Updated: Jul 30
As the coronavirus continues to spread around the world, you may find yourself wondering if your safety measures are reasonable and responsible or paranoia-induced and extreme. You may wonder if you’re washing your hands too often or wiping down your house too much. Simply going outside these days can bring on a whole set of new worries.
And if you live with a form of anxiety, healthy habits can quickly slip into intrusive, compulsive, or panic-inducing. It can be difficult for anyone, but especially people with anxiety, to know where the line between healthy and unhealthy lies.
In this situation, it can be helpful to gain a deeper understanding of what triggers excessive worry, how to categorize it, and how to balance it.
What Triggers Anxiety
While everyone has their own unique set of anxiety triggers, there are some that many of us may be sharing right now. This pandemic is:
New – We’ve never experienced anything quite like this; it’s not comfortable or familiar
Unpredictable – Because we’ve never experienced something like this, we don’t have a set of expectations to follow in our minds.
Ambiguous – Guidelines and safety measures aren’t entirely clear and can vary from state-to-state.
Types of Worry
It can also be helpful to recognize the difference between what psychologists call “real problem worries” and “hypothetical worries.”
Real problem worries are actual issues that require solutions in the moment. This may be, going to the store and then washing your hands when you get home. It could also be worries about how to arrange child care while you’re working from home.
Hypothetical worries are worries that arise from a spiraling train of thought or catastrophizing. These might include “what if” thoughts like, “What if we have to isolate for a year or longer?”
It’s inevitable that we’ll all experience some degree of worry during this time, but it’s excessive worry that can become a problem. If your worrying leaves you feeling drained or upset and is getting in the way of your life, it’s possible that you’re experiencing harmful, excess worry.
How to Find Balance
Even though many aspects of our normal lives have been canceled, there are still things you can do at home to help manage your anxiety.
Counseling – A great way to help you navigate your own specific set of worries and anxieties and to know if they’re healthy or harmful, is to talk to a therapist. Virtual counseling is a great way to stay safe, but still, give your mental wellbeing the attention it may be needing right now.
Limit your news intake – While it’s important to stay informed during this time, too much information can crowd your headspace. This can leave little room for other, non-anxiety-inducing thoughts. Try giving yourself 15 minutes a day to get caught up on new developments, from reputable sources, then switch to something else.
Follow guidelines (and then stop) – It’s hard to know when enough is too much, so trust the experts and follow their guidelines. It may seem helpful but resist the urge to go above and beyond. Fixating on germs and cleanliness could lead to paranoia and obsessive thoughts.
Write down your worries – Some people find that listing their worries helps organize their thoughts into clearer categories. You may find that what you think you’re worried about all falls under the same, actionable group.
Make time for a hobby – Whatever it is that brings you joy, make time for it. Whether it’s drawing, reading, listening to music, or FaceTiming with friends, make that thing a priority in your life.
Don’t skip self-care – This isn’t the time to skip workouts and binge junk food, as tempting as it may be. Regular exercise, a well-balanced diet, meditation, etc. are all things that can help keep anxiety from going from bad to worse.
As always, remember to be kind to yourself. Some days will be worse than others and that’s okay. Remind yourself that anxiety, like this crisis, is temporary.
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“CBT Worksheets, Information, Exercises & Audio.” Psychology Tools, www.psychologytools.com/downloads/cbt-worksheets-and-therapy-resources/?fwp_search=Living with worry and anxiety amidst global uncertainty.