Tips for Staying Calm During the COVID-19 Outbreak

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In times of uncertainty and fear, it can be extra challenging to maintain a sense of calm. Attention can become heightened towards any sign of physical discomfort that may be remotely symptomatic.

Remember that anxiety can be contagious too: Below are a few tips to support you in releasing some of that anxious energy.

Do practical things that are suggested: Wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds (birthday song twice), cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow, avoid touching your face, maintain social distance, stay home if feeling sick.

Know the facts: Knowledge is power! Staying up-to-date on information can help provide some sense of control and can also help alleviate fears. For example, It might be comforting for some to know that the majority  (approx 81%) of reported COVID-19 cases experienced mild symptoms and recovered on their own within a few weeks. Those who are at greater risk are elderly, people with weakened immune systems, or folks with co-occurring health challenges.

Take a break from, or limit, the news: On the other hand, too much information can lead to panic. It can be helpful to limit how much time you spend watching, reading, or listening to the news. It can be challenging to balance knowing the facts, and not obsessing over the risk. You might ask yourself: “Is watching/reading this calming me down or amping me up”?

Discharge physical stress that is held in the body: Exercise can reduce the negative effects of stress on your body. At least 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least three times weekly is recommended. You may consider increasing your physical activity based on whatever is normal for you.

BREATHE!: Our breath is naturally tied to our alarm system (fight, flight, or freeze) and works together with our nervous system to activate and prepare for action, or, to “rest and digest”. Breathing deeply will help slow down the physical body, which allows the mental and emotional body to slow down as well. Here is a quick video to show diaphragmatic breathing:

Focus on what is in your control: Fear of contracting a virus can lead to feelings of powerlessness. It can be helpful in times like these to focus on what IS in your control. For example, you can control how often you wash your hands, where you go, who you spend time with, what you talk about, what you have for lunch, etc.

Check your thoughts: It can be easy to let the “worst case scenario” dictate how we feel and respond. For example, if you start to feel tired or worn down, you might be quick to assume you have the virus. It can be helpful to slow down and ask yourself: What else could this be? Perhaps you didn’t sleep well, or have had a busy week at work, or are dealing with some family stress.

Support your Immune System: We know that stress weakens the immune system, and people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to illness. It may seem simple, but ensuring you eat nourishing meals and snacks regularly, stay hydrated, get enough sleep (7-8 hours), and move your body will provide a stronger foundation for your overall wellness.

Maintain your regular routines: Keeping a sense of your normal routine can help support a feeling of safety and settling in your nervous system. Continue to exercise universal precautions, but don’t shut yourself in unless you experience symptoms.

Connect to your support system: Social connection is part of our wiring for safety. Creating social distance at this point does not mean you need to fully isolate. Talk on the phone or video chat over Facetime or Skype.

Humor: Humor and fun can be a wonderful stress reducer. Watch a comedy or call a friend who makes you laugh. Have you ever tried laughing yoga?

Practice Mindfulness: There are many benefits to mindfulness, relaxation, and meditation – one of which is reducing stress. There are many apps available to download to your mobile device or tablet. You might consider checking out apps such as Headspace, MindShift, or Insight Timer for some guided exercises. Here is an example of a progressive muscle relaxation exercise:

Music: Take time to listen to some relaxing music, or to lose yourself in a high energy dance party! Music is an excellent tool to shift our emotional state.

Practice Self-Compassion: Be kind to yourself, and know that it is okay to be worried and alert to risk. You might say to yourself: “It makes sense to be worried. My worry is me trying to stay healthy and safe. My worry is working really hard for me. I wonder if I can give my worry a break for a bit.”

Seek professional help: people who are susceptible to anxiety may feel extra vulnerable or particularly overwhelmed as we continue to hear more about the spread of this pandemic. It might be helpful to seek support from a mental health professional.