Don’t Go Down a Coronavirus Anxiety Spiral

Here’s what you can do to relieve your worries, while still keeping you and your family safe.

The threat of contagion can twist our psychological responses to ordinary interactions, leading us to behave in unexpected ways.

Rarely has the threat of disease occupied so much of our thinking. For this constant bombardment can result in heightened anxiety, with immediate effects on our mental health. But the constant feeling of threat may have other, more insidious, effects on our psychology. Due to some deeply evolved responses to disease, fears of contagion lead us to become more conformist and tribalistic, and less accepting of eccentricity. Our moral judgements become harsher and our social attitudes more conservative when considering issues such as immigration or sexual freedom and equality. Daily reminders of the disease may even sway our political affiliations.,

Being ill is also physiologically expensive. The rise in body temperature during a fever, for instance, is essential for an effective immune response – but this results in a 13% increase in the body’s energy consumption. When food was scarce, that would have been a serious burden. “Getting sick, and allowing this wonderful immune system to actually work, is really costly,”

It’s kind of like medical insurance – it’s great to have, but it really sucks when you have to use it.”

Being a psychology student, what is doing in this pandamic…? It is the most important time to practise what we learn, that is to help people who are in depression or batteling anxiety due to coronavirus and also help them to spend their time in useful activities for themselves.

“Fears of contagion lead us to become more conformist and less accepting of eccentricity”

The same logic may explain why we become more morally vigilant in an outbreak. Studies have shown that when we fear contagion, we tend to be harsher when judging a breach of loyalty (such as an employee who badmouths his company) or when we see someone who fails to respect authority (such as a judge). Those particular incidents would do nothing to spread the disease of course, but by flouting convention, they have given a signal that they may break other more relevant rules that are there to keep disease at bay.

Even extremely subtle reminders of illness can shape our behaviours and attitudes.

Our heightened distrust and suspicion will also shape our responses to people of different cultural backgrounds. According to Schaller, this may arise from those fears about non-conformity: in the past, people outside our group may have been less likely to observe the specific prescriptive norms that were meant to protect the population from infection, and so we feared that they would unwittingly (or deliberately) spread disease. But today, it can result in prejudice and xenophobia.

Even thinking about a situation like a pandemic can make people value conformity over eccentricity

The influence of the behavioural immune system varies from individual to individual; not everyone would be affected to the same degree. “Some people have a particularly sensitive behavioural immune system that makes them react extra-strongly to things that they interpret as a potential infection risk”. According to the research, those people would already be more respectful of social norms and more distrustful of outsiders than the average person, and an increased threat of disease would simply harden their positions. We do not yet have any hard data on the ways that the coronavirus outbreak is changing our minds

Even if these psychological shifts do not change the result of the election at the national level, it is worth considering how they influence our own personal reactions to the coronavirus. Whether we are expressing a conformist opinion, judging another’s behaviour or trying to understand the value of different containment policies, we might question whether our thoughts are really the result of rat millennia before the discovery of germ theory.

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Ronal reasoning, or whether they might have been shaped by an ancient response that evolved
The stress of a new thing to worry about can exacerbate the symptoms of PTSD or trigger more frequent panic attacks in people who are prone to them. And it can be especially rough for the approximately 5 per cent of adults annually who have an illness anxiety disorder, formerly known as hypochondria, and are already predisposed to fear disease.

“When people suffer from anxiety, it’s because they’re believing and focusing on the lies, distortions and exaggerations in their imagination,”

The coronavirus epidemic is causing increased stress and anxiety, particularly people with existing mental health problems, practitioners and campaigners have said.

Reactions to the crisis can include feeling overwhelmed, fearful, sad, angry and helpless, according to experts. Some people may have difficulty sleeping or concentrating. Fear of contact with others, travelling on public transport or going into public spaces may increase, and some people will have physical symptoms, such as an increased heart rate or upset stomach.

The flip side is that some mental health experts think coronavirus fears may cause people with anxious tendencies to topple into a full-blown illness.

“What is likely to come of this is a lot of people who have underlying anxiety disorders — they’re going to start experiencing those,” Owens said. “We’re not only going to end up with lots of COVID cases, but we’re also going to end up with lots of anxiety disorders out of this as well.”

People who are suffering from anxiety related to the coronavirus outbreak are advised by Mind to stick to a daily routine and make sure they get some physical exercise every day.

The current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is a particular and rare situation. It can affect people physically, but also psychologically. In this type of context, many people will experience stress, anxiety and depression reactions. This page should be seen as a tool that can help you to minimize the repercussions of these kinds of reactions on your life.

Stress is a normal physiological response to an abnormal situation. As such, it is part and parcel of our lives. It enables our body to adapt to the multiplicity of positive and negative events that we experience, like a birth, marriage, loss of employment, etc. Stress comes and goes on its own, depending on what factors are involved. For example, if you feel stressed about the job but less so at home in the evening or on the weekend, we could deduce that the stressors are work-related.

Stress, anxiety and depression reactions can appear in a variety of physical, psychological, emotional and behavioural ways for any given individual.

Physical symptoms

  • Headaches, neck tension, gastrointestinal problems, etc.
  • Sleep problems
  • Lower appetite
  • Lower energy, fatigue
  • Etc.

Psychological and emotional symptoms

  • Virus-related worries and insecurity
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed by events, powerlessness
  • Self-verbalization that does not always reflect reality
  • The negative vision of things or daily events
  • Feelings of discouragement, insecurity, sadness, anger, etc.
  • Behavioural symptoms
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Irritability, aggression
  • Crying
  • Withdrawal, insularity
  • Difficulty in taking decisions
  • Increased use of alcohol, drugs and/or medication
  • Etc.

All of these symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression are very normal in the context of a pandemic. Most people have the resources and mental strength to adapt to this type of situation. You should first rely on how you usually adapt to difficult situations. Here are a few other ways for you to minimize the repercussions of these reactions in your daily life.

Be attentive to your feelings, emotions and reactions and allow yourself to voice them to someone you trust. Write them down or express them through physical or other types of activity.

  • Make use of physical activity to let the stress out and eliminate tension.
  • Practice healthy living habits like proper nutrition and sufficient sleep.
  • Limit your access to stressors.
  • Allow yourself life’s little pleasures such as listening to music, taking a warm bath, reading, etc.
  • Remain in contact with people that do you good.
  • Remind yourself of winning strategies you used in the past to get through difficult times.
  • Count on your own strengths.
  • Set limits for yourself, such as refusing a task that you do not want to do and that is non-essential.
  • Learn to delegate and let others help you (this might be asking your children to do the dishes)
  • Feeling depressed? You’re not alone — and you may want to seek help

It’s no exaggeration to say there’s a lot to worry about at the moment. That’s why mental health experts are advising people to pay attention to any feelings of anxiety or depression.

Working from home can create feelings of loneliness and isolation. Empty store shelves are deeply distressing. Let’s not even talk about the stock market.

“It will take some time for us to see the long-term mental health effects of this situation, but it has a lot of the ingredients that can affect people’s mental health negatively in a significant way,”

With the COVID-19 still spreading and no cure in immediate sight, it is hard to gauge its eventual scope, or in other words, what we will eventually face. Still, as mentioned above, the present global pandemic is not without precedent, and as such, we can turn to past historical outbreaks to understand in what ways individuals are likely to react to this one.

First, a continuation and expansion of both depression and anxiety are likely to occur. Adverse mental health conditions that arise from devastating trauma are known to reverberate well beyond the actual event. Moreover, the ramifications of living through trauma or other extreme conditions have been shown to sometimes pass on to the following generations. Adding to this is the more concrete consequences of such a monumental occurrence, such as a possible economic crisis and a shifting global market, and it is reasonable to assume that the symptoms of both disorder families will continue to hold a greater level of prominence within the general population.

There is one more mental health disorder that stands to become more common once the coronavirus is contained—PTSD. As mentioned earlier, this disorder was found to arise from experiences of quarantine, as well as be the result of trauma or extremely distressing situations. PTSD is therefore likely to appear at a greater rate among the many individuals who are currently in isolation. And PTSD symptoms, be they intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, decreased mood, distorted beliefs and more, would require a greater level of support on the governmental, professional and social levels, as this mental health disorder and individual symptoms will likely spread just as widely as the virus that initiated them.

All this is to say that now and in the coming months, it is vitally important to keep in touch with your loved ones, and yourself. Ask people what they need, and check-in with yourself, as well. Despite current limitations, there are still options to mitigate some of the mental health difficulties that have arisen over our handling the coronavirus threat: online gatherings with your loved ones, reducing stress-inducing activities when possible and incorporating enjoyable one into your new routine, as well as tapping into a support system that is relatively stable in these times of uncertainty.

Once the coronavirus begins to be contained, and more options are added to the ones currently available, you can start considering more long-term options, as well: psychotherapy treatments such as psychodynamics or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) have been shown to offer patients much-needed support; Deep TMS has been FDA-cleared to treat both depression and OCD, as a non-invasive treatment option that has been proven to offer symptoms relief; psychopharmacology is also a viable option for those dealing with mental health conditions or symptoms; and working to strengthen your bonds with the people you feel you can turn to and care about are all important factors that can help you recuperate, once this state of emergency is at least in part behind us.

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Submitted by “ILHAM JEHAR”