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  • Writer's pictureBrad Wolf

Anxiety Surrounding Coronavirus?

With the recent Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, I can’t help but evaluate my own anxiety surrounding all the new events. Everywhere I turn, there is a constant reminder that the coronavirus is “out there.” I go to the store and there’s no toilet paper, paper towels, and chicken thighs! My elementary-aged kids are “remotely learning from home.” I turn on the TV to watch sports….there are NO sports! Schools, restaurants, banks, fitness clubs, doctor’s offices are closing to prevent further spread. Every website, news outlet, and social media post has something pertaining to the coronavirus.

In my opinion, it all seems out of control. There seems to be an overwhelming amount of information. Should I really be worrying or is it all blown out of proportion?

When I sit back and really think about all the drastic measures being taken, it's not overkill. I worry for everyone’s health and safety, especially those who are most susceptible, including my grandparents who are in their late 80’s and family members who are immunocompromised. What about employment and finances? What are the repercussions of a recession? The number of reported cases in the United States keeps climbing. Will this ever end and do I need to panic???

COVID-19 is a serious pandemic that unfortunately is happening during this lifetime. I know I am not alone worrying about the spread of this virus. Anxiety is a part of everyday life especially with the current state of affairs. With this increased anxiety that everyone may be feeling, I thought I would provide some suggestions of how to cope with the anxiety some of you may be experiencing. I am a licensed clinical therapist working in the mental health field for the past decade, and I have my own private practice in Rockville, MD. I work with countless individuals who experience anxiety, and thus wanted to relay two main points that I discuss in therapy when it comes to anxiety:

1. Learn some grounding techniques

Grounding techniques are skills that you can use when you feel high levels of anxiety. They are designed to help decrease a high level of anxiety as quickly as possible. Deep breathing is a basic, but extremely effective grounding technique that can help you cope with life’s events. There are multiple breathing techniques I could teach you. But for the purposes of this blog, I think the simplest way to quickly learn reliable breathing techniques is through apps that walk you through the process. A lot of apps these days can provide solid grounding techniques— all of which are accessible through your smartphone. An app I recommend is “Breath Ball Breathing Exercise,” which is free to download. I recommend this app to many of my clients as it is super user-friendly. You just follow the prompts and breath along with the ball as it expands and contracts, no thinking or memorization required. My recommendation with the use of these apps is to include relaxation music. While doing the exercises, have Youtube in the background playing relaxation music. Search for “Zen relaxation music”. This technique will slow down your heart rate and have you in a more relaxed state in as quick as five minutes. Trust me— this will make large improvements in reducing your anxiety. Sometimes all we need to do is to pause and breathe.

2. Embrace Workbooks

I often tell people in therapy, “You need to work on your anxiety outside our session since we only meet once a week.” I often recommend a book called, “The Anxiety & Worry Workbook” by Clark, PhD and Beck, MD. It is jam packed with different exercises and techniques that are extremely beneficial.

Something I have to stress is that you can't wait until you are extremely anxious to practice the grounding techniques I just discussed or skills you would gain from the book. It just won’t work. You need to be practicing these techniques regularly. Have you heard of muscle memory? Let me give you an example. When you drive an automatic car, you push down on the gas and break pedals with your right foot. Have you ever tried pushing the brake with your left foot? Here’s a hint: the car will jerk because you will push it down too hard. This is an example of muscle memory. Your brain knows exactly how much pressure to put on the right foot, and your muscles know exactly how hard you need to push because you alway use your right foot. It’s the same with these techniques. The more you practice them, the more effective they will be. Your brain and body automatically will utilize the techniques in any given situation.

If you need to talk to a friend about everything going on, and talking is beneficial for you, reach out to your friends for support. If you find your anxiety is debilitating, and you can’t manage it on your own, then please seek out professional help. There are many qualified therapists that can go more in-depth on helping you manage and reduce your anxiety.

Know that some anxiety is normal, and you are not alone. The tips I have given you in this blog post can be a great starting point. I hope people find this information helpful in a time right now where the world seems to be spiraling in a hundred different directions. Just remember that you have the power and ability to manage your anxiety.

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