. Unhealthy behavioral and thinking patterns can get worse (or reemerge, if you had managed your condition previously).

Here’s a look at how coronavirus fears may affect you depending on your condition — as well as tips to help you get through it.

How coronavirus fears affect common anxiety disorders

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) — To slow the spread of COVID-19, the CDC recommends frequent hand-washing according to a five-point checklist, for a minimum of 20 seconds. While the advice will save lives, it may also trigger your internal OCD dialogue if you compulsively wash your hands. Also, the threat of catching the disease can be overwhelming in and of itself, as fear of contamination is a classic feature of OCD.
  • Social anxiety — As public places shut down across the country and we practice “social distancing,” this could enable your tendency to withdraw from others, making you go silent and not keep in touch with loved ones. (This is the opposite of those with depression, who may experience additional feelings of loneliness.)
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) — The coronavirus dominates the news and social conversation. These constant updates may be even more disturbing if you struggle with managing fear.

Tips for managing your anxiety

If you’ve noticed a spike in your anxiety since news of the virus broke, some of these strategies might help neutralize it.

Reduce your news intake. This is hard to do in a crisis. But the onslaught of information will simply cause your head to spin. To make sure you don’t miss anything important, pick a few news sources you trust — maybe the CDC and a couple of traditional news outlets — and monitor those only.

Limit your time on social media. Scrolling through your Facebook or Twitter feed right now isn’t a good idea. Hearing everyone’s personal take on the situation, as well as all of their fears and experiences in one continuous stream, can be upsetting. By the same token, posting yourself or circulating emails about the virus will only keep your anxiety levels high.

Meditate. If you don’t know how to meditate, this is a great time to learn — it’s so easy! And over time, it can lower your anxiety considerably. Apps such as Calm or Headspace can help you. Don’t miss our list of helpful mental health apps.

Start a creative project. Take the time you spend reading about the coronavirus and do something you love instead. It can be anything — from knitting a scarf to starting that new blog you’ve been thinking about. The key is to redirect your focus.

Exercise. Make an effort to keep moving, even if you’re inside. YouTube offers plenty of free workouts you can do right in front of your TV. It’ll help your brain produce anti-anxiety neurochemicals as well as distract you from your fears.

Connect to others virtually. We need the support of others, especially during stressful times. Even if you’re isolated or self-quarantined, you can still connect through FaceTime, Zoom, email, or even remote game apps like Words with Friends.

Seek treatment online. Should you need to talk to a healthcare professional, we are available. Contact us at Orange County Health Psychologists to find out more about online counseling, which can be just as effective as in-person sessions.

Renew your prescriptions. Be sure to get a 30-day supply of any medications you take to treat your condition.

Self-care is critical: Make an online counseling appointment

News about COVID-19 is constantly changing, and while we need to stay informed, part of taking care of ourselves means managing our anxiety. For many of us with anxiety disorders, this is easier said than done. Add the above methods to your toolkit for immediate relief.

Finally, if you need to speak to a therapist, we’re here to help. Our practice manager, Jennifer Koran, can help set you up with the right provider who’s an expert in your area of need. Also, we now offer online counseling (telehealth) appointments, making it even easier to talk to someone at your convenience. Simply call us at 949.528.6300 or email info@OCHealthPsych.com to get the support you need.

—Written by Ekua Hagan for Orange County Health Psychologists

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