“Watch out now.
Take care, beware the thoughts that linger
Winding up inside your head.
The hopelessness around you…”
Beware of Darkness – George Harrison
When Prime Minister Churchill made his radio broadcasts during the Battle of Britain during the Second World War, he told his audience, in effect, to chill. Britain might not be winning the war, yet, he admitted, but they had the right stuff. They were tough. They were brave. They could laugh at adversity.
The forces of good would win over evil. It would not be easy, but it would happen.
Attitude would be a key part of this. Keep a stiff upper lip. Don’t take all this too seriously.
Today, we get the opposite message from those in power — not without some justification.
Just today I was speaking to two accomplished women. They are talented, responsible, and well balanced. But they have a problem. They worry too much — and they know it.
Worrying is a drag. It has survival value, but enough is enough. It can cause a chain reaction. Worry about factor A leads to worry about factor B, and so on. Worry makes you susceptible to more worry.
You know where this is going. In many places, COVID-19 is on a slow fadeout. It’s a bumpy ride, but the trends are in the right direction.
Why, then, are so many people still so apprehensive? And are you one of them?
Are you afraid to leave the house because of COVID-19? Do you frequently check for symptoms despite not being in a high-risk scenario? Do you avoid other people?
In some people, the isolation, fear of contracting SARS-CoV-2, and uncertainty during the pandemic have led to what is called “COVID-19 anxiety syndrome.”
The concept was developed by two researchers in the UK: Ana Nikčević and Marcantonio Spada. In a paper in Psychiatry Research in October 2020, they outline the key characteristics: avoidance, compulsive symptom-checking, worrying, and threat monitoring.
Those are fancy words, but we know what they mean. Your life has taken on a darker hue. More gloomy. More antsy. Less joyful. Less spontaneous.
This leads to increased stress (including the PTSD kind), anxiety (including health anxiety), and even thoughts of suicide.
As reported by Medical News Today, they also speculate that the “Big 5” personality traits may play a role. People with high neuroticism may be more vulnerable. On the other hand, those with higher extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness may have a lower risk.
People with OCD tendencies may also be more at risk, as concerns about COVID-19 may amplify the condition.
It’s a vicious circle.
According to several experts, causes of this syndrome include:
The normality of the fear. We may have developed a pattern of excessively safe behaviors that keep us anchored in the fears, even when vaccinated.
Exposure to social media and news, disruption to routines, and difficulty disengaging from the threatening stimuli.
Low tolerance of uncertainty, perceived vulnerability to the virus, and a tendency to worry excessively.
Hypochondria: a natural inclination toward illness anxiety disorder.
Relentless coverage from news outlets and social media.
Misinformation in social media, much of it negative, combined with politicians using the pandemic as leverage.
What to do?
According to expert Lee Chambers, to cope with COVID-19 anxiety syndrome:
Seek out positive messages about fewer cases, the vaccine rollout, and how the risk of death from the disease appears to be lessening due to new treatment options.
Take it slow. Step outside comfort zones your own pace while still practicing safety measures.
Explain your feelings of anxiety to someone you trust. This increases your confidence and allows others to provide the support needed when venturing outside the home.
Be mindful of social media and news reports that may trigger anxiety. Instead, focus on positive, trusted sources of information. Limit exposure to media, perhaps to once a day.
Sounds simple. Doesn’t it?
But for many people, it took months and perhaps years to go down this path. Even with the best intentions and perhaps even interventions, the symptoms won’t go away overnight.
In the meantime, try something small. Take a few deep breaths. Stare at something green, preferably a real plant or even a forest.
Churchill would have a drink and a cigar.
One more thing: Churchill sent up the RAF to protect the skies over Britain.
What can we do about the virus? Take the vaccine. Wear the mask. Keep your distance. And keep your cool.
NOTE: Statistics recorded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June, 2020, a year ago, showed that around 40% of adults in the U.S. reported at least one adverse mental health concern, including anxiety, depression, substance use, and suicidal ideation.
You might also enjoy this article on the top 5 mental health apps.