5 ways to manage anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic

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Since the coronavirus outbreak, reports of anxiety have increased, especially among physicians. Physicians face numerous stressors, including fears of contracting the coronavirus, concerns about potentially infecting loved ones, PPE shortages, testing delays, and frequently making quick decisions with limited information.

Common symptoms of anxiety are increased worrying about one’s self and/or loved ones, difficulty sleeping, difficulty eating, poor concentration, increased heart rate, hyperventilation, and struggling to control worrying.

Here are five ways physicians can manage anxiety during this difficult time:

1. Set time to worry

This may sound counterintuitive. Yet with worsening anxiety, people’s minds are so consumed with worrying that it negatively impacts their focus throughout the day, appetite, and sleep.

By setting 15-30 minutes daily to address worrying, one has dedicated time to acknowledge fears and sources of anxiety. Some may want to use this time to contemplate their worries, while others feel more comfortable writing their thoughts down. Often, people will want to brainstorm solutions. There really is no wrong way to use this time. With practice, people find that they worry less during the remainder of the day.

Importantly, studies have shown that scheduling time to worry decreases overall anxiety.

2. Social distancing does not mean emotional distancing

In addition to social distancing, practicing medicine during the pandemic is also often isolating given the high number of patients and complex pathology. Brief, 5-minute check-ins with members of the treatment team lessen isolation and build camaraderie. Additionally, various online media, including forums and Facebook physician groups, are good ways to reach out to other physicians. Finally, with technology like FaceTime and Skype, it is easier to reach out to loved ones who are far away.

3. Limit electronic consumption

With TV, websites, and social media, there is no shortage of information regarding coronavirus. However, an influx of news can become overwhelming and, therefore, worsen anxiety. Additionally, information from certain outlets may be more accurate than others.

Try setting a time limit of watching news programs 1-2 hours a day and logging onto social media sites 1-3 times per day. Furthermore, it helps to limit internet searches to 1-2 websites for updates about the coronavirus. The World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control are popular sites to obtain current, up-to-date information.

4. Use apps

With anxiety, quieting one’s mind, and focusing on the present is often easier said than done. A variety of mental health apps are available to assist like Calm, The Mindfulness App, and Headspace. These apps provide a number of resources, including guided meditation exercises, deep breathing guides, and techniques to improve sleep hygiene.

5. Seek help if anxiety becomes overwhelming

When anxiety becomes difficult to manage on one’s own, psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists are available to help. With recent changes by the federal government in light of the pandemic, it is now easier to see a mental health professional via telemedicine, including FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, and Skype. The Crisis Text Line also provides 24/7 support and can be reached by texting “HOME” to 741741.

Christine Tran-Boynes is a psychiatrist.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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