With the constant news cycle and unprecedented societal shutdowns from the NBA, to Disney World, March Madness, and even mandatory statewide school closures, it's a shocking time for our country and one that understandably is generating a lot of anxiety. In my clinical training there has been one aspect of anxiety that has always stood out to me, the notion of "normal anxiety". I think this is important to recognize because some anxiety is normal, even helpful. Anxiety can let us know something is wrong and lead us to take important protective measures. With the arrival of coronavirus, this is clearly a time in which "normal anxiety" would take a strong role. Having no anxiety at all, at times like this, may be an indicator of a problem and could even have a negative impact on public health and safety. However, there is a fine line between healthy, normal anxiety and anxiety that begins to thwart important functioning in our lives.
On my current home page, I have posted a link to information from the CDC on coping with anxiety, so please refer to this. However, this blog is also intended to offer some ideas that I find helpful when working with clients with anxiety. I have what I call a cheat sheet I provide clients to reference when anxiety strikes. Unfortunately, the only citation is a copyright sign and "AnxietyBC" at the bottom of the document. I will use a few of these principles as a guide and then elaborate.
1. Ask yourself if you are overestimating danger, or, as Lucinda Basset calls it "awfulizing".
Anxiety starts out as one thought. One. This can be hard for people to recognize. It begins here, small, in one initial thought. But then we invite it in, like a puppy we acknowledge it, we feed it, we give it a lot of attention. We nurture it. And it begins to grow. If we catch it early enough, we can begin to dialogue with it and alter the course of the conversation, and thus its development and hold in our lives. Anxiety turns into worse case scenarios. Anxiety often becomes bigger than the reality of the fear itself. In session I find it helpful to imagine that the fear actually comes true. Usually the reality of the consequences from the fear occurring are far more tolerable than anxiety builds it up to be. Which leads us to the next point.
2. What is the evidence that the fear is true? What is the evidence that it is not true?
If we take the coronavirus, understandably the ultimate fear is death. "I can't get the virus because I will die." This is an understandable fear. As of the date of writing this the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting nearly 5,000 deaths globally from about 134,000 infected people. However, statistically this is a death rate of 3.7%. Rounded up this means about one person in twenty-five do die from the disease, based on current data. Although indeed alarming, the odds of death are fairly low, particularly for healthy, younger adults. The coronavirus makes some anxiety debating more challenging, as the fears aren't irrational but warrant concern. However, many people recover from the illness, news sources are even reporting that some infected don't even experience symptoms. I also don't want to downplay risk and I want to state clearly to use caution and follow all government recommendations to minimize risk to others. This paragraph is simply being stated to work through heightened anxiety. Taking precautions, such as frequent hand washing and avoiding crowds are a few of the important steps you can take, and have control over, to help minimize exposure.
3. Is this a possibility or a certainty?
Is it possible we can contract coronavirus? Sure. Is it certain? No, not at all. If we take careful measures, we can help to greatly minimize our risk, and thus the risk to others in the community who are in groups that have a risk of serious illness. (Again, there are risks to not having any anxiety at all, as these folks may not take enough steps to protect themselves, and thus others from infection.) Most of us however fall in the low to moderate risk category, and make up the 96.3% of people who will survive IF we were to contract the virus. (Click here for a bar graph on a break down of age groups and coronavirus).
In summary, be diligent, follow government recommendations, but mostly breathe and read the data in moderation, because knowledge is power.