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Anxious about the Coronavirus? Try This.

Life is full of anxiety. Right now, Seattle is full of COVID-19 anxiety. Here are some quick tips to manage it.

First, the Sonics left our town years ago and haven’t come back. Nothing matters.

Second, just kidding. Do this: label your emotions. Figure out what you are feeling and describe it to yourself. “Afraid,” “nervous,” “pensive,” “jittery.” We teach children to do this but often let this practice slip as our emotions become more complex. This makes sense: it gets harder. It’s much easier to help a child recognize that they’re hungry—and that’s why they just broke their toy—than it is to tell ourselves that we feel a mix of schadenfreude and longing at the news of an ex’s misfortune. However, unpleasant feelings that aren’t even recognized cause a lot of distress. Labelling your emotions gives you some insight about what you’re feeling and can guide you to action (if applicable).

Second, narrate your feelings to yourself. This is the subtle, but important difference between “I’m afraid” and “I’m feeling afraid.” In the first example, what are you? You ARE afraid. In the second example, what are you? You are a thinking, feeling person who is currently feeling afraid. Telling yourself that you “feel afraid” or that you are “having the thought that my boss is stupid” gives you space to examine your feelings and thoughts. The feelings or thoughts may not go away—you may get the space to critically examine them and conclude that they are reasonable—but you can actually make a decision about them.

Third, determine what you are going to do about the anxiety. There are four possible options: 1) Do something to make it worse; 2) Let time pass without making it worse; 3) Make yourself feel better about the situation without changing it; and 4) Change the thing making you anxious. Unfortunately, many people think the only options are to fix something or do nothing, but there is a world of options even without “solving” the issue. How might these options look with the Coronavirus?

To make things worse, you might say “screw it” and completely shut down. You stop listening to any news about the virus, disbelieve any authorities because they “can’t really know what to do either,” and stop washing your hands. That is the first option above. The second option, letting time pass, might be to just sit for a while and see what happens to your anxiety. Stop listening to the news for a second, stop reading about the virus, and just let time pass. See what happens to your feelings. Do this for a few weeks and don’t cough on a bunch of people in the meantime. Third option, making yourself feel better: you do not need to solve the problem to feel better—there are things you can do that help.

Here is a quick one called the “box breath.” Inhale for four seconds, hold it for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, and hold that for four seconds. Repeat until you feel calm. This slows your breathing and sends your body a powerful message that it does not need to be in fight-or-flight mode—hard to fight or run from a virus anyways. The last option is to fix the problem. Eradicating COVID-19 may not be in your purview, but I bet there are concrete steps you could take to reduce your risk of illness, and reduce your risk of transmitting it to other people. Come up with a plan and follow through.

Everyone gets sick. Unfortunately, some of us will get sick with COVID-19, and that can be quite serious. And yet, being miserable while we wait only adds to our suffering. I hope these tips are helpful for you.

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