Anxiety is the disorder of “what ifs.” It makes it difficult to tolerate uncertainty and the unknown. When we are anxious, we catastrophize, and look for the worst-case scenario. We tend to exaggerate the sense of risk which makes bad situations feel worse. Without the ability to predict the future, anxiety makes us overestimate the likelihood of bad things happening.
Then we’re stuck with fear and emotional discomfort. Anxiety makes you desperate for a solution, so you can feel better. Anxiety makes you overthink, over-plan, and engage in activities that aren’t actually helpful, just so you can feel back in control. We excessively worry, engage in compulsive behaviors and avoid anything that triggers our anxiety, all to feel better. In the short term, it feels like this helps, but ultimately, we are locked in a repetitive cycle of feeling anxious and trying to escape it.
Now enters the Covid-19 pandemic. Life as we know it has been turned upside down and it feels impossible to predict what is to come. As we stop going to work, school, or engaging in our daily routines, the structure of normal life is disrupted and we lose our sense of control. This is the perfect environment for our anxiety to grow. You may have more anxious thoughts: “When will this end? How long will I be home? Do I have the virus? Will I give it to someone else?” You may also engage in anxious behaviors like frequently checking the news, repeatedly checking your temperature, or buying food in unreasonable amounts.
We want to emphasize that it is completely natural to feel worried and scared. After all, anxiety is a survival instinct and can be healthy when it is proportional to the situation. COVID-19 is a threat to our physical, emotional and economic health and we want to be appropriately cautious and responsive. Without a little anxiety, we likely wouldn’t be taking the appropriate steps to combat this virus! That being said, we want to make it appropriate to the situation. Excessive worrying might feel productive, but it is actually harming your emotional well-being, and can interfere with your ability to think clearly and act responsibly during this crisis.
So, what do we do in response to anxiety felt about COVID-19?