No March Madness. Moreover, no sports games, anywhere, for the unforeseen future. For many, no schooling. No Broadway. Limited travel. The list goes on.
Needless to say, the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) has significantly disrupted American life and continues to do for the foreseeable future.
Lastly, anxiety levels are on the rise. Will I get the virus? Will my older relatives get it and fall gravely ill? Will the U.S. become like Italy, where only grocery stores and pharmacies are open? How much will loneliness and social isolation become an issue? When will I be able to resume normal, daily life?
While we don’t have answers to every one of the questions, we’re going to give the following valuable tips from top health and wellness experts.
8 Steps for More Safety and Less Anxiety
Cara Natterson, MD, pediatrician and author of Decoding Boys: New Science Behind the Subtle Art of Raising Sons:
1. Wash your hands for 20 seconds.
Yes, that’s a long time. But it works — better than 5 or 10, and better than just slathering on some antibacterial liquid. That’s why surgeons stand at scrub sinks and lather up to their elbows for a full 20 seconds (often longer) before cutting into a body.
On “Grey’s Anatomy,” you don’t see them squirting on the Purell and walking into the operating room, now do you?
2. Stay Home if you are sick.
There is a huge public service component to virus containment, and this requires that your life not be more important than someone else’s.
If you run an errand or downplay your symptoms and go to the office, you have just chosen to expose a much bigger group of people to your germs, which may or may not be coronavirus. So seriously, if you are sick, stay home.
Gail Saltz, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill–Cornell School of Medicine and host of the “Personology” podcast from iHeart Media:
3. Stay appropriately informed, but not over informed.
Other than that, consume information about the virus no more than once a day. Watching and listening and reading headlines will only serve to make you overly anxious.
Many headlines are catastrophizing the situation inappropriately and driving fear. Having basic knowledge will reduce anxiety. Anxiety beyond doing what you appropriately can do, like hand washing and social distancing, is not serving a purpose and it’s worth reminding yourself just that.
4. Keep children calm.
Stay calm when speaking to them, answer questions reasonably, teach them to do appropriate hand-washing or use of hand sanitizer, but don’t frighten them into it.
Avoid keeping the news on in the background where they keep hearing it and likewise restrict screen time on news items that will only serve to frighten. Tell them you as a family will stay up on the facts from a reliable source and do what is recommended as a family.
5. Increase the use of relaxation techniques.
When anxiety goes up, so does the body’s tension level and, in turn, this tension raises your anxiety. To interrupt the cycle, practice relaxation techniques such as muscle relaxation, deep breathing, mindfulness, taking a warm bath, whatever helps you to relax your body.
Aerobic exercise is also helpful for decreasing anxiety — for 30 minutes several times per week.
6. Know when this is an anxiety problem, not a COVID-19 problem.
If you are highly anxious after taking recommended steps to be safer, this is more likely an anxiety problem than a COVID-19 problem and stirring up people around you is not helpful. It is reasonable to ask workplaces to ask for and approve sick people staying home, and you should do the same.
But beyond that fear mongering just makes this all worse for everyone, without changing the spread of the novel coronavirus. Increased fear tends to drive poor decision making, and certainly is driving economic consequences. So trying to keep perspective is important.
If you do feel overwhelmed with anxiety, and people who already have anxiety particularly about health issues are at higher risk, then do consider seeing a professional. Some therapy can make a big difference in managing anxiety about all kinds of things, including the coronavirus.
7. Reduce stress.
If you’re like many people right now, you’re probably also feeling the stress that this outbreak has also created in our lives, whether that be due to canceled travel plans or fear of catching it.
Stress can be one of the biggest hindrances to our immunity, especially with the escalating situations surrounding COVID-19. My favorite remedy when I feel stress and anxiety rising is pranayama or breathing techniques. I love this because it’s simple and doesn’t cost anything.
But the key here is that it’s best done regularly when you have an ongoing stressful situation. Diaphragmatic breathing is powerful because it stimulates the vagus nerve to mediate the stress response of the nervous system, and this increased diaphragmatic movement also acts as a pump for the lymphatic system to support immune function.
To do this one, simply lie on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor and your hands on your belly. As you inhale, feel your belly expand into your hands and on the exhale feel your belly drop back toward the floor.
To magnify the effect, press the belly into the resistance of your hands on the inhale and feel the belly drop and relax on the exhale, keeping the rest of your body relaxed. Repeat for 3–5 minutes daily.
8. Do (gentle) yoga.
A simple yoga practice can be a great way to support the immune system. Not only can it decrease stress hormones in the body, but these easeful whole-body movements also act as a pump for the lymphatics to support your immune system.
The key here is simple movements with ease and deep breath. Simple sun salutations can be a great way to accomplish this, along with this yoga for lymphatic flow sequence.