I’ve had health anxiety for as long as I can remember. As a young child I was very aware of the world’s health risks and constantly lived in fear of developing a severe stomach virus or other illness that would take me to the hospital and die in my sleep. Everything was a threat.
To the surprise of absolutely no one, I was eventually diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. I’ve come a long way since becoming an overly scared kid and learned many tips and tricks for dealing with anxious thoughts. But damn it, no therapist could have prepared me for a pandemic.
When I scroll through Instagram every day, I am overwhelmed to see so many people out and about. Isn̵
Every time I’m invited somewhere around the age of COVID-19, my fight or flight begins. As I stare at my phone, wondering whether or not to join these plans, my palms get drenched in sweat. I get nausea and shortness of breath and inevitably wonder if I’m having a panic attack or if I actually already have a coronavirus. Soon after, my mind is spinning. I imagine all sorts of worst-case scenarios where I will die or my loved ones will die for giving them the virus and it’s all my fault. You name the terrible result, and I probably made it up before I even finished breakfast.
Needless to say, my answer has always been a consistent no when someone has tried to make plans with me. But at this point in time, housing orders are largely a thing of the past, many people are back to work, and many retail stores, restaurants, and bars are open. Life is slowly but surely getting back to normal for many, and despite what my fear may tell me, it is is possible to do some things at least somewhat safely. Below, I spoke to experts about how to deal with my fear of coming back to the world and how to avoid getting (or spreading) the coronavirus in a few different public scenarios.
First, it’s perfectly normal to be nervous about to leave the house.
It is human nature to have problems with uncertainty. “We view insecurity as a potential threat to our well-being,” Neda Gould, Ph.D., psychologist and assistant director of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, told SELF. “Sometimes our brain fills this uncertainty with catastrophic thoughts and possibilities. And if someone already has a predisposition to fear, it is made worse for them. “
Sound familiar? I know it does for me.
Gould notices this fear does have a purpose which is to protect us. That way, it can motivate us to take action. Read: Be Responsible and Wear a Mask When Going Out, Social Distancing, and so on. When fear takes on a life of its own and interferes with how we function, it becomes a problem.
It makes perfect sense for us to be nervous and careful when it comes to reopening and living these days. We should be careful. This is the only way we can stop this virus from spreading. But I do realize that I can try to use my fear in practical ways to remind reminders to stay safe and take precautions when leaving my home without it being fully controlled. But first I have to have the courage to get out of there instead of making plans every time. If you’re in the same situation, Gould has some advice.
Here are some tips to help ease the fear of leaving your home.
Limit your message access (within reasonable limits).
Knowledge is power and it is important to keep up to date on things like the progress of the coronavirus case load in your area. But things like constant death tolls do your fear a disservice. Message flooding can be a surefire way to think about worst-case scenarios. As such, Gould recommends restricting access to unnecessary information that you know is causing your anxiety and only checking for necessary updates from a reputable resource once or twice a day.
Label disastrous thoughts.
It is common for people with health anxiety (or fear in general) to think catastrophically – that is, imagine and think about worst-case scenarios. Gould says not only should you notice your catastrophic thinking, but label it as such. She says you can say to yourself, “Oh, there it is. I tend to, and I was expecting you, disastrous thought! ”
Noticing that your thought is actually catastrophic rather than rational can help your brain realize that this is a cognitive bias, which means that it is not rooted in fact or logic and you are not in a rabbit hole with a negative what have to fall. if Remember: most of the disastrous thoughts we have will never happen. Here are more tips on how to deal with such thoughts.
Control what you can and try to accept what you cannot.
Even when so much feels so insecure and out of our control, remember that you are do Do you have the tools and knowledge to protect yourself to the best of your ability. To maximize this control, Gould recommends planning outings in advance as you should think more clearly when we are not in an elevated state of anxiety. You can even create a mental or physical checklist reminding you of the basic safeguards that you can take that are within your control and that we are about to cover. “If you get anxious, you can just go back to that list and say, ‘Okay, these are the things I know I have to do and I can do them,” says Gould.
Then work on practicing acceptance, which admittedly is easier said than done. Still, try to accept that the times are uncertain. There is nothing we can do to change that. Instead, you can focus on accepting that this uncertainty may be related to fear, and you will do everything possible to alleviate the fear if it occurs.
Use a relaxation technique before you set off.
If you are really upset as your plans approach and you are ready to leave the house, actively engaging in a relaxation technique can be very helpful. Gould suggests taking a few minutes before walking out the door to center yourself. You can do this by taking deep breaths, listening to a guided meditation from YouTube or a meditation app, or doing any of these other grounding exercises. These types of relaxation techniques can keep you in the here and now rather than falling into the traps of what-ifs.