Take media breaks
Googling “Cases of coronavirus” every few hours will quickly become mentally taxing and ramp up coronavirus anxiety. Instead, try compartmentalizing. Limit your intake of the news to about 15 minutes a day so you can stay informed about developments, such as school closings or changes in travel advisories. (Also important: Make sure your news comes from credible sources.) But then focus on more productive tasks, like taking care of your family, finishing your work, or finding time to relax.
Putting limits on your news consumption and shifting your attention back to day-to-day duties will help quiet your worry and coronavirus anxiety. When you get a worrisome thought, and that worry is off and running, you might get a case of what I call “Google-itis” — obsessively searching the internet about your concern. You have a choice in where you put your attention, so keep tabs on how much news you consume and carry on with the routine parts of life that are within your control.
Schedule “worry time”
Most of my patients have success with this: Set aside 15 to 20 minutes in the afternoon and make an appointment with your worry. If you have persistent worries about COVID-19 during the day, write them down and tell yourself, “I’ll get to this around 3 p.m.” When it’s time to worry, ask yourself if your negative thought is productive or unproductive.
There is a difference between productive and unproductive worry. Productive worry leads to taking action on something you can do today. For example, what can you do to reduce your risk? Wash your hands, use a tissue — do all the things that the CDC recommends. That is productive action. Unproductive worry is asking yourself, “What if …?” For example, “What if I’m walking down the street and someone coughs on me? What if I was in a meeting and accidentally touched someone infected?” These things are beyond our control, and the worry is unproductive.
I’m not telling people not to worry, but if you’re going to worry, set aside a time so it doesn’t consume you, and then turn it into productive action.
Put it in perspective
The goal is not to get rid of worry but to put it in perspective. It’s wise for hospitals and governments to be monitoring this situation, quarantining, and setting restrictions to reduce the spread. It may feel concerning, but remember that government and healthcare officials are taking measures that disrupt people’s daily routines in an effort to be prepared and address the situation. Just because they are taking all these precautions doesn’t mean it will result in the worst-case scenario.
Find the balance between following proper health guidelines and reducing the intensity and frequency of your worry. Don’t be overly positive or foolish and disregard the prudent guidelines, but ask yourself if your thoughts are productive or unproductive. You can’t control certain things, but you can control where you put your attention, and you can take care of yourself by exercising, eating right, and spending time with your family.