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Health Anxiety and COVID-19

By April 21, 2020April 6th, 2021Blogs, Jennifer Lynch, Psy.D.

Anxiety amid COVID-19 is common. Public events have been cancelled, businesses are closing, people are engaging in panic buying of necessities, and there is a lot of uncertainty. Can you imagine what it would be like to have Health Anxiety in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic? Every cough, sneeze, or intrusive thought can be distressing. People with health anxiety (Illness Anxiety or Somatic Symptom Disorder) are preoccupied with having or acquiring a serious illness, engaging in “what if” thinking, imagining worst case scenarios, and engaging in behaviors related to checking (i.e. regular visits to doctors, reassurance seeking, scanning body for symptoms, searching online for information, and avoidance). As a result, people may lose sleep, engage in unhealthy eating and exercise habits, or even have difficulty leaving the house for fresh air. Precautions are being taken world-wide to slow down the transmission of the disease by engaging in social distancing when outside, wearing masks and increasing cleaning procedures in public places. As a mental health provider, how can we help our patients through this tricky time? One key point is not to engage with the anxiety and tolerate uncertainty. We should help our patients focus on what they are able to control and not give into these anxiety inducing thoughts which can interfere with daily activities and functioning.

Here are some good tips for everyone to battle anxiety:

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories. Only check the news once daily.
  • Take care of your bodies (Prepare healthy meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep)
  • Turn off devices at least an hour before bedtime to allow your minds time to unwind.
  • Set aside time to write down worries to as a way to get bored with your anxious thoughts.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Make time for hobbies and doing things that you enjoy.
  • Engage in a new or unfinished task.
  • Connect with others (friends, family, support groups) via phone, email, video chat, text messages, or mailing letters/cards
  • Continue to engage with your therapist

Remember this is a time of uncertainty for everyone. Think about what is important to you and choose actions that are consistent. Be kind and compassionate towards yourself and others.