More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Coping with coronavirus anxiety
by John Sharp, MD, Harvard Health
March 12, 2020

Worrying about all the news on the new coronavirus and the illness it causes? Well, that makes good sense. If you're wondering how to cope with anxious feelings that are surfacing, this blog post can guide you through steps that may be helpful to many people.

If you often struggle with anxiety, worries about your health, or obsessive thoughts and actions, you might need additional assistance, as I'll explain in a later post.

Steady yourself around worries about the new coronavirus
Knowing how to manage your own anxiety always takes a little thought. Ask and answer these questions:

  • What typically happens to your body when worries mount?
  • How worried are you?
  • What do you fear the most?
  • What usually helps you handle worries?
When anxiety rises because we're facing a distressing threat like the new coronavirus, we need to focus on what tends to work for us to ease anxiety - that, plus doing a little bit more of some actions and a little bit less of others.

Keep these thoughts in mind. You're fully prepared to help yourself. You can take steps to calm and steady yourself. Remember what works for you - because as fellow humans we're not so dissimilar, but we do tend to have our own preferences and best practices.

Try doing these things more

  • Connect with friends and loved ones through video chats, phone calls, texting, and email. It really helps to feel the strength of your connections to your friends and loved ones, even though you may not be with them in person.
  • Stick with sources of credible medical information, so you can avoid misinformation about the virus and the illness it causes.
Try doing these things less
Please don't overdose on hype or worry or misinformation. I get some regular updates from credible sources in the morning and check again briefly toward the end of the day. There's no need to stay tuned in 24/7 - it can actually make your anxiety much, much worse.

Take practical steps to lessen risk of catching the new coronavirus
Three healthy, sensible steps we can all take:

  • Avoid unnecessary travel and crowds.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water (or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer) for 20 seconds (see video).
  • Keep your hands away from your face, especially your eyes, mouth, and nose.
Many people infected by the coronavirus develop symptoms like a fever and dry cough during the incubation period. However, some people may not seem symptomatic. The virus can spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Viral droplets that travel several feet through the air may be breathed in or - much more likely - may land on surfaces that other people touch, such as a door handle or elevator button.

We do have to be careful and cautious. But once we adopt key precautionary measures, we can take a deep breath and do our best to calm ourselves. It's not necessary or helpful to be on high alert all the time. This will wear you down emotionally and physically. So try to adjust your level of alertness to your immediate surroundings. Then once you come home, wash your hands really well and find ways to relax and feel safe. Safety is a basic need for all of us.

How can you relax despite coronavirus worries?
Here are some tried and true ways to relax:

  • Yoga. Not a yoga person? No need to start now unless you'd like to try it. Sometimes trying new things and discovering new activities you can benefit from and enjoy can be a welcome, healthy distraction. Yoga Studio and Pocket Yoga are good apps to consider.
  • Meditation. Regular meditation is very calming. Many apps teach simple forms of meditation, such as Headspace or Calm.
  • Controlled breathing. One simple technique is called square breathing. Visualize your breath traveling along a square. As you follow the instructions to inhale, hold your breath, or exhale, count slowly to three on each side. Try it now. Inhale up the first side of the square. Slowly count one, two, three. Hold your breath across the top. One, two, three. Exhale down the other side of the square. One, two, three. Then hold your breath across the bottom. One, two, three. After a few minutes of this you should be feeling calmer and more centered.
Tap into other ways you like to relax, too. Maybe you like reading a good book or watching a good comedy. Eat the familiar foods that you always enjoy. Stay in contact with your friends and loved ones. Reaching out can help you and help them.

We're all on this journey together. News about the virus will likely grow worse, then grow better. Listen to public health experts who can help us navigate the path ahead. Take sensible steps that can help us all: get your bearings, practice good hygiene, use calming strategies that work for you - and maybe try something new. Making healthy, reasonable choices about what to do and what not to do will make a big difference in being able to stay as safe and as well as possible.

For more information about the new coronavirus, please see Harvard Health Publishing's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Daniel E.
Another coping mechanism seems to be buying toilet paper :)

At my local Walmart, there is not a single roll of toilet paper. Or at least that is what the employee told us when we picked up our Walmart grocery order.

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
That’s bizarre. It’s happening in some communities - or at least certain stores in some communities - in Canada too.

Of all the things people could hoard...

It’s feeding on itself by now, I think. Everyone hears about the hoarding of toilet paper and thinks they’d better stock up before they’re all gone. It’s at the point where it really isn’t even about the virus anymore.
Or rice... I didn't realise that I had finished the last of my rice until earlier this week. I'm hoping I'll be able to find some. Quinoa doesn't work as well with Thai curry and I burned my last batch (whereas I have a rice cooker because I have only once successfully cooked rice in a saucepan).

Daniel E.
And you get triple bonus points for working with the public...or having strangers in your lunchroom :)

Daniel E.
No bonus points for housecleaning:

Do Cleaning Products and Sanitizers Prevent Coronavirus? | Time

"In general, we only really need to wipe down things when we think they may have become contaminated," Martinello says. "I wouldn't recommend anything beyond routine cleaning in a typical household." The exception, of course, is if someone in your house is diagnosed with or suspected to have COVID-19; in that case, Martinello says, you should try to designate a bathroom just for their use, and wipe down surfaces they touch frequently.

Daniel E.
Similarly, the CDC focuses more on distancing than cleaning:

COVID-19: Resources for Households | CDC

Based on what is currently known about the novel coronavirus and similar coronaviruses that cause SARS and MERS, spread from person-to-person with these viruses happens most frequently among close contacts (within about 6 feet). This type of transmission occurs via respiratory droplets. On the other hand, transmission of novel coronavirus to persons from surfaces contaminated with the virus has not been documented. Transmission of coronavirus occurs much more commonly through respiratory droplets than through fomites...

Frequently Asked Questions about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Cleveland Clinic Newsroom

COVID-19 is primarily spread through respiratory droplets, which means to become infected, people generally must be within six feet of someone who is contagious and come into contact with these droplets. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. Symptoms of COVID-19 appear within two to 14 days after exposure and include fever, cough, runny nose and difficulty breathing.

Daniel E.
Shopping is certainly more hectic than usual, especially since I was shopping for elderly neighbor too.

Just came back from two Walmarts, Target, Lowes, and Safeway. Most paper products were sold out everywhere, including baby wipes. So I had to go to Lowes for paper towels. Later, I saw the other Walmart did have papers towels, and I got the last pack of facial tissues there for my neighbor. But this Walmart was all out of milk.
Wow, 10-people gatherings?! The bars and restaurants where my bf lives in the US are all closed so he can't have his regular weekly catch up with his friends, although they often go to hang out at someone's place every 2nd week or so, so hopefully that still happens for them.

We've had some in-person training cancelled at work (they're going to reconvene and figure out how to present it online). No bar/restaurant closures here as far as I know.

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Lots of closures and cancellations here too. Some fast food places are now drive-thru only. Reduced hours for some businesses. Work from home for many businesses including the public service.

I just read that Ireland has closed the pubs - and just before St Patrick’s Day. That’s pretty serious.

Daniel E.
The Coronavirus Disproportionately Affects Boomers. Here's How Millennials Can Help Them.

"My mom told me, 'We are not going to stop living,' and I said, "That is the point!'"

...Our parents and grandparents have spent their lives being the ones giving us advice and telling us what to do. Reversing that dynamic can feel incredibly unnatural. But even if your parents or grandparents aren’t listening now, they’re going to need you later. Keep trying, keep talking — and, if all else fails, appeal to their parental instincts. “Telling my parents I’m scared has been helpful,” a woman named Mary told me. “They’re way more incentivized to protect me from the fear.”
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