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Tips on combating coronavirus-related anxiety from Lancaster County therapists

Intelligencer Journal - 3/18/2020

Anxiety thrives on the fear of the unknown.

And when the world is in an unprecedented state of pandemic, there’s a lot of unknowns on which it can feed.

For individuals with anxiety disorders, panic is part of everyday life. A national emergency such as the battle to slow the spread of COVID-19 can make those already innate fears skyrocket.

Continuing care with health professionals is critical, and many therapists are now offering virtual sessions through video chat platforms.

But even for adults and children without anxiety disorders, the current state of the world can be scary.

Here, two Lancaster County therapists give tips on how to combat anxiety during a pandemic.

Find balance

It’s important to stay informed through credible sources during a crisis. Individuals should know how to protect themselves and others from getting sick.

But it’s possible to go overboard on consuming information about the topic.

“People are constantly getting bombarded with information about it, be it credible or not,” says Jessica Taylor, a Wellspan Philhaven therapist. “There’s a lot of speculation, and that kind of tends to induce some fear. Being able to disconnect I think is really, really important.”

Karen Carnabucci, an alternative psychotherapist who practices in Lancaster city, offered similar advice. (Carnabucci is former features editor of what was then the Intelligencer Journal and now is LNP | LancasterOnline.)

“One of the best things that people can do is keep themselves as balanced as possible in every way that’s possible,” Carnabucci says.

Focus on what you can control

One way that people can find balance is to focus on things they have the power to control. Maintaining a schedule, getting enough sleep, staying hydrated and eating healthfully are just some of the ways individuals can bring balance to their lives.

“Keeping some kind of routine, the best you can considering the circumstances, is very helpful,” Carnabucci says. “Being able to notice what you can control and what you cannot control (is also important.) For instance: I can control washing my hands, and I can control washing my hands well.”

Let yourself feel the emotions

While individuals can take steps to keep their anxiety in check, both Taylor and Carnabucci find value in allowing people to fully feel and recognize their emotions. There’s no need to try and suppress their uncomfortable feelings.

Taylor suggests “not being afraid to discuss your feelings surrounding it with people that you love who are able to support you, but then also making a concerted effort to focus your attention on other things.”

So, perhaps follow up a vulnerable conversation on the phone with a loved one with an episode of your favorite lighthearted sitcom or by reading a funny book.

And it’s OK if there are tears involved, Carnabucci says.

“Sometimes people might want to cry because it's a good release, rather than keeping it in and being in control,” Carnabucci says. “A good cry might be good, too.”

Use the body-mind connection

While anxiety is obviously centered in the brain, it has very real effects on the body, like muscle tension.

Carnabucci suggests breathing exercises and calming movements, such as sitting cross-legged while gently swaying. If this feels unnatural to you, put on some gentle music to loosen up.

She also suggests general ways to promote mindfulness, like sticky notes around the house. One near the TV might read “Should I turn the TV off for a little while?” Another might ask if you really want the extra cookie. Another might simply remind you to take a deep breath.

Practice gratitude

When feeling particularly overwhelmed, take a moment to make a list — either mentally or written on paper — of the things big and small you’re grateful for.

“That kind of shifts the paradigm of which you’re operating,” Taylor says. Instead of thinking of what could be lost, focus on what we still have: a family with which you might be spending more time, a furnished home, a stocked cupboard, a beloved pet.

Support your loved ones

Maybe you’re coping just fine with the changes to daily life, but someone you love is not.

One of the most impactful ways you can help is to simply check in on them, Carnabucci says.

“It’s been shown that it really increases peoples’ levels of mental health,” Carnabucci says. “Something as simple as that ... just, ‘Oh, I’ve been thinking of you.’”

Taylor says just recognizing their fears as valid can be important, too.

“I think we’re oftentimes inclined to kind of stop a conversation because it might elicit some anxiety in us, so just being mindful of being open to their concerns and their needs, providing them reassurance with facts, and trying also not to feed into any sort of speculation, because that isn't very helpful,” Taylor says.

Just approaching others with kindness can go a long way, both therapists say.

Know you’re not alone

When we’re social distancing, it’s easy to feel isolated. Use video chat and phone calls as often as you like to stay connected with loved ones.

And if you’re an individual with an anxiety disorder struggling through this pandemic, know you’re not alone. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S.The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates there are 40 million adults, or 18 percent of the U.S. population, living with anxiety disorders.

We also asked readers to share how they were coping with anxiety during COVID-19.

“I have moments where I’m okay, but overall I'm really struggling to be OK with what’s happening around us,” wrote James Nies. “It’s my hope and prayer that somehow and some way there will be treatments and a vaccine for this sooner than later.”

Brandon Wood, 35, has a pre-existing condition that concerns him. But he’s focusing on elements he can control.

“I’ve accepted that it’s probably only a matter of time before I get it,” Wood says. “Keep my hands washed, keep taking a multivitamin to keep nutrition topped off. I’ve done everything I can. If I get it, I will treat it like I would anything else.”

That leaves the person writing this story. I also have generalized anxiety disorder and am finding it difficult to cope during this pandemic. The uncertainty scares me, too.

If you need mental health help, don’t hesitate to seek it by texting HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. There’s also the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990.

Remember: We’re all in this together.

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Crédito: JENELLE JANCI | Staff Writer


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