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It is normal to experience fear in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Anxiety can be a healthy emotion that can be useful and protect us from danger. The aim of anxiety is to alert us of potential threats and helps us protect ourselves and move towards safety. It is therefore a normal reaction to experience anxiety in the wake of global pandemic.

Your anxiety can be affecting you negatively if you are struggling to maintain control and experience anxiety that is grossly out of proportion to your current situation, thus resulting in panic attacks, disturbed sleep, obsessive thoughts, etc.

To avoid becoming too anxious about the threat, the following steps can support you:

Be vigilant and maintain proper hygiene

Lower your risk by following hygiene standards offered by experts. Avoid shaking hands and instead opt to fist bump, elbow bumps or even nodding. Wash your hands for 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer whenever you return home or after any activity in locations where other people may have been. Avoid touching your face, particularly your eyes, nose and mouth. Whenever possible maintain a healthy distance from others during a conversation. Avoid being in close proximity to anyone coughing or sneezing. Use your knuckles or elbows to turn on light switches, open doors or press elevator buttons. Support your immune system by getting enough sleep, exercise and eating healthy. You may also wish to avoid overly crowded environments and limit your contact with others by only going out when it is necessary. Teleworking may be a possibility for you. This will not only help you protect yourself from risk but will also protect those around you from possible risk.

If you are unwell, do not go to work and avoid contact with others to reduce the chances of infecting others.

Limit your exposure to the news by only following one news source

Anxiety and panic are often a result of fear and uncertainty. With continual news regarding the spread of Coronavirus, it can be very overwhelming and even possibly confusing. It is easy to go into over-drive when you continuously are exposed to news stories and also a lot fake news. Be aware that some sources may use sensational headlines to attract traffic to their sites. It is advised to limit your information about the virus to one news source that you trust. Do so to remain as level-headed while still supporting yourself to know what is happening and how best to protect yourself and those around you.

Limit your use of social media

Currently social media is flooded with information about the Coronavirus and people worrying and over-reacting about how it will affect them. This can amplify your own fears and anxiety. It is recommended to limit your social media use to only 2 hours a day, and if it is a possibility, to eliminate its use entirely.

Seek the support of friends and family

It is a normal reaction to want to seek the help of others during a difficult period of time. Approach your friends and family and express your anxiety if you find it of support. Chances are you are not alone and you will find support in your time of need.

If it is still a challenge to maintain your anxiety, seek the advice of a professional.  Various professionals are offering online sessions if you are weary of meeting others face to face.

Stop, breathe, think

Should you find yourself becoming anxious, do not push the feeling away, instead, take a moment to breathe, acknowledge what you are feeling, think and ask yourself what would help you in that current moment in time. By brining awareness to what you are feeling and allowing yourself time to think, you are giving time for the rational part of the brain to catch up the emotional, thus reducing the emotions of fear and anxiety.

We are exposed to an extraordinary situation that is testing our limits. The very best we can do is to accept the inevitable situation we are in do our best to maintain and support our wellbeing by following the advice of experts, be vigilant and take this all in one step at a time.

Petra Borg is a Trainee Gestalt Psychotherapist currently reading for a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy from the Gestalt Therapy Institute Malta (GPTIM) and working at Willingness as a Trainee Psychotherapist. She has experience as a Triage Officer and has also worked closely with Willingness over several years, coordinating the international internship programme and providing support over diverse events and initiatives.

Resources:

Anna Medaris Miller, How to cope with coronavirus anxiety, according to psychologists, Business Insider, www-businessinsider-com

Bryan Robinson, The Psychology of Uncertainty: How to Cope with COVID-19 Anxiety, Forbes.com

Lisa Damour, 5 Ways to help teens manage anxiety about the Coronavirus, The New York Times, nytimes.com

Nina Bai, Feeling Anxiety about coronavirus? A psychologist offers tips to stay clearheaded. University of California San Francisco, ucsf.edu