The coronavirus scare has brought out the extremes in people. On one end, we have people who are not concerned at all about the coronavirus and are not taking helpful precautions; on the other end, we have people who are crippled by the intense fear and anxiety they are experiencing lately, the excess anxiety not helping them stay any safer. Many people likely fall somewhere in-between the two. Though these extremes are understandable when taking a closer look into each person’s past experience and current knowledge of the world, neither extreme is particularly helpful or good for one’s own or others’ health. Let’s examine some helpful and unhelpful ways of coping with the coronavirus threat.

Denial, avoidance, and minimizing an issue all help people feel better about a problem but, unfortunately, these tactics are never helpful when a person has direct control over at least some part of a problem. One of the best ways of coping with a problem, when a person has some control over it, is to focus directly on solutions that help to address the problem. Seeking out credible sources (note that many sources include misinformation and fake stories) for news and recommended guidelines to protect yourself and others is one helpful way of coping with and responding to the coronavirus (1). Washing hands, disinfecting more frequently, and getting tested right away when experiencing possible symptoms are examples of helpful ways to prevent the spread; though buying supplies can be helpful, overbuying products such as masks and disinfectants may leave others who really need these supplies at higher risk and make the problem worse.

Besides taking steps that are within one’s control to address the problem, how do people cope with the constant worry they may be experiencing? There are several helpful tools to help with this:

1) Ask yourself, “does the feeling match the reality?” There is a difference between fear and anxiety; fear is a reaction to a real threat and is a useful emotion to follow because it helps people react in a way that can help people protect themselves (as mentioned above). However, anxiety is a fear response that does not match the reality of the situation (the actual threat is lesser than what the person’s reaction suggests). Some people use a type of thinking, called emotional reasoning, in which they make assumptions about the world based off of their own emotions (because I FEEL terrified of dying from the coronavirus, that must be a likely possibility for me); people are often not aware that they are using this type of thinking or that it is inaccurate, but this thought process perpetuates the anxiety. Being aware of and challenging one’s emotional reasoning and using actual evidence to assess danger (such as facts and statistics) can be helpful in managing anxiety in response to the coronavirus.

2) Worrisome thoughts are a lot less likely to pop up when people are busy and occupied. As long as you are taking the appropriate precautions to try and keep yourself and others healthy, a helpful tool to cope with worry is distraction. Tasks that take cognitive energy or that draw people in (such as reading, planning something such as a meal or trip, or brain games) tend to be especially helpful. Note, distraction is only a tool when it does not replace addressing a problem that can be addressed; otherwise, you are engaging in avoidance which tends to make the problem worse.

3) Take a closer look at whether your thoughts and behaviors are helpful or unhelpful. Though the unhelpful thoughts and behaviors vary for every person and the specific tools that help people also vary, I will give a few examples here. For more guidance with this, therapy can help you find more productive ways of thinking about and responding to your world.

Unhelpful: Repeated worrying and ruminating over the coronavirus. Following anxious thoughts and not making efforts to challenge or stop them.

Note: I often describe rumination as a hamster on a wheel; in this case, you may be worrying about the coronavirus but all of the worry isn’t helping you move forward towards solutions. You are just going around and around with the worry, but the worry isn’t helping to keep you alive (if you have the virus) or to decrease your risk of contracting/spreading the virus.

More helpful: Taking proper precautions and engaging in problem-focused, productive thinking (for example: “If____ happens, then I will _____”). Recognizing and challenging inaccurate or unhelpful thoughts. When worry pops up, not judging oneself for the worry, then reminding oneself that allowing and following worrisome thoughts does nothing to help prevent coronavirus and only heightens the stress response, which actually weakens your immune system. Then actively turning one’s focus to something constructive (for example, back to your work, reading a book, playing a game with a loved one, etc). Repeating as needed. Practicing regular exercise and mindfulness, spiritual, or religious activities throughout the week (such as mindfulness deep breathing, gratefulness meditation, and/or prayer). Engaging in activities you enjoy.

Ask: Is this a good time?
Along with limiting your thoughts on the coronavirus to helpful thinking, it can also be helpful to examine the timing of your thinking about the coronavirus. If you determine that you do need to spend more time planning or problem-solving issues related to the coronavirus, decide when would be a good time to do this. Once you do this, remind yourself of this time set aside when you are wanting to focus on other priorities like spending time with family, working, or sleeping and bring your focus back to these priorities.

Coronavirus News and Information
It can be helpful to stay informed and seek out relevant, credible news and information; however, actively assess if you are seeking helpful and credible news stories and whether you are thinking about the information in a helpful way. Also, analyze whether you are spending too much or too little time seeking information and decide where you want this to fit within your priorities.

4) Helpful tools to manage any type of anxiety or stress are exercise and relaxation methods. Aerobic exercise (such as biking or using an elliptical), yoga, mindfulness deep breathing, and other mindfulness practices are all great ways to help decrease stress and anxiety. People can engage in these activities on the spot in response to anxiety and stress for relief. Or, people can use them in preventative ways; doing these activities on a regular basis may help people become less triggered by stressful events.

I hope you found this article helpful in finding a balance between taking the coronavirus threat seriously while also not letting it rule your life!

Sources and Resources:

(1) See the CDC guidelines:https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/prevention.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fabout%2Fprevention.html
(2) The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns

(3) Brain Lock by Jeffrey Schwartz

(4) Mindfulness: https://www.headspace.com/mindfulness

Lindsay Murphy

Lindsay earned her Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Purdue University Calumet in 2011...

Helpful (and Unhelpful) Ways of Coping with the Coronavirus Threat

► Lindsay Murphy time to read: 5 min