UK HealthCare

Dealing with Anxiety During COVID-19 Outbreak

How to deal with anxiety

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 19, 2020) - Every day we are learning new information about the novel coronavirus and the effect it's having on populations worldwide. With so much information being reported on almost every platform out there, it's obvious there is heightened fear surrounding this pandemic. However, it's critical to practice self-care during a scary time, especially when it comes to your mental health. Dr. Teresa Gevedon, medical director of the University of Kentucky HealthCare Outpatient Child and Adult Psychiatry Clinic, is answering questions and giving tips to stay informed, but calm.

Question: Why is there heightened fear?

Dr. Gevedon: Fear and anxiety are normal human responses to unknown, potentially threatening circumstances. Infectious disease outbreaks can seem like an unseen foe and changes in daily activities, concerns about availability of household staples and escalating anxiety in other people can reinforce or heighten that fear.

Question: How do I know if I'm experiencing anxiety?

Dr. Gevedon: There are many symptoms that may suggest you're experiencing anxiety. Feeling persistently more worried, concerned; feeling somehow unsafe. Not sleeping well, decreased energy, increased muscle tension. If you're more vigilant about any seemingly new or unusual physical symptom that previously would not have concerned you at all.

Question: I would really like to talk with someone about what I'm feeling, but I'm unable to access a therapist. How do you recommend managing symptoms at home?

Dr. Gevedon:

  • Take a step back and reset your perspective.
  • Take a breath. In fact, take several relaxing ones. There are apps such as "Calm", "Headspace", or "Breathe" that can help.
  • A quick exercise, often called "square breathing," is good to simply focus on your breathing and relax. Here's how it works: Take a good, deep belly breath in while counting to four. Hold your breath for another four counts and then slowly exhale while you count to four again. Rest four breaths before slowly inhaling again. Try that three or four times a day.
  • When worry is ramping up, remind yourself of the positives in your life -- what you are grateful for and focus on what you can control.
  • Do something fun and relaxing.
  • Be creative.
  • Take care to make sure you are getting some exercise (a walk is great), eat healthy (not just snack food), sleep and engage in support with friends and family.

Question: What can I do to stay calm?

Dr. Gevedon: It is easy to get caught up in the worry. Take a step back and don't forget to live your life. Here are some tips:

  • Keep a normal routine -- get up and go to bed at the same times, have consistent mealtimes, plan fun/family activities (how about a game?)
  • Stay APPROPRIATELY informed and follow reasonable basic hygiene recommendations such as handwashing, social distancing, etc.
  • Do what you can do.

Question: How do you balance being informed and being overwhelmed with information? How do you know when to step away?

Dr. Gevedon: Be reasonable. You should stay informed, but get your information from reliable sources, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website and from our Kentucky state website. Limit the time spend on "the news," and avoid social media rants. When you are feeling increasingly anxious, irritable, having trouble pulling yourself away from your device/social media feed, it's more than time for a break.

Question: How should I keep things normal at home for the kids despite my own heightened anxiety?

Dr. Gevedon: Be positive. Have a routine and activities for them and with them; reassure them that we are going through some changes to their daily life, but we can do that, and we are going to cope with all of it.

Question: How can I educate my kids about what's going on without scaring them?

Dr. Gevedon: Allow them to ask questions and then answer those questions simply and honestly. Reassure your kid(s) that you are there for them. Help them by setting an example. Limit TV time that may be disturbing to them.  

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