Keeping reality in check amid COVID-19

By Dr Lisa Webb on 9th Apr 2020

A woman standing up

Anxiety is a part of normal life. Humans are programmed to deal with a certain amount of anxiety on a regular basis. We all have anxiety at some point. But for the majority of us, it’s situational and temporary. But what about when anxiety is enduring, or we cannot seem to shake it? With the COVID-19 pandemic it is very easy to let feelings of uncertainty—then lead to feelings of anxiety — then lead to feelings of panic – then to then lead to a full-blown fear response. This is very upsetting for many people who are very accustomed to having control over life and their circumstances… until they don’t.

How do we keep a reality check amidst COVID 19?
We all have them– situations that, no matter what you do, seem to cause your nerves to completely spike. Situational anxiety is a specific type of anxiety that occurs during unfamiliar situations or events that make us so nervous that we lose control of our ability to stay calm. And most recently there has been an incredible spike in situational anxiety around COVID-19 and all the changes presently occurring in the world.

What does situational anxiety feel like?
Situational anxiety can cause both a mind a body response, triggering physical as well as emotional symptoms. These can include:
Shaky hands
Muscle tension
Chest pains
Sweaty palms
Rapid heartbeat
Shallow breathing

Sound familiar to anything you might have felt recently when reading the reports of COVID-19 infection rates, increasing death tolls or rising economic crises?  It is important to recognize that situational anxiety is very personal and people may experience different symptoms from one another. It is important to realize you are not going “crazy” and indeed you have good mind health. Anxiety around the COVID-19 pandemic is a very appropriate and realistic response.

How to Relieve Situational Anxiety
Not only is situational anxiety uncomfortable and frustrating, but it can have real consequences. It can hold people back in their careers, affect personal relationships, and may even lower self-esteem. But there’s good news: there are ways to cope with this discomfort.

The first step in addressing situational anxiety is to notice changes in your body and behavior. If you notice yourself getting a headache, chest tightness or feeling irritable make an effort to pinpoint what you were doing or what was occurring prior to those feelings. Did you just binge-read a bunch of reports on COVID-19? Have a marathon session watching the news or have CNN playing in the background all day? Were you talking with your in-laws about their fears in contracting the virus? Or are you concerned about the time to shelter in place and whether you and your family will have enough toilet paper to last?

Next, give yourself a reality check that feelings of anxiety are normal and that everyone’s behavior or mood changes when they feel this way. These situations, ones that feel completely out of control, lead to physical discomfort and can cause stress and anxiety, and that these feelings can make our heads and bodies hurt. Once you’ve given yourself a reality check, begun to recognize the anxiety and have normalized this feeling, you can now help yourself relax.

Third, talk with a friend or family member about what is causing the anxiety. Is it fear of the unknown? Inability to predict the future? Being off your schedule? Not being able to exercise and alleviate stress because the gym is closed? Uncertainty about the future since your retirement account is dwindling?  Talking with others and doing more fact-based research about what is bothering you will not only clarify what the actual problem is but will give you the opportunity to find accurate information about what to expect.

If you continue to have anxiety symptoms, use a stress-reduction technique to help alleviate the feelings. Not to go all woo-woo, but some of the most effective methods include breathing exercises, guided imagery and the reassuring physical presence of a friend or significant other. Pay attention to what you can change. Turn off or limit news consumption. Only listen to reputable scientific sources. Be mindful of knee jerk reactions you might entertain like firing your broker or pulling all your money out of the market and stashing it under your mattress.

If your anxiety becomes so intrusive that they are unable to participate in appropriate and necessary activities, or if it is so chronic that it prohibits you from having a healthy, albeit socially distanced social life, reach out to your physician for guidance. Signs that you may want a professional opinion include an inability to maintain healthy sleep habits, abnormal changes in appetite (such as binge eating or refusing to eat), the use of substances as a coping mechanism, or if you experience a change in your ability to focus and concentrate and your feel your mental functioning to be compromised.

Ultimately you provide the best framework for influencing your ability to cope with anxiety. By labeling what you are experiencing, normalizing it, and providing yourself with approaches to combat the physiologic symptoms (e.g. relaxation techniques) you are actually building your resilience to face future stressful events that you may not have control over.

If you need additional an additional reality check or help with situational worry or stress, please call our office at 615.310.1491 for either an in-person or video/telephone session. We take most insurance and are available expanded hours for the increase in anxiety many people are experiencing at this time. Dr. Lisa M. Webb, CEO; Body & Mind Consulting,


Related article: How to successfully work from home

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