Ask Dr. Valbuena: Why Are So Many People Getting Anxiety Over COVID-19 and How Can They Manage It?

Recently I have received a lot of questions regarding the anxiety felt over the current COVID-19 crisis. From financial stress to fear for one’s personal health and safety and everything in between; people all over the world are feeling it. Even those who have never previously experienced problems with anxiety have been coming to me for help to manage the sudden onset of panic attacks and anxious feelings. The reason for people suddenly feeling anxiety who have no past history of such symptoms are suffering from what is called situational anxiety. 

What is situational anxiety?

Situational Anxiety:  It is anxiety that is excessive in nature and is in response to a circumstance or situation.  It can blossom into a  panic attack, and the anxiety can reach levels that cause the patient to become dysfunctional.  Classic example :  Situational anxiety can occur when someone is in crowds, or being around a lot of people. Currently many individuals are experiencing a situational trigger from the COVID-19 pandemic.  It can be treated with therapy and/or medications for extreme symptoms. Situational anxiety can be more common than we tend to believe, especially as of late. If you are feeling the pressure and stress you are not alone. There is a recent trend of people experiencing the same issues. 

What are some of the most common fears / anxious thoughts individuals are having in response to the Coronavirus?

Some of the biggest fears revolving around the current Coronavirus outbreak is that people naturally may think the worst. Historically there have been many other viruses that have had a lot of publicity and coverage but it did cause the same level of panic that we are seeing in this situation.  Examples are the Avian Flu and Ebola. That is not to say that I think people should minimize what’s going on currently. All precautions should be taken to prevent spread of the virus. People are seeing things that they have not seen in their lifetime, there are now actions from the government to not allow people to travel to and from certain countries which is somewhat unprecedented. Currently, there is a shortage of hand sanitizers, toilet paper, and many other commonly used household items. These out of the ordinary happenings have sparked fear in all of us.

I believe one fear people are having is that this virus may be uncontrollable and that it may be the one virus that can plague The United States with panic which can in turn affect daily living. There is also a fear that our stock market will crash and not recover and in turn cause a recession. Finally, I think the biggest fear is that  of the disease itself. Naturally, people are afraid of contracting the disease and also afraid that it may affect their loved ones, such as their older parents and younger children. People are afraid that this is going to be again, something that the CDC or our good doctors here in America cannot figure out. The world is seeing a lot of news on this particular virus. The media coverage is even affecting the presidential candidacy and election.  People are worried they are getting mixed messages from different professionals; some to watch out, some saying just do what you usually do to prevent viruses. This only adds confusion to fear therefore adding to the anxiety felt. While it is good to know you are not alone and that these are common fears felt among peers and loved ones, finding ways to cope is vital to our mental health.

What can you do in order to manage anxiety in relation to COVID-19?

The best way to manage anxiety during this time is to continue with your everyday routine, and also at the same time you can be more aware to practice better hygiene.  If someone has questions particularly around Coronavirus it might be good to consult a physician that you are familiar with. With the current news and media coverage and the huge popularity that this virus is having on prime time television, we know undoubtedly that this is affecting people and their anxiety. By no means should you minimize what’s going on with this current virus, but you should also be careful about being so hyper vigilant that it affects your daily life and ability to function. Keep in mind that there are many things like diseases, car accidents, and even the seasonal flu that can affect people negatively when they are not being careful with hygiene and being mindful of one’s surroundings. We cope with these things more easily  because they are a familiar foe. The best way to manage anxiety during this time is to unplug from the media every once and a while and continue to take good care of our personal hygiene and daily routines. Do not become consumed with it, set personal short term goals, get outside and breath fresh air, and find other things to keep your mind occupied.