COVID-19 Anxiety and Panic Survival Guide

As the spread of the Coronavirus continues globally, so does the spread of worry and panic. Unsurprisingly, a significant decline of mental health for many runs alongside a relentless narrative of protecting yourself from being infected. The question comes down to this: how do you simultaneously stay safe in a global pandemic, whilst protecting your own mental health? How do you make sure that a justified fear and panic doesn’t develop in to a complete mind-catastrophe, or an obsessive compulsive disorder?

Fear is designed to keep us safe, it is deeply embedded into our very fibre of being, the aim of which is to survive. It is a completely necessary and normal evolutionary response to a threat which is derived from a complex interaction between our primitive ‘animal brain’ and our sophisticated cognitive brain. A ‘fight or flight’ response is triggered when a threat has been identified, which floods us with adrenaline, dilates our pupils, diverts blood to our muscles, and prepares us to escape or defeat any danger confronting us. The ‘fight or flight’ response induces a range of physical symptoms, from palpitations, perspiration, difficulty breathing, and dizziness.

In modern-day life, our ‘fight or flight’ system has been known to malfunction, sometimes perceiving events to be disproportionally dangerous. A fleeting thought through the brain, such as health conditions, or notably the Coronavirus, can trigger an immediate ‘fight or flight’ reaction. The primitive ‘animal brain’ does not consider a logical, rational, or even reasonable approach to COVID-19. Instead, it is our high-level cognitive neocortex that is required to lesson the messy complications of panic, to reason that no running or fighting is necessary.

If you have found yourself obsessively worrying about the coronavirus, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you are developing a psychological disorder, but the high levels of stress should be appropriately attended to. Naturally, we move toward counter-productive activities during times of stress or anxiety. For example, you may find yourself Googling for answers, only for search results to reveal that your itchy ankle is most probably cancer. When the strategies are exacerbating your stress levels, it is time to step back and assess your behavioural patterns.

There are immediate ways to dampen down the effects of the coronavirus on our health. Firstly, stop checking. Avoid looking for signs and symptoms of illness. This can become a vicious cycle of becoming anxious while you search, and that anxiousness creating a symptom. You are also likely to find unfamiliar physical sensations that are harmless, but can become much more harmful through the mind. If you feel your chest start to tighten, and your heart rate speed up, shift your focus on to more pleasurable activities.

In the case of COVID-19, the ‘checking’ may also extend to constant monitoring of news updates and social media feeds which can significantly increase anxiety. If you are feeling anxious, give yourself some space away from the news and social media feeds and enjoy more peaceful activities to reduce your anxiety.

In conditions where your stress or anxiety begin to spiral, hyperventilation and shallow breathing are common. In this case, purposeful and slow breathing can work to reset the fight or flight response and dissipate the onset of panic. This is also true for exercise, which can help to reduce the adrenalin build-up caused by anxiousness. Exercise can also serve as a tool to bring a new perspective and freshen your thoughts.

When it comes to perspective, keeping a connection with friends and family can help to refresh your perspective, elevate your mood, and allow a distraction to troubling thoughts. Even in conditions of complete physical isolation, your friends and family will always be available through a phone call, or video chat. Seeing a friendly face can often press a reset button for your mood.

Extreme precautionary measures are essential in this time, but psychological distress and widespread panic are not. Continuing normal daily activities, maintaining perspective, and reducing unnecessary stress is crucial for psychological survival. Know that we are globally united in this very real pandemic,  and you are not alone.

If you continue to feel anxious, make sure you reach out to your GP, or seek psychological support. Our therapists at The MindBody Clinic are all available remotely, and can offer a helping hand. Get in touch to book a ‘no obligation’ phone call to discuss your concerns.

We are currently offering a free 30 minute online one-to-one “Corona Virus Anxiety” counselling at The Mind Body Clinic on Wednesday mornings, book online by selecting “Coronavirus Anxiety”, email or call 01732 441008.


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