The Best Ways To Deal With Health Anxiety During The Coronavirus Outbreak
As the coronavirus – aka COVID-19 – pandemic continues to cause global uncertainty and doubt, it’s natural to feel worried about what might happen next.
For those with health anxiety – a specific form of anxiety that’s categorised by the idea of being seriously ill – this worry might have already turned into a full-blown panic. Panic about how to protect ourselves, how to protect our loved ones, how to know when it’s necessary to put ourselves into quarantine, or even what will happen if we can’t get into work.
It’s only natural that, in the midst of all this panic, we might turn to the internet for advice on how we can do all of the above. I know I certainly have. But social media is rife with myths like ‘taking a hot bath will prevent you from catching COVID-19’ and ‘hand dryers can kill the new coronavirus’, so how do we cut through the noise and get the actual facts?
The only way we can do that is by listening to the experts, and only the experts. As Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: ‘It’s so important that we’re all guided by facts, not fear, in this fight.’
Such advice might be difficult to follow for those with health anxiety though, particularly if that fear has become so debilitating it’s all you’re able to think about on a daily basis.
Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind, said it’s possible that ‘worries around coronavirus could be making people with health anxiety feel worse’.
Stephen told UNILAD:
We know that coronavirus is causing worry and stress for many people. If you already experience a mental health problem, it may be affecting this and how you are coping. Some people may find being asked to stay at home and avoid others stressful or difficult. Media coverage can also play a part in these triggers.
Health anxiety can cause someone to have obsessions and compulsions linked to illness. For example, they may research symptoms to check if they have them. The physical symptoms of anxiety, such as dizziness or a fast heart rate, could then be misinterpreted as signs of a serious illness.
We asked the mental health charity to provide some advice for those struggling with feelings of anxiety as a result of COVID-19 in order to make sure you have all the tools you need to remain as calm as possible during this stressful period.
Take care with news and information
One of the most important pieces of advice – not just for those struggling with anxiety but for the wider population – is to be careful about where you’re getting information about COVID-19 from.
For information on what you can do to protect yourselves, the WHO’s list of advice is the best place to start and can be found here. On top of that, Mind recommends we ‘stay connected’ with current events by visiting the NHS coronavirus webpage and gov.uk coronavirus webpages.
If you find yourself straying from these pages and reading news stories that make you feel anxious or confused, think about switching off or limiting what you look at for a while.
Limit time spent on social media
While social media might help you stay in touch with people, particularly if you’ve been advised to stay at home, it’s also the place where myths and misinformation about the virus can spread quickly, easily and dangerously.
Spending hours scrolling on Twitter or Facebook to find out more about COVID-19 might seem like a good idea at the time, because it’s the place where most of us get our news from anyway. But doing so can quickly make you feel anxious if people are sharing news stories or posting about their own worries.
If this is the case, Mind advises to consider taking a break from social media. And if you can’t give it up completely, you should consider viewing certain groups or pages while avoiding scrolling through your newsfeed.
Let other people know you’re struggling
If for whatever reason you’re struggling, be it with the constant fear-mongering or concern about yours and your loved ones’ health, Mind urges you to let somebody know about it. Talk to someone you trust – your partner, a family member, or a friend – who will be able to help you.
Remember, you don’t have to go through this alone. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with what’s going on in the world or with the types of things you’re reading online, make sure somebody close to you knows what’s happening.
Put strategies in place to help manage compulsions
Some mental health problems such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – the spectrum of which health anxiety is also housed within – can cause difficult feelings or behaviours to do with washing or hygiene. If this is the case and the constant conversation surrounding washing your hands is making you stressed or anxious, try asking those around you to not keep reminding you to wash your hands.
It might also be helpful not to keep re-reading the same advice if it is unhelpful for you, and to set limits on how long you wash your hands for – i.e. for the recommended 20 seconds and no more. Mind also suggests planning something to do after washing your hands that could help distract you and change your focus.
Maintain your well-being
Last but not least, making sure to maintain your well-being during these uncertain times can increase your capability to cope. Mind advises trying to keep physically active and finding a way to incorporate this into your daily routine. Even if you’ve been advised to stay at home, there are options such as: dancing to music, going up and down stairs, online workouts and cleaning your home.
On top of that, the mental health charity also advises finding ways to comfort yourself if you are feeling anxious, either by connecting with friends or family members or by getting out into nature. Again, if you’re unable to do this, it’s still possible to get the same positive effects from nature while staying inside by growing flowers or plants in your home; letting fresh air in through open windows; using natural materials to decorate your living space and listening to natural sounds.
Yes, the world might seem like a scary and uncertain place right now. But by sticking to the facts and listening to the experts, we can at least make it that bit less uncertain.
It’s okay to not panic. LADbible and UNILAD’s aim with our Coronavirus campaign, Cutting Through, is to provide our community with facts and stories from the people who are either qualified to comment or have experienced first-hand the situation we’re facing. For more information from the World Health Organization on Coronavirus, click here.
If you want more information on health anxiety and how to deal with it during the coronavirus outbreak, go to Mind’s website here.
CreditsWorld Health Organization and 4 others
World Health Organization
World Health Organization