Too worried about the coronavirus? Keys to alleviate anxiety

As coronavirus infections grow globally, concern and panic increase. And it is not surprising that they constantly repeat to us how to better protect ourselves from infection. But how do you stay safe in this climate and simultaneously you make sure that fear does not take over your life and it becomes an obsessive compulsive disorder?

Fear is a normal and necessary evolutionary response to threat, ultimately designed to keep us safe. Whether it is an emotional, social or physical threat, this response depends on a complex interaction between our primitive "animal brain" (the limbic system) and our sophisticated cognitive brain (the neocortex). The two work intensively together to assess and respond to threats to survival.

Most importantly: don't isolate yourself. Personal relationships are crucial to keep perspective, elevate mood, and distract you

Once a threat has been identified, a "fight or flight" response can be activated. This is the body's biological response to fear.or and involves flooding ourselves with adrenaline to ensure that we can escape or overcome any risk, such as a dangerous animal attack. The response produces a variety of intense physical symptoms: palpitations, perspiration, dizziness, and shortness of breath, which are designed to make us run faster and overcome circumstances.

Nevertheless, this system may have failures, and sometimes responds disproportionately to threats that are not really that serious or imminent. Worrying about health issues like heart attacks, strokes, and even COVID-19 (the disease caused by the coronavirus) can also trigger a fight-or-flight response. This, despite the fact that there is no defined role for a primitive biological response to the virus, since you don't need to run or fight to beat him. It is the neocortex that intervenes, using a rational and measured approach to face the disease without panic. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Once the fear escalation has begun, it can be difficult to put the brakes on it.

Vulnerable groups

It is highly unlikely that a viral outbreak, even at pandemic levels, trigger mental health problems in people who don't have them yet or are in the process of developing them. Research shows that most mental health problems begin to show signs between early adolescence and mid-20s, depending on certain complex factors. Around the 10% of the world population experiences clinical levels of anxiety at any time, although some estimates are higher.

If you are very concerned about the coronavirus, it does not mean that you have a mental disorder, but the anguish you feel must be treated.

People with chronic and physical illnesses, that is, those who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus, are at high risk of anxiety or catastrophism, which cannot be ignored. Your concern is justified And it is vital to motivate them to take precautionary measures. But it is important that these people have adequate support to manage their emotions.

Hypochondriac people, They always seem to be on the lookout for the slightest symptom, they also run the risk of worsening it on a mental level as the virus spreads. In addition, they are those that adopt chronic control measures, such as constantly making sure that the oven is turned off or that the entrance door to the house is locked. At an extreme level, they may be showing signs of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). People who are very anxious and do not calm down easily may also find some relief from evaluation and medical support in the shadow of the coronavirus outbreak. This may include people with generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder, the symptoms of which can be read at the physiological level.

Ways to manage stress

If you are very concerned about the coronavirus, it does not mean that you have a mental disorder. But high levels of emotional distress, whatever the source, must be adequately and compassionately addressed, particularly if it is interfering with your daily life. In times of stress and anxiety, We are often prone to using strategies that are designed to help but are counterproductive, such as Googling for symptoms to try to calm you down even though it is unlikely to make you feel better. When our strategies for suppressing stress increases our anxiety, It is time to step back and ask if there is anything else that can be done.

Actually there ways to cushion the physical and emotional symptoms associated with anxiety. One is to stop checking for signs that you have the disease. You are likely to notice unknown physical sensations that are harmless, but make you feel anxious. These are normal and pass over time, so if you feel your chest tighten, focus on pleasurable activities, and in the meantime, stay tuned.

In the case of COVID-19, this verification can include constant monitoring of news updates and social network feeds, which significantly increases anxiety, although it seems that it helps us to calm down. So if you're feeling nervous, consider turning off automatic notifications and updates on COVID-19. Instead, go to sources you can trust and are impartial about the COVID-19. For example, go to the page of the Ministry of Health, instead of alarmist news or social network feeds that unnecessarily exaggerate the concern. Information can be reassuring if it is based on facts. Often it is an intolerance to uncertainty that perpetuates anxiety rather than fear of the disease itself.

In times of stress and anxiety, it is very common to start hyperventilate. Thus, breathing exercises can work to restore the fight or flight response and prevent the onset of panic and the unpleasant physical symptoms associated with anxiety. Another way is to do physical exercise, which can help reduce the excessive accumulation of adrenaline produced by anxiety. Most importantly: don't isolate yourself. Personal relationships are crucial to keep perspective, elevate the mood and distract yourself regardless of your own concerns. Even in self-imposed isolation, it is important to combat loneliness and continue talking, for example, through video chats.

We are united globally, also to face this very real but uncertain threat. Surveillance and precautionary measures are essential. But psychological anguish and widespread panic should have no place. Efforts should be made to continue the daily routine, maintain perspective and reduce unnecessary stress. This is key to psychological survival. In other words, when possible, stay calm and move on. If you still feel nervous or distressed despite trying these techniques, talk to your GP or consult a psychologist for serious evidence-based treatment, clike cognitive behavioral therapy.

This article was published in 'The Conversation' by the researcher Jo Daniels, PhD in Psychology from the University of Bath.