Dear Dr. Norquist:
I’m afraid my fear of catching COVID 19 is getting the best of me. I watch the news whenever I can, to see how many new cases and deaths there are around us. These fears are starting to dominate my thinking. More and more I catch myself thinking of new ways my family or I could catch this virus. What can I do to better deal with these fears?
Dr. Norquist responds:
Fear can be such a crippling emotion. It robs us of our quality of life; the ability to feel safe enough to relax, to laugh, and to enjoy our lives. Fear also wreaks havoc on our bodies, resulting in muscle tension, headaches, stomachaches, dizziness, and insomnia – all of which, over time, can result in more chronic physical problems.
All of us in this current situation are having to learn to deal with anxiety and fear to one degree or another. The level of fear is likely to be greater for those who are more vulnerable, those who are required to work in places where they have more exposure, and those who have been directly affected. If you have a prior history of anxiety, trauma, or a lack of a sense of safety (especially when this lack of safety occurred when you were a child), our current situation can exacerbate earlier fears, making it difficult to manage everyday routines and demands. This makes learning ways of managing fear more important.
The level of fear you experience is related to your perception of the situation. Try to change your perspective so that it more closely matches the actual moment. With all the visual and auditory media coverage we are exposed to, it is easy to see yourself or your loved ones in an immediate life-threatening situation. In doing this you are focusing on a fear that is not true in that moment, however your nervous system, responding to your thoughts and internal images, will respond as if your fear has become true.
When you find yourself thinking thoughts about what harm might befall you, or visualizing it happening, try to stop your thoughts in mid-stream, and re-orient yourself to what is actually true in the moment. My hunch is that in this moment, you and your family are not dying. With patient, consistent attention to managing your thoughts, you can reduce much of your fear.
It is also important to take good care of your physical well-being during this time. Fear and anxiety create physical fatigue. You may require more sleep now then you did before this pandemic. Fear can also drain you of vital nutrients and create a craving for foods that are not good for your physical well-being. Make sure you are eating healthy, nutritious meals. Supplements may be helpful, especially a multivitamin, B complex, and extra vitamin C. Take time out to relax, pursue humor, exercise, and use creative outlets that work for you.
Educate yourself about this pandemic without overexposing yourself to the new media. Exposing yourself to a constant stream of news coverage of this pandemic is like providing a slow steady gasoline drip on the fire of your fear. Do your best not to overexpose yourself to the media coverage of this event.
In circumstances like this, we crave control. Some try to find it through staying up to date with all the latest news, others by trying to control their immediate environment (for example, reorganizing their kitchen cabinets). The greater the fear and anxiety, the more compulsive the behavior can become. In the end, we have only so much control over what happens.
There is one place where we can learn to have control however, and that is over our internal emotional state. I invite you to use some of these ideas to increase your ability to control your internal state of fear, and to reclaim more quality of life.
Check out Dr. Norquist’s new blog GrowingThroughParenting.com
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanyacounseling.com or by e-mail at email@example.com. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. Ó 2020 Chaitanya Counseling Services