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Coronavirus Anxiety: 10 Actually Realistic Tips for Managing Anxiety Right Now

At this point, I don’t know many people who aren’t feeling at least a little anxious about the new coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. Which, understandable. There’s plenty to be anxious about: the virus itself, how our country is handling the situation, financial and practical concerns around workplace and school closures, and the many unanswered questions still floating around. Of course, given the situation, some anxiety is okay and even helpful. At a manageable level, coronavirus anxiety reminds us to stay vigilant and stick to best infection-prevention practices. Plus, it’s completely human.

That said, for a lot of people—myself included, hi!—anxiety around the new coronavirus has crossed the line from “reasonable and manageable reaction” to “PLEASE HELP ME.” If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with anxiety, you’re not alone. To help, I talked to a few experts on how to cope. Frankly, though, it’s still going to be a challenge. The situation with the new coronavirus is complicated and unprecedented in many ways. When you combine that with the unwieldy nature of anxiety, there aren’t a ton of straightforward answers out there. Some of these tips might feel contradictory, but that’s unavoidable. Where anxiety is concerned, it’s about knowing yourself and what might make you feel better or worse—and also leaning on professional resources (if you can) when you can’t figure it out on your own.

With that in mind, here’s some advice that might help right now.

1. Don’t try to figure out the difference between “reasonable anxiety” and “too much anxiety.”

Usually a story like this would start out with something like, “First, here are signs that your anxiety has become a problem.” You know, so you can recognize when it’s time to talk to someone or otherwise get help. Believe me, I got caught up in this rabbit hole while reporting this story—but it’s actually not worth the headache. In fact, it might just make you more anxious.

Here’s why: Typically, when it comes to gauging whether something like anxiety has become a problem, experts look at how it’s impacting your life and your ability to function normally. Are you too anxious to go to work or school? Are you skipping out on social situations? Are you avoiding things you normally love? Et cetera. Buuut that criteria doesn’t really apply when we’re talking about the new coronavirus because the disease itself is interfering with how we live our lives.

“It’s perfectly legitimate to worry,” psychologist Baruch Fischhoff, Ph.D., a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and expert in public perception of risk, tells SELF. “It’s a complicated, uncertain situation on multiple levels.”

Given how rapidly the situation is evolving and how many answers experts still don’t have, it’s pretty difficult to try to answer the question, “Am I being too anxious or just anxious enough given the circumstances?” For example, if you’re not particularly at risk of serious illness from COVID-19 but decide to work from home to be super cautious anyway, is that your anxiety interfering with your life or is it a reasonable, responsible choice? Honestly, none of the experts I talked to had a straight answer for this, both because it’s so case by case, but also because it’s just a gray area. “It’s hard to separate that out at this point because coronavirus is real. It’s happening,” Jenny Yip, Psy.D., clinical psychologist who specializes in OCD and anxiety, tells SELF. “It’s not an irrational fear with no basis in reality.”

Instead, what I gathered while reporting is that it’s more helpful to pay attention to when your anxiety interferes with your ability to take care of yourself. There’s no “anxious enough” bar you have to pass to start actively trying to mitigate the new coronavirus’s impact on your mental health. Times are stressful, so regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of coronavirus anxiety right now, look after yourself using the tips on this list. If you have a hard time doing that, prioritize asking for help (more on that later).

2. Limit where you get updates about the new coronavirus.

This is the big one, y’all. Because the situation is ongoing, you might feel the need to remain super plugged in, whether that’s by continuously scrolling Twitter or always having a news channel on in the background. And that’s not great. Staying up on the facts is a good way to manage anxiety and keep things in perspective to a point, but remaining too plugged in is just a recipe for anxiety.

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