April 14, 2020

Dealing With Anxiety During COVID-19

Janelle Ringer, Loma Linda University Health

It seems as though a new development comes along every day regarding the 2019 novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

The evolving situation can cause anxiety and stress, and experts believe it’s important to protect your mental health during the uncertainty.

David J. Puder, medical director of the MEND program at the Loma Linda University Behavioral Medicine Center (BMC) in Loma Linda, California, United States, says the news can increase a person’s fear of a topic.

“It can make it feel like it’s happening right outside their front door,” he says. “I don’t believe minimizing the virus is good preparation, but it’s important to keep things in perspective.”

Puder recommends some things to consider through this period:

1. Take a break from the news

While it may feel important to know everything that’s going on, the damage from this might outweigh the good. Try scheduling times in your day where you take a break from the news.

“This can be helpful for those of us who are empathic and deeply feel for the stories we are hearing,” Puder says.

2. Log out of social media

When you’re physically distanced from your friends, family, or co-workers, you can be tempted to spend a lot of your day on social media, but this can quickly become overwhelming.

“When we see other people’s worst-case scenarios, it can create the same type of stress in us,” Puder says. “We can be aware without letting it consume us.” Staying connected is important, but Puder warns against using social media as our source of information.

3. Exercise

Getting out to exercise is more important than ever during stressful times. Fresh air and physical activity are good for both your mental health and physical well-being.

“We store stress in our bodies, so it’s essential to stay active to release all that stress,” he says. “Get your blood flowing and receive the positive benefits of moving around a bit.” If you’re not comfortable going out, it’s easy to find workout videos you can follow along at home.

4. Practice deep breathing

Breathing may feel basic, but deep breaths can be important in both getting oxygen to the brain and in calming the body.

“You can find video tutorials online that show you how to use breathing to bring your body and mind back into a myelinated parasympathetic state — that rest and relaxation state,” Puder says.

5. Eat healthily

Eat as healthy as you can while you’re isolated. This is especially important if you have limited ability to go outside or be as physically active as you’re used to.

“It feels like some people are hoarding for a six-month ordeal,” Puder says. “But it’s important to keep fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet — both for your mind and your body.”

6. Connect with others

It’s important to stay connected to your loved ones, especially when you’re feeling like you’re missing a connection with the people you value.

“Call people, text them, stay involved in what’s going on with them,” Puder says. “Stay in contact with people who make you happy.”

Puder encourages people to call their health-care provider and use telehealth to connect with their provider if stress feels unmanageable.

“People with mental health conditions should continue with their prescribed treatments and be aware of any new or worsening symptoms,” he says.

The original version of this commentary was posted on the Loma Linda University Health news site.