Coping With COVID-19 Anxiety: Frequently Asked Questions

By Jeffrey Cohen, PsyD

Is it normal to feel anxious about COVID-19?

Anxiety is a normal response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like all emotions, we have anxiety for a reason.  Anxiety helps us prepare for a threat, such as the threat to our health posed by COVID-19.  Anxiety motivates us to take steps to be safe such as practicing social distancing and washing our hands.  

How can I cope with the uncertainty of this situation?

Practice tolerating uncertainty. Anxiety is triggered by uncertain and uncontrollable situations. Uncertainty can be uncomfortable which leads many people to become attached to specific outcomes.  This is a way of trying to control the uncontrollable. Practice letting go of attachment to specific outcomes and be willing to tolerate the uncertainty.  One way to tolerate uncertainty and accept anxiety is by observing what anxiety feels like in the body.  Work on allowing anxiety to be present and remind yourself it is ok feel anxiety.  Remember that the more unwilling we are to accept anxiety, the more anxiety increases. 

I am going down a rabbit hole of worst case scenarios, what should I do?

Pay attention to all information: both positive and negative. Anxious minds tend to focus on negative and threatening information. Remember to also pay attention to positive information such as the resources in place to help people recover, and the fact the current recovery rate far outweighs the mortality rate.  Notice if you are dwelling on worst case scenarios and remind yourself that humans are resilient.    

Should I watch the news?

Pay attention to the news you need to keep you safe and in limited amounts. Watching a constant stream of COVID-19 related news can increase the likelihood of extreme anxiety and panic.  In particular, social media frequently includes misinformation.  Focus on news sources that are reliable and function to keep you safe such as the CDC website and the recommendations from your doctor.  Limit your news intake to 1-2 times per day. 

This situation is out of my control, what can I do about it?

Recognize what is in your control. Remember to follow CDC guidelines and the recommendations of doctors.  These include stay at home and practice social distancing, avoid non-essential travel, and wash your hands.  Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.    

I am staying at home, and I feel lonely and isolated. What can I do?

Develop a plan for staying at home. Maintain familiar routines whenever possible.  Continue regular sleep schedules, eat healthy food, and continue to exercise.  Get dressed in the morning and remember to take breaks throughout the day including for lunch.  If you have spare time, pick up a hobby or home project.  Get outside for a walk or a run if you can do that while also maintaining social distancing.  Stay in touch with loved ones via the telephone and virtual means.

What should I do if I cannot stop worrying?

Seek professional help when you need it. Sustained anxiety and stress can weaken the immune system.  If you are losing a significant amount of sleep, if you are unable to stop worrying, if you are not eating well, then you are putting yourself in a state of heightened stress and it may be time to seek professional help. Cognitive behavior therapy teaches how to replace anxious thoughts and behaviors with more helpful ways of coping and it can be offered via telehealth. Ask your doctor or insurance company for a referral to a therapist who offers cognitive behavior therapy.    


COVID-19, Anxiety