Looking for the way how to deal with health anxiety during the COVID-19? Studies show that many healthcare workers are worried about catching COVID-19, for themselves, and out of fear of passing it on to vulnerable clients and/or loved ones.
This fear can be intensified by news stories of other healthcare workers unknowingly passing the virus on to their clients, with fatal consequences. The mental load of this stress, and the constant vigilance to avoid infection, can be draining.
- 1 How to Deal with Health Anxiety During the COVID-19
How to Deal with Health Anxiety During the COVID-19
“The number one step to take is to schedule a time every day that you allow yourself to watch or read the news for 30 minutes max,” suggests Seponara. She also recommends setting similar boundaries with social media, since there’s a lot of news and COVID-related info on there, too. “Turn off electronics, notifications, and the TV. Believe me, you will get all the info you need in those 30 minutes.”
Maintain a solid foundation of healthy habits.
Spending more time at home because of lockdowns has seriously messed with everyone’s schedules. But Bufka says there’s a core group of practices most people need for good mental health: good sleep, regular physical activity, adequate hydration, good nutrition, and social connection (even if it’s virtual). Check-in with yourself and see how you’re managing with these basic health needs. If necessary, prioritize any that you’re currently missing. (And don’t forget that quarantine can potentially impact your mental health for the better.)
Try to keep things in perspective
It’s normal to be afraid of getting COVID-19. But beyond taking reasonable measures to avoid getting it, worrying about what might happen if you do get it won’t help. Truth is, being diagnosed with COVID-19 does not automatically mean a death sentence, notes Seponara. “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take proper precautions, but we cannot live our lives in fear.”
Incorporate mindful practices
Whether it’s yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, breathwork, or walking in nature, doing anything that helps you get into a calm, mindful state can help with anxiety in general, says Seponara. “A lot of research has also shown that living a more mindful life helps create a less hyperactive state in your mind and body,” she adds.
There are so many mental health benefits to exercise. But particularly for those with health anxiety, exercise can help people understand how their bodies change throughout the day, says Bufka. That might make some of the physical symptoms of anxiety less unsettling.
“You might suddenly feel your heart racing and think something’s wrong with you, having forgotten you just raced up the stairs to answer the phone or because the baby was crying,” explains Bufka. “Exercise helps to get people more in tune with what their body does.”
Change your mind-set
The way you think about bodily sensations and your overall health can provoke anxiety or dial it down, experts say. For example, focusing on negative symptoms or jumping to catastrophic conclusions can increase health anxiety. You can break these patterns with cognitive reframing: questioning your anxious thoughts and trying to create a more realistic assessment of your health, Bufka says. To do this, take a particular thought (I’ve been exhausted this week, so I must be getting sick) and consider other ways of looking at the situation (I’ve been working hard and skimping on sleep, so that’s why I’m wiped out).
Seek professional help
If you can’t reframe anxious thoughts on your own, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help, Abramowitz says. And don’t fret about having to physically meet with a practitioner: A September study that compared online with face-to-face CBT treatment for health anxiety found that the Internet version was as effective as in-person sessions, and cost less. (To find a reputable CBT professional, Abramowitz suggests turning to the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies or the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.) If a therapist can’t help, consult a psychiatrist; experts say that some people with intense health anxiety can benefit from taking an SSRI antidepressant.
Stick with a healthy lifestyle
Consume a healthy diet, get enough sleep, stay connected to others (even if it’s from afar) and exercise regularly. Although people with severe levels of health anxiety may avoid exercise because it makes them physically uncomfortable, Taylor says, that only compounds the problem. “Physical deconditioning kicks in very quickly,” he says, which can bring on other worrisome symptoms, such as an elevated heart rate or shortness of breath after climbing stairs. By contrast, research shows that aerobic exercise, especially high-intensity exercise, such as jogging, can have a significant and rapid effect in lowering anxiety.