COVID-19 has triggered an uptick in anxiety and stress leading to a condition health professionals are calling “coronaphobia.” Experts say that worry and anxiety over a perceived threat to health can have serious consequences on well-being.
Researchers have discovered that coronaphobia has crippled people worldwide. One study published by the National Institutes of Health found that the fear of contracting the virus has caused “considerable psychological and physical stress worldwide since its outbreak in December 2019.”
According to The Washington Post, it is beneficial to have some degree of anxiety about COVID-19 so that you are motivated to take precautionary steps to prevent it, such as social distancing, wearing a mask, and washing your hands. But when the worry is excessive and dominating your behavior, that is when you may cross into dangerous territory.
“People with excessive levels of health anxiety engage in lots of checking behaviors, such as taking their pulse or temperature,” said Dr. Steven Taylor, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the University of British Columbia who specializes in anxiety disorders. Taylor added that people with coronaphobia often go from doctor to doctor seeking reassurance.
“Reassurance can be like a drug of addiction,” said the expert who co-authored a book, “It’s Not All in Your Head: How Worrying About Your Health Can Make You Sick--and What You Can Do About it.”
Health anxiety can not only cause mental and emotional distress, it can also trigger physical symptoms such as rapid heart rate, shallow breathing, headaches, and gastrointestinal issues, according to the Post. Taylor said that even the reassurance of having vaccines cannot ease coronaphobia, because people who are overly anxious tend to mistrust the drugs.
Some tips to overcome fear of COVID-19 include:
- Lead a healthy lifestyle which includes exercise. Exercise has been associated with reduced stress and anxiety. Get sufficient sleep and stay socially connected with others even virtually, says Taylor.
- Take long, deep breaths. According to Sonia Brill, LCSW, a licensed therapist writing for Chopra.com, lowering your levels of anxiety are important for both mental and emotional health. “Your breathing and thoughts are connected,” she says. “When you feel anxious and stressed your breathing becomes shallow and rapid. On the other hand, you can reduce anxiety by taking long, deep belly breaths.”
- Reduce the number of conversations about Coronavirus. While you may think that vocalizing your problems and fears may help you feel better, very often this has the opposite effect, says Brill. “When you are pulled into a conversation that can increase your anxiety about the disease, ask yourself what purpose does continually talking about it serve?” she asks.
- Refrain from excessive checking behaviors. According to the Post, constantly monitoring your temperature or checking your sense of taste and smell for COVID-19 will not help the situation. Experts caution against going online to check for symptoms. If you feel ill, see a qualified doctor but avoid going from one medical expert to another for reassurance.
- Practice gratitude. Dr. Heidi Hanna, Ph.D., a New York Times best-selling author of The SHARP Solution and Stressaholic, tells Newsmax that research shows that shifting our focus from fear to gratitude “creates a cascade of biological changes that help us navigate challenges in life more effectively.” Although it may seem difficult to feel grateful right now, Hanna suggests paying more attention to what is good in your life rather than COVID-19.
- Seek professional help. A process called cognitive behavior therapy or CBT has been shown to be effective in treating anxiety, even if the therapy session is virtual, according to a study published last September. Antidepressants can also help, according to the Post.
Taylor says that people who think they have coronaphobia should bear in mind that their disorder may be transient.
“Just because you are experiencing health anxiety during the pandemic doesn’t mean its going to become a long-term problem,” he said, according to the Post.
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