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How to fight depression and anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic

How to keep your spirits up and fears down as the COVID-19 outbreak continues.

First published on CNet|Health on March 11, 2020 at 11:13 a.m. PT.

Republished on CNet|Health on April 28, 2020 2:58 p.m. PT

In a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation published April 21, close to have of the people polled said that their worries and stress about the coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health. Even if you didn't already deal with anxiety and/or depression, the stress of living your day-to-day life during a pandemic is likely wearing on you now.

Haley Neidich, a licensed psychotherapist, tells CNET that it's completely normal to experience fear and anxiety right now.  It is perfectly okay to feel whatever you are feeling during this time, but there are things you can do to calm your mind and ease stress.

"My biggest concern about the panic is the stress that it causes for each individual," Neidich says, noting that when panic occurs, events are canceled and shelves are cleared out of necessary items which only further increases stress. "Stress and panic begets stress and panic," she continues. "Stress weakens our immune systems, making us more susceptible to illness, which is the exact opposite of what we need right now.

If you're struggling with coronavirus anxiety, fear or feelings of helplessness, the tips below can help keep your spirits up. If you notice that stress is getting in the way of being able to work, take care of your family or do basic daily activities (like cook a meal or take a shower), you should seek professional help

1. Limit the amount of information you consume

Limiting your time on social media is one of the best ways to keep coronavirus anxiety from spiraling. Neidich recommends:

  • setting a limit of 30 minutes for news and social media combined each day

  • challenging yourself to take two full days each week with no news or social media. 

  • Limiting overall screen time on your cell pones

  • Limiting game time on certain apps.

Even if you don't go on your devices explicitly to check coronavirus news, during this time, you'll be bombarded -- so taking time off is an easy way to soothe anxiety.

2. Focus on the things you can control

"There is so much that we don't have control over in life and COVID-19 is no different," Neidich says. "I invite people in this situation to focus on what they are able to control and to make sure they have a loved one or a counselor to confide in about their emotional experience." 

  • Wash your hands often (and sanitize them when you don't have soap and water)

  • Stay away from people who are sick

  • Cover your mouth when you cough and your nose when you sneeze (ideally with a tissue that you can throw away)

  • Avoid touching your face whenever possible (wearing a face mask helps)

  • Avoid nonessential travel (locally, domestically and internationally)

  • Keep your immune system strong by eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and managing stress

3. Stay busy with other things

This is a classic tactic for keeping anxiety under control. While you should definitely honor your feelings (more on that in the next tip), try not to allow your thoughts to spiral out of control. Focus on your daily obligations and add in fun activities to your days to keep anxiety to a minimum, Neidich says. Here are a few examples of simple, distracting activities you can try:

  • Solve a puzzle or play a board game with your family

  • Draw, paint, knit or do something else creative

  • Try to bake a masterpiece dessert with ingredients you already have in your kitchen

  • Read your favorite novel or watch your favorite movie

  • Take a nap

  • Call someone you love and talk about things other than the coronavirus

4. Set aside time to worry

Writing down your thoughts about coronavirus can help you work through them.

Allow yourself time to work through your thoughts about coronavirus. If you ignore them, they'll continue to persist, Neidich says. She recommends:

  • journaling by hand on how you feel about COVID-19. Grab a piece of paper and a pen, set a timer and just allow the words to flow onto paper. You don't have to keep the paper when you're done -- throwing it out can be cathartic and make it feel like you're emptying your mind of worries.

  • Set a timer for 3 minutes for worry journaling, Neidich says. "You will find that you'll run out of worries before the timer is up.

  • Once this is complete, shift your attention to self-care and keep your mind busy."

5. Vent to a friend who won't judge you

If you're more of a talker than a writer, Neidich says it can help to confide in a friend about how you're feeling. Talk to someone who won't judge you for the way you feel, but try to avoid talking to someone who will fuel your anxiety even further. The key, Neidich says, is choosing someone who understands how you feel but won't perpetuate the fear you see online. 

You should also first ask whoever you speak to if it's okay to share your fears with them. Many of us are coping with the stress of what is going on and it's only fair to ask someone if they are willing and able to listen before dropping your stress on them.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.


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