Anybody have any tips on dealing with coronavirus anxiety?
March 9, 2020 7:18 PM   Subscribe

So this whole thing is freaking me out. Generally I don't pay attention to the media, I think there's too much sensationalism, but now I'm getting the feeling that this is all very serious. I'm waiting to hear back from the colleges I applied to for grad school in Canada. I'm hoping I don't get a bunch of no's because of this damn virus.

I'm also pretty scared of the economy going under. If possible I'd like to stay in Canada afterwards and open a business. Economic collapse puts an obstacle in those plans. I plan to do whatever is necessary, but I would hope that things are better 2 years from now.

I am also pretty upset at the response Trump has given to this whole thing. He's been playing games with it and he seems more interested in saving his presidency rather than doing something about it. He's also tanking the economy with his foolish nonsense.

I have older parents, my other is 57 and my father 65. My aunt is 66 and my uncle 60. They are concerned for their safety.

I'm also angry at the Chinese government. They knew about these wild life markets and just how dangerous they were. Then they knew about the virus and tried cover it up, wasting time and resources in the process. Now the rest of us are stuck with this thing.

I don't know I'm just really upset about it all.
posted by Tarsonis10 to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I will be eagerly watching this thread for replies, because I am also really anxious. It really feels like the world is falling down, and in a bigger and scarier way than it has felt like it's been falling down since... the 2016 election. (Recognizing my privilege in saying that!)

One thing I have tried to do is minimize time talking to people who are saying, "Oh, you're totally fine, don't worry" (because then I have two problems - feeling anxious AND having someone put down my feelings as dumb). I DO seek out and enjoy talking with people who are calmer than me and/or more resigned about the future -- I just don't engage with people who are putting down my justified fear.

Other things I have been doing that have been helping:
-- not drinking alcohol, and only drinking tea, no coffee
-- not reading fiction that is super paranoid/anxious (i.e. I started reading The Talented Mr. Ripley and the main character spends the first part of the book suspecting everyone of following him and I just had to put it down)
-- reaching out to friends and family -- after the first outreach, disengaging from the aforementioned "You're fiiiiiine" family members, and strengthening connections with the others
-- Gardening and other outside activities
-- Laughing at memes

Thank you for reaching out and posting this AskMe, it actually made me feel less anxious to read your experience, and I hope you get lots of good replies.
posted by rogerroger at 8:09 PM on March 9, 2020 [10 favorites]

There will be plenty of time for blame later, right now you should focus on what you can do for your family and for yourself to make sure that you all stay safe. That’s the part you have control over.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:11 PM on March 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It's understandable that you're freaking out. But there are things you can do to manage your freaking out and things you can do about the coronavirus.

Understand that we're in a stage where we're finding out how bad it is in the USA, as more people are tested as more test kits become available. There will be cases identified in every major city, in every state, but those cases were already there, for the most part, a week ago. Only now we know.

And that's good, because we can do things about it. As a society, it may still be possible to contain it, if we test, track contacts, get people to self-quarantine. So says Bruce Aylward, who led the World Health Organization mission to China to investigate what they had done.

Your part in that is to track what the organizations you're a part of (clubs, church, student groups, etc.) are doing, and to follow instructions to self-quarantine if they are issued.

What's known about Covid-19 statistically is still evolving, but it does look like people in their 60's and up are at greater risk. Risk also goes up for people with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other conditions.

You can help your family members by pointing them to good information sources, like this previous askMefi q&a and help them strategize how to avoid crowds, etc. if cases are identified in their area, or even before.

You can also advocate for more testing, cheap or free vaccines when they become available (probably not this year), solid information provided by government and media, and good healthcare generally.

I'm no fan of our current President, but the best thing to do about that is work to change who runs the country in the White House, the Congress, and in your state and local government.

There's not much you can do about China, so I'd focus elsewhere.
posted by alittleknowledge at 8:16 PM on March 9, 2020 [10 favorites]

Someone elsewhere on Mefi recently reposted the sage reminder that "Worry is not a strategy." There are things you can do to reduce your chance of catching and transmitting the coronavirus, and to be prepared in case for whatever reason you get the 14-day quarantine. But you can't do anything about whether the economy collapses, or what China is doing. Focus on what you can affect. Cut back on social media and news consumption if it's causing you to fixate on things you can't. Seek out positive distractions, especially including any creative or crafting activities that put you in flow.
posted by praemunire at 8:20 PM on March 9, 2020 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Why make it a struggle when it hasn't happened yet? We don't know if there will be economic collapse. You can't predict the future. Who can say what will happen two years from now or two days from now?

When I'm stressed about the future it helps to come back to the now and ask myself some questions. Am I okay right now? Is there anything harming me at this moment? What am I doing? I'm in my house typing on a laptop. What if I were sick in a hospital bed with virus? I'm still alive being treated. What if I die? I'll be dead. (but these are not pertinent questions because they aren't happening NOW. Be with what is happening now.) Try to take it moment by moment, day by day, and try not to worry too much about the future -- because that's the definition of anxiety.

Anger at governments is understandable but again, who can waste energy on something that has already happened? What can your government do for you right now that you can't do for yourself as far as precautions? Bureaucracy and Trump suck but what can you do about it at this time? Maybe we were unprepared but I have faith that we will get it together, despite our initial weak preparedness. There are many competent governors that will do right by their states.

Who can be mad at a species jump, apart from illegal trafficking and harming endangered animals? That is upsetting and I understand the anger but again, it's beyond anyone's control. What is done is done and until it's eradicated or there is herd immunity there is nothing we can do but take precautions, prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.

I know very much how you feel and it's nerve wracking to have this new coronavirus in our midst. Still, try not to worry too much until something happens. If and when something happens you can worry then -- if you want to. You might be fine and take things as they come.

About grad school -- universities still need money and students. Everybody needs money and business. Nobody is going to turn money away unless good reason or forced to close. If you are a qualified applicant, expect the best.
posted by loveandhappiness at 8:23 PM on March 9, 2020 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Check for thinking traps and cognitive distortions. I use an app called Youper to help me manage my anxiety and track which thinking traps come up when I am most anxious or have really fixated on something. It may help you do the same. I hope you things turn out the way you need them to.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 8:39 PM on March 9, 2020 [6 favorites]

Your acceptances to Canadian universities will be based on academics and funding, not public health. You may need to plan for arriving in Canada an extra two weeks early in order to self-quarantine, if COVID-19 is still a concern in the fall and if where you are coming from has more cases at that time than where you are moving to.

So far Canada seems to be managing disease transmission risks better than the US, although given the close links between the two countries, the number of cases in Canada is likely to rise. In the event that whatever university you would be attending is closed at the time, this would simply delay the start of your classes and program.
posted by eviemath at 8:58 PM on March 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

In terms of your acceptances to university, you might actually be better off than usual. At the university where I work (and others I am familiar with, in Australia which has a similarly low number of cases to Canada), our applications from out of country have dropped, presumably due to students not knowing whether they will be able to travel. So someone applying to us would be competing with fewer students for our fixed funding pool. (And if it's not a funded place, well, we are DESPERATE for fee-paying students, to make up for all the fee-paying overseas students who have postponed their studies or withdrawn their applications in light of the virus situation).
posted by lollusc at 9:09 PM on March 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

I (a person who has never met you so please consider on your own) doubt your anxiety is about this one specific thing. We have a 24 hours news cycle and it's always something (though yes, this is getting a lot of hype). I won't list other things that I think our brains conveniently slide off of because the anxiety is too large, but I believe if you really dig down into your anxiety, it's maybe the life changes you're so close to achieving. We recommend therapy for a reason. Self help on how to deal with anxiety could help.

Take a minute and breath. Close your eyes. Think about the other things you're worried about. Are you displacing your fears for them onto this convenient (and scarily talked about) disease? Because I think you would've survived the cold and flu season and I don't think the flu entered your brain once in the last decade of your life as a thing you were worried about. I'm not downplaying this new disease here, but for you specifically, are you sure this is what is actually scaring you?

If you do grapple with and interrogate this anxiety, you will be so much better prepared for the next. The media and crisis things will not stop.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:49 PM on March 9, 2020 [6 favorites]

I have found that talking to older people helps. My mom, who is in her eighties and typically very anxious, rolled her eyes when I brought up COVID-19. “Oh my God,” she said. “You have to remember that I have been through this before with flu epidemics and polio and AIDS before anybody knew what it was, and all the times people had to be quarantined with stuff like measles and scarlet fever. This isn’t humanity’s first epidemic. And we’re better prepared now than we ever were before.”

So there’s that to consider.
posted by corey flood at 10:02 PM on March 9, 2020 [37 favorites]

Previously: Coronavirus - I'm too anxious, right? (links to resources that may be helpful)
posted by katra at 11:03 PM on March 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

now I'm getting the feeling that this is all very serious.

This is a good thing! This means you can trust your instincts. This is absolutely the biggest global crisis since the financial crisis in 2008, and the sense of girding yourself for unknown and scary impacts is pretty universal.

If I can offer some reassurance: Here in Hong Kong the crisis has been more acutely focused, maybe, because we are a very dense and quite small society, and yet most things that need to happen are happening: the power, water and internet still work; lessons for students are continuing online; people are still shopping and eating out and hiking and travelling. Yes, we’re all worried, washing our hands more, working from home and avoiding gatherings. The government is giving everyone HKD 10,000/CAD 1755 to stimulate consumption locally in the fall. We’re going to get through this and the vast majority of us will not get sick; those that do can expect to receive excellent care. China and Hong Kong have a complicated relationship, but blame is definitely shared between both jurisdictions in the spread of the virus not being stopped earlier.

So to answer your question, here’s my tip: Ask yourself if most or all of those things I mentioned above about Hong Kong are true in Canada too. Most people won’t get sick; the economy will be challenging but not collapse entirely; the health services will cope. The government isn’t perfect but is publishing information daily on the local response to quarantines, the virus’ spread, travel restrictions...I think you can expect Canada/your province to do the same.

Good luck! And keep washing your hands. :)
posted by mdonley at 12:36 AM on March 10, 2020 [11 favorites]

Stop watching the news. All it does is exacerbate anxiety. Trust me, if there’s a cure for this thing, you won’t need to be watching the news to know about it and if they end up locking down your home state, you’ll also find out about it, news or no news. So just go about your business, take some common sense precautions that you already know about and focus on your mental health.
posted by Jubey at 12:38 AM on March 10, 2020 [7 favorites]

I've been feeling the same way and I couldn't second Jubey's response harder. I found myself spiralling while reading the updates and realised that I was doing myself a disservice. I was no more well-informed by reading every little local update than I was if I was just going about my day. You don't need to watch the news and I promise you'll feel better if you don't. Read a good book. Watch a funny TV show. (For me it's been Brooklyn 99 reruns.) You will be fine, just don't feed your anxiety by giving it more to chew on.
posted by unicorn chaser at 3:28 AM on March 10, 2020

Try to minimize talking to people who downplay this crisis.

If someone compares it to the flu, it shows a lack of awareness that Covid-19 is 20 times deadlier and twice as contagious.

If someone says the country has survived so many scares in the past, it is coming from a mindset of privilege that epidemics only kill people in other countries.

It is anxiety-producing to talk with people who are downplaying a pandemic, because that results in a lack of precautions. Try to avoid talking to them.

Think about what you can do. You can wash your hands and use hand sanitizer. You can maintain social distancing.

After the initial bad response, the Chinese government did an intense lockdown. They have successfully contained the disease in their country, and each day they now have fewer new cases than in the US.

Although the US government is not taking these precautions, you can do them for yourself.
posted by cheesecake at 4:17 AM on March 10, 2020

If someone says the country has survived so many scares in the past, it is coming from a mindset of privilege that epidemics only kill people in other countries

Again, I want to suggest talking to people born at a time when they did not grow up with vaccines or antibiotics or antivirals.All of them had people in their families and communities who died from or were maimed by what we now consider preventable or treatable diseases. All of them. Seriously, have a conversation with someone who can tell you about what a miracle quarantine can be when polio is killing children in your neighborhood and you’re terrified about who could be next. They will tell you that communities are quite capable of pulling together to stop the spread of a disease.
posted by corey flood at 6:24 AM on March 10, 2020 [6 favorites]

I wouldn't be worried about grad schools -- they flourished in 2008 economic downturn and I had no problem getting in back then. I don't even see why Covid would make them roll back on admissions rates at all. With a very few exceptions they need students and either their research assistance or tuition to survive

It's not unreasonable to be angry with the Chinese govt for not regulating those markets -- most chinese I know feel upset too. Same with the US govt. We are at our govts mercy and it can be frustrating
posted by shaademaan at 6:30 AM on March 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

If someone says the country has survived so many scares in the past, it is coming from a mindset of privilege that epidemics only kill people in other countries

This is flat out not true. A lot of us are certainly old enough to remember the early days of the AIDS crisis, which was utterly devastating to the gay community in the US. OP, if you can find the documentary "How to Survive a Plague,", that will give you a sense of the terror people all around you now were living with then. Putting this in historical context is very helpful to me and may be helpful to you as well.

In general, I turn to history when the world feels awful. Your grandparents or great-grandparents lived through the devastation of World War II (which also killed many Americans, though more people in other countries died). I recently watched the Ken Burns documentary on Prohibition, and what really struck me was how utterly important all of that seemed to people at the time - people on both sides - and how it doesn't seem to matter at all now. This is a hard time, but it will pass, and people, including people you know, have lived through far worse.
posted by FencingGal at 6:32 AM on March 10, 2020 [15 favorites]

What if you can't use hand sanitizer? There is none near me. This is the absolute type of bullshit that plays directly into the anxious mind.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 6:34 AM on March 10, 2020

I do a lot of things and then counsel myself that I'm doing all I can so if anything happens to me, it won't because I haven't done all the things.

Wash your hands in cool water, not hot, and not for too long, and moisturize them afterwards so they don't get uncomfortably dry. I cannot stand greasy lotion on my palms, so what I do, I put a tiny dollop on the back of one hand and then rub the backs together. Use something light that'll take care of the problem but not gum you up intolerably.

If you're going to work, take your own lotion to the bathroom with you. If you use the communal work lotion, grab it with a singleuse towel, put a dollop on another singleuse towel, wash your hands, dip into the dollop, rub, pick up and throw away your dollop towel with yet another singleuse towel. (I rationalize that since I've practiced towel austerity for years, the uptick in my towel use during the pandemic is okay.)

It's impossible to not touch your face, as umpty videos have shown, but you can reduce contact with your eyes, nose, and mouth. You can get better and better at this.

Every time you wash your hands or wipe down a surface or grab a door handle with your sleeve or thwart the impulse to put a finger in an eye, repeat: I am doing what I can; I can't do more than what I can.

Trump, by contrast, is not doing anything. He is likely to get sick soon, the poor feebleminded old shambles, if not of this, of something else brought on by his having followed zero health and safety recommendations for most of his benighted existence. I take all of the various emotional reactions I might be tempted to feel about various people and institutions and pile them all on Trump. It simplifies things beautifully. And he has more than earned my disdain.
posted by Don Pepino at 6:36 AM on March 10, 2020 [4 favorites]

What if you can't use hand sanitizer? There is none near me. This is the absolute type of bullshit that plays directly into the anxious mind.

Wash your hands with soap and water is the recommended course of action anyway so you are okay. Make sure you have soap.

This is from the CDC directly:
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 7:14 AM on March 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

Lots of events are being cancelled. A number of people are working from home. In any area where there are cases, there are associated costs. There is a hit to the economy when people don't spend money - on a flight, on a ticket to an event, at a restaurant. Also, when workers can't or don't go to work. There are boosts in a few areas - medical supplies, delivery services. Overall, there will be a certain amount of lost productivity, which will and should be reflected in some market losses. The economy and the market will recover.

Universities are going to consider your application as well as they can, and Coronavirus isn't going to be a factor in your admission. It may affect in-person interviews or other things.

Some individuals may have severe medical costs because US health care is maliciously stupid. About 800 individuals in the US have died, and that number will increase. Encourage your parents and other seniors to follow CDC guidelines. Hand washing with bar soap or hand-washing liquid is really effective at controlling disease. Wash your hands often and thoroughly. Watch the handwashing videos. Trim your nails and use a nail brush - fingernails harbor germs. Cough or sneeze into your clothed elbow or a tissue, which you dispose of promptly. Eat nutritious food and get adequate sleep.

This is way bigger than we can control. Somebody lived in close proximity to animals or brought wild animals to a market. The US response has been inadequate in many ways. Some cruise ship companies don't seem to have used any sense. Anger at them does no good. Do what you can to help family members and neighbors prepare and stay safe. Once you have done what you can, don't watch the news obsessively. Read about other things, watch shows that are lower stress. Meditate. Pray, if that's your spiritual option. Listen to music. If you haven't voted in your primary yet, get that absentee ballot.
posted by theora55 at 7:36 AM on March 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

I was thinking about this last night - I hope it helps.

Check in with yourself. Are you - in this moment - physically safe? Maybe not perfectly healthy, but safe - with sufficient food, water, warmth, and comfort? Think about the people you love - right now, are they healthy, comfortable, and within reach by a phone call?

If that's true, for most of human history, you would've counted yourself not only fine, but lucky. Today is a day you would've known to be grateful for. Not only thousands, but millions of people could have died in China, and you would still have felt safe and happy. An illness could've arrived in Italy; you would've stayed safe and happy. You would understand that there was a new illness in the world only when it directly affected you, or someone close to you, and - and even then, odds were you would've gotten sick without ever knowing that your disease had anything to do with a disease in China or in Italy or the next state over - it would've just been a disease, as dangerous but unpredictable as the weather.

Think of what's happening now, instead. People got sick in China. Did it take longer for them to identify it and react than it might have in an ideal world? Sure. Did they nonetheless identify it and react with lightning speed enabled only by a level of contemporary science and a communication that would've been unthinkable even 20 years ago? Yes. When the illness arrived in Italy, did they know - because of the deep levels of knowledge that came to them directly and immediately from China - what was coming and how to prepare? Yes, in a way that reveals the incredible interconnectivity in the world - China's experience was Italy's experience is now our experience. News of the virus traveled ahead of the virus in a way that is allowing us not only to worry, but to prepare.

Now, here in the U.S., our preparations are feeling insufficient compared to other places in the world...which we all know, because we have total access to the best possible scientific advice from WHO and Johns Hopkins and the CDC, and access to the examples of best practices from countries from Singapore to South Korea. Instantly.

And in those places - and hopefully, soon, here - millions, if not billions of people are drastically changing their behavior in a coordinated ever to mitigate the spread of a disease that, a hundred years ago, none of us would even have known existed yet. When , say, I don't get on a plane to Austin next week, I will because a government in a country where I'd never been identified a disease that had been in existence for less than six months, that had not affected anyone I had ever met - and yet I will change my behavior in order to be part of a collective effort to help protect people - not myself, necessarily, or even the people I love, but other people in this giant collectivity of which I am a part.

That is fucking mind-blowing. It's so sci fi as to be almost fantastical. And if your (and my!) danger detector is malfunctioning lately - if it's really hard to understand how to feel in this moment, it's because this is a genuinely new experience for humanity...and what is counterintuitive but I think inarguably true, is that it's not a bad one. Epidemics are a bad thing, yes. And on individual level, for individual people, bad things are indisputably coming. And yet, as a collective....these bad feelings you're having, this anxiety and the sense that something is happening to you now, when in fact, right now, things are only happening far away, to other's a societal good. It is helping us to work to protect ourselves in a way we never could have before. Your fear is a function of knowledge, and that fear is helping to protect not just you, but all of us.

So tell it thank you. Be grateful and marvel at it a little. Call your parents, tell them you love them and are grateful for them. If there are any items on the CDC preparation checklist you haven't done yet, then do them. And then make yourself a cup of tea and read a book and let yourself feel grateful for everything you have.
posted by Merricat Blackwood at 8:00 AM on March 10, 2020 [84 favorites]

Nature is helpful to me when I get anxious. I am reminded of so many things that I cherish.

I am a part of the world.

The world is beautifully complex in it's simplicity.

I only control me, right now.

I don't own a time machine. I cannot go back or forward. I have this moment.

I try to bring myself into the natural world and be present.

The birds of Spring have arrived and I am with them.
posted by zerobyproxy at 1:35 PM on March 10, 2020 [6 favorites]

A lot of the advice people are giving here reminds me of what helped me after (since you mentioned it) the 2016 election. It helped me to feel in my gut that we are living in the same world as all past generations lived in. Chaos and war and bad government and disease are not the boogeymen of history books never to be seen again...

Some of us anxious types end up that way because we think if we just do everything perfectly, we will get the perfect outcome. Like the natural state of things starts at 100% and points are only deducted if you did something wrong. So we look for "the mistake". And there will always be mistakes to find if that's what you're looking for.

But plagues and war and disaster, and government officials going off and doing things for their own benefit without caring about the peasants? All of this has always been with us. And people have always managed to keep going and live with it, and do the best we can, and enjoy our lives and fall in love and laugh at dumb jokes and smile at sunsets. You can be part of that great continuity of spirit of keeping living even during times of tumult.
posted by Lady Li at 4:28 PM on March 10, 2020 [7 favorites]

7 science-based strategies to cope with coronavirus anxiety (Jelena Kecmanovic, The Conversation) - 'Anxiety is part of life, but should not take over your life.'
As the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues its global spread and the number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases continues to increase, anxiety related to the outbreak is on the rise too.

As a psychologist, I am seeing this in my practice already. Although feeling anxiety in response to a threat is a normal human reaction, sustained high anxiety can undermine constructive responses to the crisis. People who already suffer from anxiety and related disorders are especially likely to have a hard time during the coronavirus crisis.
posted by ZeusHumms at 5:19 PM on March 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

cheesecake's response (at least the first couple of points) made me MORE anxious; I wonder why they did this.
posted by DMelanogaster at 9:44 PM on March 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

> cheesecake's response (at least the first couple of points) made me MORE anxious; I wonder why they did this.

For me, it increases anxiety to see others be cavalier and downplay risk. That mindset leads to them not taking precautions, which spreads the illness faster.

For example, some people in my life are determined to still travel and attend large gatherings because they "want to live their life" and they figure Covid-19 is like the flu. One person in my life is planning to go on a cruise soon.

For me, it reduces anxiety to minimize time with people who downplay the risk. When I instead talk with people who are taking it seriously, washing hands, and disinfecting, I feel that we can work together to mitigate the spread.

Sounds like your mileage varies, and I respect that.
posted by cheesecake at 2:42 AM on March 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

Merricat Blackwood, I wish I could favorite your comment a thousand times. What a great way to reframe a bad situation and find the positive, the humanity, in it. Thank you for your comment - it lit a candle for me on a dark day, and I hope it does for many others. Thank you.
posted by widdershins at 7:46 AM on March 11, 2020 [4 favorites]

Coronavirus: how to stop the anxiety spiralling out of control (Jo Daniels, The Conversation)
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:49 AM on March 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

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