Dealing with Anxiety: How to Cope During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Restlessness. Fear. Anxious. Stress. Lost of Hope. Uncertainty. These are just some of what most of the people feel during this uncertain time. A time where everything can be lost in a blink of an eye. A time of darkness, most people say, because of the fear and uncertainty the COVID-19 pandemic is giving us.

It is during this time that there is a surge in the demand for mental health services to help people suffering from depression and anxiety.  There has been an increase in people having anxiety and panic attacks, and most of them would choose to stay at the comfort of their home instead of seeking professional help because of the fear that they might catch the virus. 

Most of the people may have actually experienced having anxiety or may have witnessed other people suffer from it and wanted to help them but don’t know how to. So, here are some professional tips on how to cope up with anxiety especially during this uncertain time. But first, let’s define anxiety and how do anxiety and panic attacks differ.

Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety, according to the American Psychiatric Association, is a normal reaction to stress and can be beneficial in some situations. It can alert us to dangers and help us prepare and pay attention. However, when a person regularly feels disproportionate levels of anxiety, it might become a medical disorder. 

Anxiety refers to the anticipation of a future concern and is more associated with muscle tension and avoidance behavior. It is different from fear because fear is an emotional response to an immediate threat and is more associated with a fight or flight reaction – either staying to fight or leaving to escape danger.

Anxiety disorders differ from normal feelings of nervousness or anxiousness, and involve excessive fear or anxiety. It is characterized by feelings of anxiety that go beyond worrying about everyday things like problems at work or school or dealing with life changes. 

Anxiety disorders are the most common of mental disorders and affect nearly 30 percent of adults at some point in their lives. People with anxiety disorders may have constant, uncontrollable fear that interferes with their lives. 

There are different types of anxiety disorders and it includes Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Specific Phobia, Social Anxiety, and Panic Disorder.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is excessive anxiety or worry about an array of things such as personal health, work, social interactions, and everyday routine life circumstances.

Specific phobia is an intense fear or aversion to specific situations, things, or places that are out of proportion to the actual danger caused by the situation or object. For example, claustrophobia.

Social anxiety is the excessive worry about actions or behaviors in social or performance situations and a fear of feeling embarrassed causes those with social anxiety to avoid social situations–gatherings, parties, or events—leading to a kind of self-imposed isolation.

Panic disorder includes episodes of intense fear that come on quickly and reach their peak within minutes. Attacks can occur unexpectedly or can be brought on by anxiety or a trigger, such as a feared object or situation

Anxiety Attacks Vs. Panic Attacks

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), panic attacks are a sudden, intense, and often overwhelming fear. They are mostly accompanied by physical symptoms and are categorized as expected and unexpected.

While DSM-V doesn’t recognize anxiety attacks, these are a much lesser type of a panic attack and occurs because of a trigger, unlike panic attacks that can come without a trigger. Symptoms of an anxiety attack is more related to the anticipation of a stressful situation, experience, or event.

Anxiety and Panic attacks may be similar as they share a lot of emotional and physical symptoms. These include fear, heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, choking feeling, sweating, chills, trembling, numbness, nausea, headache, and dizziness.

However, anxiety attacks differ from panic attacks because they have emotional symptoms that are not under the category of panic attacks which is, apprehension and worry, distress, and restlessness. Emotional symptoms of a panic attack are more focused on fear (i.e, fear of dying and losing control) and a sense of detachment from reality (derealization) and/or oneself (depersonalization).

Dealing with Anxiety

  • Challenge your thought pattern. Most of the time, people with anxiety think of the negative, of the what-ifs. It is good to challenge your thought pattern and change those what-ifs into positive what-ifs. For example, changing the what if I fail thinking into a what if I succeed thinking. Another way of challenging your thought pattern is to challenge your fears and see what you can control.

Now in the time of COVID-19 pandemic, everything is scary. Everything is uncertain. It is best to let go of what you can’t control and focus on the things that you can control.

  • Identify and Manage the Triggers. The most important thing to do to deal with anxiety is to know what are the things that trigger you. Once you identify these triggers, it is much easier to manage them.

For example, because you know that work-related situations trigger your anxiety, you manage it by keeping yourself out of work-related stress as much as possible. Another example is on news and social media. Because you know that hearing news about the pandemic triggers your anxiety, you can unfollow the social media sites and refrain from watching the news from time to time.

  • Improve Physical Health. Improving physical health not only can help improve our immune system but can also improve mental health especially on anxiety and depression.

Research shows that exercise, for example, can help improve mood and reduce anxiety. Studies also show that brain scans of people with anxiety have a weaker connection in the amygdala – the part of the brain that helps process emotion, memory, and fear- than healthy people.

  • Have a Good Sleep. Having a good sleep is important in dealing with anxiety. Having a regular bedtime helps prevent you to stay past out of your bedtime and overthink. Another tip is to get out of bed if you can’t control your thoughts. Get up and tire yourself until you feel sleepy.
  • Get professional help. Having professional help is a big factor in dealing with anxiety. They can inform you of what you don’t know about anxiety and panic attacks and can help properly treat your anxiety problems.

At this time of the pandemic, there are many institutions that offer free online help regarding anxiety and depression. They can lend an ear to your problem and can refer you to a therapist if necessary.