COVID-19 Anxiety

Apr 7, 2020

If you're feeling anxious about the coronavirus pandemic, you're not alone.  More than one third of Americans think it is affecting their mental health, according to a recent study by the American Psychiatric Associaton.

Social distancing to stop the spread has shut down cities and left million without jobs.  Many who are working, are working from home, tackling technology, homeschooling kids and cooking all the family meals.

Daily life is different and stressful.

"I think a lot of people are experiencing that they feel even more challenged and expected to do more and more at the same time," says Dr. Alyssa Rheingold. 

She's a clinical psychologist and the Associate Director of the Sleep and Anxiety Treatment and Research Program at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Dr. Rheingold says uncertainty can trigger anxiety and there is a lot about this virus we don't know, like how long it will last.  People are scared, leaving grocery stores bare as they stockpile supplies.

"You know it's an unusual experience for everyone and I think people are just trying to figure out what things they have control over," says Dr. Rheingold.

Perhaps hoarding, even toilet paper, is one way of trying to exert some sort of control.

Credit Mick Haupt/ Unsplash

"It puts families into a pressure cooker if they're not careful," says Helen Elliot Wheeler, a professional counselor and founder of the Center for Families in Charleston. 

She tries to help keep marriages together and guides families when they fall apart.

For now, Wheeler is continuing her practice by phone and video conferencing.  The biggest problem she's seeing are fights  over visitation rights.

"One parent believes they're more protective of the children than the other parent is and so they want to withhold visitations from them," says Wheeler.

What happens if parents live in different states?  Wheeler says with family courts closed and no precedent for a pandemic, it's tough to decide.

For families that are still together, Wheeler tries to help them prioritize.  She encourages them be intentional with their time together and not stress over schoolwork.  She's a former educator of 20 years.

"We're in this big lifeboat together as a family," she says.  "Let's all row together rather than hitting each other over the head with oars because we're not doing it right."

Paul Brethen is the cofounder of SoberBuddy, an online resource for recovering addicts.  

Credit Finn/ Unsplash

"It creates a crisis for people in recovery," he says.

An estimated 21 million Americans are addicted to drugs and alcohol and many in recovery rely on a twelve- step program.  But social distancing has shut down a lifeline, daily meetings.

"The number one trigger that people relapse over is a sense of loss," Brethen says.

He points out there are call-in and online meetings.  He encourages people in recovery to be proactive, seek help and schedule their days.

"As your emotions go up and down and your thoughts are going everywhere, the goal is to focus on your behaviors, what you need to do."

Dr. Alyssa Rheingold agrees.  She says concentrate on what you can do and let go of the rest.

Dr. Rheingold says anxiety not only affect our moods, but our sleep and health.  She recommends exercise, eating well, getting outside, limiting media exposure, being social despite social distancing and having compassion for ourselves.

"It's a challenge and we're all trying to adapt," she says.  "I remind myself this is temporary.  There will be light at the end of the tunnel."

She's holding onto hope despite anxiety.