We are all monitoring this ever so intently, grasping for any information we can get to understand what this virus means for ourselves, our children, our parents, and our loved ones. However, as I watch human behavior, I am struck by the incredibly high level of catastrophic thinking. The media is not helping—constant news. It fills 20-minutes of a 30-minute news spot, which causes an increase in fear. Catastrophic thinking is when someone assumes the worst—Doomsday—when the information does not support that theory.
What Does Proper Precaution Look Like?
We know that COVID-19 is a virus that causes upper respiratory issues. For the average American, you will experience something similar to an upper respiratory infection. There is no need to buy excessive amounts of Advil, water, or toilet paper. None of this is going to keep you from getting ill. I was interviewed yesterday by our local news source on this topic while toilet paper and paper towels were flying off the shelves.
The ones who need to have a heightened state of awareness are older adults (over 65) and those with a compromised immune system. The people who fall into these categories need to be more aware of what they are doing, washing their hands more and not going into public places with large crowds and germ potential. I also would agree that it would be wise not to travel out of the country or take a cruise right now.
How Anxiety Negatively Affects Your Health
With that said, the fear that I am seeing in people has me quite concerned. Our country has experienced pandemics before. We have an excellent medical system compared to many other countries worldwide. We also have a government, which is closely watching things (despite what conspiracy theories you are feeling). As a whole, we are a very intelligent group of people.
However, anxiety is rampant right now. Anxiety is trying to control something that is out of your control. You have no control over whether your neighbor contracts COVID-19 or if the lady standing next to you at the grocery store is a carrier and does not know it. Worrying about these things is honestly bad for your health. Chronic anxiety causes your body to stay in a state of fight or flight habitually.
This means your body is releasing hormones, thinking it is under attack all the time—when you are awake, sitting still, or sleeping. When your body does this over long periods, research shows that your immune system becomes more suppressed. Additionally, you have difficulties focusing and concentrating, which leaves you more susceptible to becoming injured because you are not focused on what you are doing. Chronic anxiety also causes gastrointestinal issues (No, this does not mean you should join the toilet paper hoarding craze). Chronic anxiety causes heart palpitations, which can decrease your heart’s efficiency over the long haul. And lastly, chronic anxiety can lead to depression.
With this said, worrying about you or your loved one catching COVID-19 is only making you more susceptible to catching it or worse yet, hindering your body from fighting the infection if you do get it. Your anxiety could potentially make you a carrier because your body is more susceptible due to your chronic anxiety.
Keep a Positive Mindset and Strengthen Your Immune System
So, take a deep breath of fresh air, relax, and focus on positives. Positives? What? There are no positives in this situation! Oh, my friend, there are. We get to have more quality time with loved ones because we are forced to do less with all the activities canceled. We can work on conquering fears and modeling that for our children. We can teach others not to catastrophize, which in turn builds our confidence and strengthens our immune system. Use your meditation, spend time in prayer, trust your faith, and relax your body. Pull out that yoga mat and let it go! And yes, if singing out and dancing is your way of calming, let those vocal cords go. Why? Because we do not have control of this virus coming into our community. It is already here. However, what we can control is ourselves, which will, in turn, reduce our catastrophic thinking.
At this time, I am recommending to my patients to watch no more than 30 minutes a day of news about COVID-19, whether it is on the TV, social media, or other sources. Focus on what is good in your life. Keep yourself anchored with the grit that is within you, reminding yourself and those you love to make the choices needed to keep anxiety at bay. Use grace for your kid who just wiped their hands on the floor or kissed the window of a restaurant (like mine did this week), which requires you to be in a calm state. We can do this, in so long as we stay calm and rational, as we process the information provided and make wise choices for ourselves and those we love. We have got this if we work together in a calm state, do not overwhelm our medical system, and keep a rational mind.
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