A counselor’s tip for managing COVID-19 anxiety

Nicole Sartini-Cprek, MEd, LPCC, NCC, IMPH
If you are feeling anxious about the coronavirus, or COVID-19, thank your body for alerting you that there is something to be concerned about. It is doing what it is supposed to do.
Take note and practice good hygiene, eat nutritiously, drink plenty of water, keep an eye on your temperature, and engage in social distancing as recommended by the CDC and WHO. Then find ways to assure your body you have things under control as well as possible by using the following coping tips.
1. Address stress.Remember the difference between productive stress and destructive stress. Productive stress encourages us to take action and work toward solving a problem. Destructive stress does not change anything and depletes our energy and mental well-being with very little outcome. We can’t avoid stress, but we can choose to gear it toward the productive kind and use healthy coping skills when we find ourselves stuck in more destructive cycles.
2. Acknowledge your feelings.We ​can be ​with our discomfort when it does arise. We can handle difficult feelings. We can survive pain. We can overcome challenges. If we try too quickly to escape our feelings, we are reiterating the disempowering idea that our feelings are more powerful than we are. Do your best not to push away or over attach to feelings. Just acknowledge them, be curious about what this experience may hold for you, and let them go when you are ready.
3. Create calm.Remember that we may operate best and think most clearly when we remain calm. By practicing relaxation exercisesmeditationyoga, and anything else that supports our nervous system, we are also decreasing inflammation and increasing immunity.
4. Reconnect with nature.Among the obvious pleasantries of the onset of spring, sunlight can increase vitamin D and regulate serotonin, which lifts mood, improves immune function, and can and help regulate sleep. It may also help our T cells, which are responsible for fighting infection and helping the immune system function optimally. ​Organic compounds found outdoors called phytoncides can also boost both mood and immune function.
5. Focus on hope.Notice that while this pandemic is indeed a tragedy, many people have been looking out for each other. Notice the ways communities come together when faced with shared challenges. We are so much stronger together, and times like these remind us of that. If you are seeking new ways to be a part of the coming together, check out The Mutual Aid Project, where people are exchanging needs. If you are outside of greater Louisville, look for a similar organization in your town or start one using the above as a model if it doesn’t yet exist.
6. Practice gratitude.While we are paying such close attention to keeping surfaces clean and rationing our home goods, please also pay attention to the parts that are working and all that you are grateful for. There is beauty that exists among the fear and heartache if we keep our eyes and hearts open to it.
7. Nurture yourself.Recognize many of us finally have an opportunity to ​slow down. Our culture in the U.S. is notorious for overemphasizing work and achievement. Not everyone has the privilege of slowing down, so if you are able to do it, be curious about what slowing down means to you and reevaluate the pace at which your life normally flows.Consider being productive in a new way: nurturing your relationship with yourself, loved ones, and community. Or finish up a fun project that you had to put on hold to keep up with the daily grind.
8. Give back.If you are not able to slow down because you are a medical professional, first responder, because of finances, or for any other reason, there are many of us eager to help however we can. Giving can be healing, and the experience of receiving help can be a corrective one if you have a history of repeatedly not having your needs met. Ask for what you need, and you will have a better chance of getting the need met.
9. BREATHE.Not too close to each other perhaps, but please remember that deep breathing helps calm the body and mind. Try the 4-7-8 breath to activate the vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system, which can act as a brake for slowing down anxiety. A big deep breath in for a count of 4, hold for 7, and release slowly for a count of 8.We have been through difficult things before, and we moved through them. This too shall pass. Do your best to take a healthy authority over what you can control, love on yourself and your neighbors (from a distance), and find ways to appreciate the opportunities within the obstacle. We are in this together.
References:Li, Q. (2010). Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine, 15(1), 9-17. doi: 10.1007/s12199-008-0068-3Sansone, R. A., & Sansone, L. A. (2013). Sunshine, serotonin, and skin: A partial explanation for seasonal patterns in psychopathology? Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, 10(7-8), 20-24. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3779905Shiel, W. C. (2018, December 27). Medical definition of T cell. Retrieved from https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=11300Wahbeh, H., Haywood, A., Kaufman, K., & Zwickey, H. (2009). Mind-body medicine and immune system outcomes: A systematic review. The Open Complementary Medicine Journal, 1, 25-34. doi: 10.2174/1876391X00901010025
Permission to publish granted by Nicole Sartini-Cprek, MEd, LPCC, NCC, therapist in Louisville, Kentucky