With daily alarming headlines about new coronavirus cases accompanied by surging outbreaks in some states, lots of us are on edge. So if leaving your home is starting to seem a little overwhelming, you're far from alone.
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"The majority of people I'm seeing are reporting a rise in anxiety," reports Daryl Appleton, LMCH, EdD, a psychotherapist and Fortune 500 executive wellness coach in New York City. "We forget that we've never been through a pandemic and global unrest — and murder hornets! — all at the same time. It's OK to not be OK right now."
Get tips on how to stay healthy, safe and sane during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Here, we've gathered expert advice on how to get back to fully enjoying your daily routines.
1. Remember the COVID-19 Basics
We've all heard the rules by now, but they're worth repeating. When you're out, you should keep six feet apart — that's roughly the length of two arms — from anyone you don't live with, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Keep your cloth face mask on when you're in public settings, keep your hands away from your face and wash your hands after touching shared surfaces.
Check the CDC's site for the latest guidelines on going to gyms, parks, restaurants, salons and other public places. If you stick to those recommendations, you'll drastically reduce your odds of getting sick, and so you can feel more relaxed when you head out.
2. Have a Mantra Ready to Go
"Something as simple as 'I can do this' can help combat the voices of panic if they arise when you leave home," Appleton says.
You should also remind yourself that you've done everything possible — wearing a mask, say, and mapping out the best route to your destination — to stay safe, she adds.
3. Buddy Up
If you're having a really hard time, it can make a huge difference to have a trusted support person go out with you, at least the first time or two. "That person can help steady your transition into public," Appleton says. "So ask for help if you need it!"
If that's not feasible, even simply seeking support from family or friends via phone calls and video chats can ease your distress, says Sal Raichbach, PsyD, LCSW, a psychologist and director of clinical services at Ambrosia Treatment Center West Palm Beach in Florida.
4. Take a Deep Breath
Breathing techniques, such as square breathing (aka box breathing), can regulate the autonomic nervous system, bringing about a sense of calm and decreasing the chance of panic attacks, Appleton says.
Try box breathing: Inhale through your nose and slowly count to four, pause for a count of four, exhale through your mouth for four counts and pause again. Repeat until you feel calmer.
5. Come Up With a Contingency Plan
"Having a contingency plan at the ready for unexpected risky situations can keep one mentally steady," Raichbach says.
Simply knowing, when you head out, that you have somewhere else to shop if your usual store is packed, or another road you can take if the one you always use is blocked off, can help ease anxiety.
6. Stay Safe in Protests
If you choose to participate in demonstrations, wearing a mask is an absolute must. And while maintaining social distancing is ideal, obviously it's sometimes impossible.
A smart strategy, according to "How to Stay Safe While Protesting During a Pandemic" in the June 2020 issue of Consumer Reports, is to go to the protest in a small group of family and/or friends. The more of them who live in your household, the better. If you move about as one unit, at least you reduce the number of people you interact with. That way, if anybody in your group does come down with COVID-19, you'll know immediately who else may have it.
Bring a backpack filled with spare masks, bottled water to avoid dehydration on warm days and hand sanitizer. Also, the New York City Health Department urges washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds as soon as possible after participating in any public demonstrations.
7. Bring a Comfort Object
Keep a small object, like a smooth stone or stress ball, in your pocket or bag, and hold or squeeze it when anxiety strikes, Appleton recommends.
8. Know When to Get Professional Help
If you suspect you may be slipping from uneasiness that's normal for 2020 into agoraphobia, turn to a mental health professional. How do you know?
"If you find that the anxiety around going out is getting worse, or impacting your ability to function on a day-to-day basis, a professional can help keep a long-term problem from evolving," Appleton says.
Another warning sign, according to Raichbach, is anxiety that is out of proportion to the actual danger. For example, nervousness about getting COVID-19 and taking steps to protect yourself is being experienced by most of the U.S. population, he says. Not being able to sleep or eat, or being consumed with worry about it, is something else altogether.
These truly are unprecedented times, for all of us. Everything seems different and strange, so atypical feelings, like anxiety, can all too easily go along with that. It can be nearly impossible to dodge distress completely these days, but by taking care of ourselves and being willing to ask for help if we need it, we can move ahead confidently.
Concerned About COVID-19?
Read more stories to help you navigate the novel coronavirus pandemic:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Personal and Social Activities"
- Consumer Reports: "How to Stay Safe While Protesting During a Pandemic"
- New York City Health Department: "How to Protest Safely During the Covid-19 Pandemic"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Daily Activities and Going Out: COVID-19"
- Mayo Clinic: "Agoraphobia"