10 ways to ease anxiety amid coronavirus

It’s been a tough time for the world as the number of coronavirus or COVID-19 cases keep soaring. Since the disease broke out on December 31, 2019 in Wuhan, China, it has spread across the globe.

As of Friday, the coronavirus had spread to 199 countries and territories, as well as one international conveyance – the Diamond Princess cruise ship harboured in Yokohama, Japan.

Also, the World Health Organisation had reported over 576,000 cases, out of which over 26,000 had died. The United States led the pack of recorded cases, with over 94,000 residents being infected and more than 1,400 deaths. This was followed by Italy, with about 86,000 cases and 9,000 deaths; China had 81,000 cases and 3,200 deaths; and Spain, 64,000 cases and 4,900 deaths.

Due to the rapid spread of the virus, cities have been locked down, schools shut, religious houses closed. Markets, except those which sell essential commodities, have also been closed around the world. Both the rich and the poor are affected.

Nigeria has also not been spared of the coronavirus spread. As of Friday, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control said the country had recorded 70 cases, out of which three had recovered and one had died.

Lagos State led the pack of states with COVID-19 cases, having a record of 44, followed by the Federal Capital Territory, with 14 cases. Ogun and Oyo states had three cases each. Bauchi had 2. Ekiti, Oyo, Osun, Rivers and Edo states had one case each.

However, the story has not been that of gloom only. As of Tuesday, more than 103,000 coronavirus patients had recovered globally, while scientists have also been holding clinical trials in search of a cure to the pandemic.

For example, the New York Times reported that a team of researchers from McMaster University and the University of Toronto, both in Canada, had isolated the agent within the novel coronavirus that would help the world develop better diagnostic tools and, eventually, a vaccine.

But while the pandemic lasts, experts have cautioned against panicking but rather observing healthy tips such as washing of hands with soap and running water; use of hand sanitiser where soap and water are unavailable; use of face masks; social distancing; as well as self-isolation.

Apart from the above, psychologists have suggested the following 10 ways to ease anxiety and not succumb to fears until the pandemic is over.

Know the facts

A psychologist and author based in the United States, Dr Harriet Lerner, who has spent much of her career researching the effects of anxiety and fear on individuals, families and larger systems, said one of the ways to overcome fears amid the COVID-19 pandemic was not to be a consumer of false information, which the Internet is rife with these days.

“My advice for coping is the same for all the scary events and possibilities that life brings: Go for the facts – even difficult ones – because anxiety escalates and fantasies flourish in the absence of information,” she told the New York Times.

Lerner, however, warned against information overload “because too much information can aggravate stress,” she added.

Lerner suggested avoiding unregulated online news sources and relying on depoliticised ones.

“Under stress, people are unlikely to rethink the filters through which they see reality. It’s our responsibility to pay attention to our own most valued sources of information and to follow up-to-date instructions to the letter,” she said.

Refrain from shaming and blaming

While some peoples’ actions and inaction might be responsible for the pandemic, Lerner said anxiety usually rose high when such people were blamed.

She said, “When survival anxiety is high and goods feel scarce, it’s easy to blame or scapegoat others, forgetting that we are all in it together.

“Our target may be a particular group or an individual, like the woman who sneezes in line in front of us, which leads to a lack of recognition that humans are more alike than different.

“While we can’t fully eradicate our fears, we can work to understand how anxiety operates and how it affects us – for better and for worse. If we make a deliberate effort to hold onto our humanity, it can bring us together.”

Don’t procrastinate about preparing for the worst

Lerner said anxiety could push people to under- or overreact.

“So we either engage in compulsive hand washing or we do the opposite and act like the germ theory doesn’t apply to us,” she said.

She added that anxiety could mount if people postponed or ignored expert counsel.

She said, “Passivity and inaction will make fear grow. So, instead of giving up and saying, ‘I can’t keep my hands off my face,’ make the necessary changes, take precautionary measures now.

“If you haven’t done your best to get a couple of extra weeks’ supply of food or medication, do it today. If you feel frozen, ask a friend to push you to act and help you make wise decisions about how much you need of what.”

Practise hygiene

A psychiatrist based in Lagos, Mr Bosun Lawal, said it was important to practise self-care without waiting to be told amid the spread of the virus in Nigeria.

He advised Nigerians to engage in healthy practices and sustain them because they could bring some sort of relief.

He said, “I wanted to buy some food items from a trader on Monday in Ketu, Lagos and I noticed she was not observing all the necessary healthy tips that were being publicised like using hand gloves, face masks and the rest.

“When I asked why she had yet to comply, she said it had not got to that. I was shocked. I think some people are still taking this pandemic for granted. Some people even believe it’s a hoax. Some who believe have yet to start practising hygiene.

“Nobody needs to be told to start practising self-hygiene. If possible, some traders should close their shops, especially those who don’t sell essential commodities. I think this is the way we can fight the virus.”

Focus on what you can control

Mental and wellness experts, Melinda Smith and Lawrence Robinson, advised that when you felt yourself getting caught up in fear of what might happen, try to shift your focus to things you could control.

They wrote on helpguide.org, “Even though you can’t control how severe the coronavirus pandemic is in your city or community, you can take steps to reduce your own personal risk such as: washing your hands frequently (for at least 20 seconds) with soap and water or a hand sanitiser that contains at least 60 per cent alcohol; avoiding touching your face (particularly your eyes, nose, and mouth); staying home as much as possible, even if you don’t feel sick; avoiding all non-essential shopping and travel; and getting plenty of sleep, which helps support your immune system.”

Take care of your body and spirit

Lerner said self-care was more important in this trying period to scale through.

She said, “Therapy, conversation, exercise, yoga, meditation, religious and spiritual practices are good starting points, but also consider the healing impacts of making art, singing, journaling and being useful to others.

“While we can’t drive fear off with a big stick, we can learn ways to calm ourselves down and find a little peace of mind. Action is powerful, even if we start with just one thing.”

Connect with family and friends

Social distancing and self-isolation require people to stay at home during this period, however, Lerner said that didn’t mean people should not communicate with others.

“It’s essential to stay in communication with family, friends, neighbours and other resources and find ways to keep calm. Use the phone, text, email – all means possible – to stay connected to friends, neighbours, your adult children, anyone who matters to you. Especially those who induce a sense of calm rather than chaos. People need to hear your voice – and vice versa,” she said.

Be a source of comfort

Anxiety is contagious, according to a 2014 study by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany.

The study stated that ‘empathetic stress’ could increase as a result of witnessing someone else in distress, whether they were a loved one or a total stranger.

Hence, an author and Director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, Robert Leahy, advised, “When we see worrying on a global scale, it is not surprising that we will be affected. So try to be the person who calms a friend or partner down, and you should both benefit.”

“Don’t buy everything in the supermarket, don’t go out with symptoms, check on your neighbours, help each other out – because kindness is contagious, too,” Leahy wrote in The Guardian UK.

Maintain a daily schedule

Health expert, Dr Madelyn Fernstrom, said maintaining a daily schedule would go a long way in reducing stress amid the pandemic.

“And if you have children at home, it’s doubly important. Set a daily wake-up time and specific times for work/school, meals, exercise, household chores and leisure. And establish a regular bedtime. A consistent routine will go a long way to keeping your stress at bay,” she wrote on NBC News.

Hope for the best

In this stressful period, Lerner said it was important for people to try to manage their anxiety not to pass it on to others.“We should not let fear lead us into isolation or stop us from acting with clarity, compassion and courage. Terrible things happen, but it is still possible to move forward with love and hope,” she said.

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