Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources, Testing, Vaccine Updates & Screening Video Visits View More

Managing Health Anxiety During COVID-19 and Flu Season

By Stacey J. Feuer, PsyD, MLD

If you or some­one you know has been expe­ri­enc­ing increased dis­tress in the past nine months, you are not alone. Accord­ing to the CDC, approx­i­mate­ly 30% of respon­dents sur­veyed at the end of June report­ed symp­toms of anx­i­ety and/​or depres­sion (Czeisler et al., 2020). As we con­tin­ue to adjust and learn to man­age the chal­lenges of 2020, it is impor­tant that we start with this premise: Expe­ri­enc­ing anx­i­ety dur­ing a time of ongo­ing change and stress is often a rea­son­able response. Anx­i­ety is not the ene­my. Expe­ri­enc­ing unpleas­ant emo­tions is not a sign that we are doing some­thing wrong. Emo­tions are data, com­mu­ni­cat­ing impor­tant infor­ma­tion about how our envi­ron­ment is affect­ing us. Try to acknowl­edge and make space for that emo­tion and lis­ten to what that data is telling you. This will help deter­mine what, if any, strate­gies may help keep that emo­tion at a more man­age­able level.

In addi­tion to gen­er­al anx­i­ety, some may be expe­ri­enc­ing anx­i­ety that is focused specif­i­cal­ly on ill­ness or the fear of ill­ness. Health anx­i­ety of this type may arise or be exac­er­bat­ed by the cur­rent cir­cum­stances of a glob­al pan­dem­ic. How do we know when our health-relat­ed anx­i­ety has become a prob­lem? It may be help­ful to dis­tin­guish between help­ful and unhelp­ful health anx­i­ety. Help­ful” health anx­i­ety will 1) alert you to pos­si­ble dan­ger, and 2) cause you to think about the sit­u­a­tion until you have iden­ti­fied pos­si­ble solu­tions. If we find our­selves con­tin­u­ing to focus on the issue repeat­ed­ly (rumi­na­tion) with­out iden­ti­fy­ing any solu­tions, our health anx­i­ety may have moved into the unhelp­ful” zone. 

There are sev­er­al types of strate­gies that we can uti­lize to help man­age this type of anxiety:

1. Seek out accu­rate infor­ma­tion from rep­utable sources such as CDC, NIH, Johns Hop­kins. Try to lim­it Google search­es once you have obtained a rea­son­able amount of information.

2. Take appro­pri­ate steps to feel safe based on these guide­lines: social dis­tance, wear a mask and wash your hands.

3. Objec­tive­ly eval­u­ate your cir­cum­stances: Am I unsafe or just uncom­fort­able in this moment?

4. Engage in inten­tion­al acts of relax­ation to decrease phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al stress: diaphrag­mat­ic and mind­ful breath­ing exer­cis­es, pro­gres­sive mus­cle relax­ation and ground­ing exer­cis­es using your five senses.

5. Increase engage­ment in social inter­ac­tion and reward­ing activ­i­ties. Con­nect more with fam­i­ly and friends in a safe man­ner. Remem­ber to go out­side on a reg­u­lar basis. Engage in creative/​fun activities.

6. Recall pre­vi­ous times of stress that you have expe­ri­enced. How did you even­tu­al­ly cope with those sit­u­a­tions? What strengths did you real­ize about your­self? How can you apply those strengths to the cur­rent situation? 

7. Kids’ Korner tips: Help man­age your kids’ anx­i­ety with the fol­low­ing strategies:

  • Be hon­est about what is hap­pen­ing while keep­ing infor­ma­tion age-appropriate.
  • Iden­ti­fy small tasks that they can accom­plish to increase their sense of control.
  • Mod­el the behav­ior you would like your kids to practice.

As this dif­fi­cult and chal­leng­ing year comes to a close, it is most impor­tant to remem­ber that this sit­u­a­tion will evolve and change over time. We will not be stuck in this moment for­ev­er. Uncer­tain­ty can be one of the most dif­fi­cult chal­lenges we face as human beings. How­ev­er, we know from our expe­ri­ences that all sit­u­a­tions change even­tu­al­ly, and we move on. This can be a help­ful reminder when anx­i­ety begins to feel overwhelming. 

If anx­i­ety begins to sig­nif­i­cant­ly impact your mood, activ­i­ties or moti­va­tion, it may be time to seek out addi­tion­al sup­port. The Insti­tute for Per­son­al Devel­op­ment (IPD), a mem­ber of DuPage Med­ical Group, pro­vides men­tal and behav­ioral health ser­vices to help indi­vid­u­als achieve long-last­ing emo­tion­al, men­tal and phys­i­cal well-being. If you would like to learn more or sched­ule an appoint­ment, please call 815−942−6323 or vis­it IPDhealth​.com.

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” ~Arthur Ashe


Ref­er­ences:

Czeisler MÉ , Lane RI, Pet­rosky E, et al. Men­tal Health, Sub­stance Use, and Sui­ci­dal Ideation Dur­ing the COVID-19 Pan­dem­ic — Unit­ed States, June 24 – 30, 2020. MMWR Morb Mor­tal Wkly Rep 2020;69:1049 – 1057. DOI: http://​dx​.doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​5​5​8​5​/​m​m​w​r​.​m​m​6​9​3​2​a​1​e​x​t​ernal icon.