Anxiety during the pandemic was, and still is, a hot topic. The fear and tension that came along with the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 outbreak and individual and political responses has carried a lot of weight and continues to do so even years after the start of the global pandemic.
From social distancing to stay-at-home orders, government mandates and vaccination opportunities, the past two years have ushered in plenty of causes for anxiety. In this article, we’ll explore the ways that anxiety and COVID-19 are related and where to go from here.
Anxiety disorder causes and COVID-19
COVID-19 has provoked uncontrollable worry among millions, if not billions. Here are a few ways that you may be experiencing anxiety due to the virus.
Obsessive-compulsive behavior (OCD)
The ritual cleaning that is a hallmark of OCD behavior could be reinforced by the guidelines established to minimize the threat of the disease. Mask-wearing, cleaning, washing, sanitizing and disinfecting may worsen this compulsion to the point that it is unmanageable to live with.
In treatment for OCD, compulsive cleaning behaviors are discouraged. Our society’s rapid shift to hypervigilance in these matters could be unsettling for someone who is working in treatment to fight these behaviors.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
People living with a generalized anxiety disorder may find it hard to manage fears that they or a loved one will contract the virus. While this is a reasonable fear during a pandemic, individuals with GAD or health anxiety will worry excessively, to the point that they are unable to function normally.
Panic disorder, agoraphobia and others
Panic disorder, agoraphobia and social anxiety often lead to isolation and withdrawal. Normally, therapists encourage their clients with anxiety disorders to get out of the house and fight the urge to self-isolate. Quarantine recommendations and self-isolation, as well as many fields of work switching to exclusive remote work, make this difficult or impossible to do on a daily basis.
How to cope with anxiety during the pandemic
How can you cope with your anxiety disorder when you have to engage in harmful behaviors like isolation? How can you manage anxious feelings when there is a good reason to be anxious? Here are some strategies you can use to keep working towards recovery despite these challenges.
Identify whether a thought is rational or irrational
Thoughts are at the root of anxiety disorders. With practice, you can identify the irrational thoughts that are driven by the disorder. The same principle applies during COVID-19. Although there are similarities between anxiety-driven actions and coronavirus precautions, there are also key differences. Look for the reasoning and logic behind what you’re thinking.
For example, there is a difference between thinking, “I should stay in my house as much as possible right now because I don’t want to expose myself or others to coronavirus” versus the thought, “I should never leave my house again because the world is too dangerous.” The first thought is based on logic and doesn’t exaggerate the situation with absolutes such as “always” and “never.”
Challenge irrational thoughts with logic
Once you’ve identified an irrational thought, you can challenge it by reminding yourself of what you know to be true. As an example, when you start to think about never leaving the house again, tell yourself: “It’s true that there is a degree of risk outside, but it’s unreasonable to stay in my house at all times. Risk is a normal part of life. In most cases, it’s manageable.”
This technique is used in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). If you have never practiced CBT before, now is the ideal time to get in touch with a therapist trained in this technique.
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Be aware of your own behavior
You can use cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to control your actions too. It’s rational to wash your hands after coming in from outside or before preparing food. Likewise, it’s a good idea to disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. On the other hand, disinfecting surfaces every hour or washing your hands when you haven’t touched anything that could be contaminated are irrational behaviors that you can nip in the bud.
If you find it hard to distinguish between rational and irrational behaviors, ask yourself why you are doing something. Is it guided by trustworthy information about the virus? Or is it motivated by obsessive thoughts? A therapist can also help you distinguish between your personal thought patterns.
Reach out for help virtually
Teletherapy makes it possible to take one extra anxiety off your plate. Video conferencing calls with your mental health professional are available on encrypted programming sites so you don’t compromise your safety while you get the mental health care you need.
Keep your brain busy
Keep your mind engaged with activities throughout the day. These should include a variety of tasks, from chores to a creative project or watching a favorite TV show. It’s important to schedule downtime too, but avoid sitting with negative thoughts for long periods of time.
Keep up with your care regimen
Above all, make sure you continue with your mental health care for anxiety during the pandemic.
If you have an anxiety disorder and live in Pennsylvania, you can access The Light Program’s services through teletherapy. Our therapists are trained in a variety of techniques to address anxiety, panic, OCD, and other disorders.