A national survey conducted March 18 and 19 by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) showed that the COVID-19 pandemic is significantly affecting the nation’s mental health. In the survey, half of US adults reported high levels of anxiety.
Among the survey respondents, 48 percent reported feeling anxious about the possibility of contracting COVID-19 themselves, and 40 percent said they were anxious about becoming seriously ill or dying from the virus. In addition, 62 percent reported being anxious about the possibility of a loved one contracting the illness.
The president of the APA, Bruce J. Schwartz, MD, suggests that this level of anxiety is appropriate given the current circumstances in this country. But he warns that the rate of mental distress in America could surge if the COVID-19 crises continues much longer.
It’s the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic that can cause the physical, emotional and mental reactions in people. If you have a high level of anxiety, you may experience feelings such as anger, rage, confusion, helplessness, sadness, depression and guilt. Other symptoms of anxiety that may occur include:
- Tenseness or nervousness
- Constant exhaustion
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased heart rate
- Stomach upset
- Constant crying
- Heavy use of alcohol and/or drugs
When these feelings don’t go away after a few weeks or get worse, it may be a good idea to seek professional help. Seek help from a trained professional if you or a loved one is unable to return to a normal routine, feel helpless, have thoughts of hurting yourself or others, or begin to use alcohol and drugs to excess.
People with pre-existing mental health conditions are especially vulnerable to stress and anxiety during crisis situations. During this current COVID-19 crisis, these individuals should continue with their treatment and be aware of new or worsening symptoms.
Here’s one example of worsening symptoms. A British charity for people with obsessive-compulsive disorder reports that it has received an increase in calls and emails from people with the disorder who were developing a new fixation on the coronavirus.
For help coping during these anxious times, try these tips, courtesy of HelpGuide article Coronavirus Anxiety:
- Stay informed, but don’t obsess — It’s important to check the news to stay informed about what’s going on, especially as circumstances change daily. You need to follow the news to know what to do to stay safe and help slow the spread of the virus. But there’s a lot of misinformation circulating and sensational reporting can fuel anxiety and fear, so be discerning about what and how much you read and watch.
- Focus on things you can control – There are many things out of your control right now such as how long this crisis will last and how others will respond to it. Focusing on questions without clear answers will make you feel drained, anxious and overwhelmed. Try focusing on things you can control, such as following the recommended steps for preventing the spread of the virus.
- Plan for what you can do – If you’re worried about your workplace closing, your children being home from school, having to self-quarantine or about a loved one getting sick, make note of these worries. Then, make a list of possible solutions and draw up an action plan. Concentrate your efforts on problems you can solve.
- Stay connected – It’s been shown that social distancing is helping to curb the spread of the coronavirus, but being physically isolated can add to stress and anxiety. Make it a priority to stay in touch with family and friends. Schedule regular phone calls or chat via video or Skype. Connect with family and friends via social media. But don’t let the coronavirus dominate every conversation.
- Take care of your body and spirit – The rules of staying healthy are especially important during times like these. Be sure to eat healthy, get plenty of sleep and exercise regularly. Practice a stress-relieving technique such as yoga, deep breathing or meditation to help keep stress at a minimum. Be kind to yourself if you’re experiencing more depression and anxiety than usual. Take time out for activities you enjoy, and try to maintain a normal routine while you’re stuck at home.
- Help others – Focusing on others in need supports your community, and this is especially true in times of crisis. People who focus on others tend to be happier and healthier than those who act selfishly. Focusing on others can also make a positive impact on your mental health. Doing kind and helpful acts for others can help you regain a sense of control over your life and add meaning and purpose.