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Managing the stress of Coronavirus

It’s completely normal to be worried about one’s health. After all, the urge to be aware of how one feels and to look out for symptoms is rooted in the evolutionary process of protecting ourselves from danger. Humans are built to be vigilant, and in some cases, hypervigilant of anything that could be harmful both outside (a predator for example) and inside the body such as a sickness or disease. Our ability to survive over centuries has been based on how well we recognize dangers and threats and to react appropriately. In the case of health concerns, particularly around contagious sickness, these worries can become obsessions and can often be more bothersome in a way that is disproportionate to contracting the disease itself.

Whether it’s avian flu, SARS, or Coronavirus, the anxiety and uncertainty that follows can be overwhelming at times. Right now, many of you might be trying to seek out the last remaining bottle of hand sanitizer, or wondering if you should cancel an upcoming flight or ride a bike instead of taking the subway. We don’t have answers to all of your questions, but we do have some tips for mitigating some of the stress you might be experiencing.

Identify what you can control

One of the things that humans are most disturbed by is a sense of loss of control in their lives or general uncertainty. In fact, one of the biggest fears we have is not understanding what we can do to keep ourselves safe. In sport & performance psychology, we use the acronym APE as a way of identifying what is in our control. We can always control our Attitude, our Preparation, and our Effort, and with regard to concern over the Coronavirus, it’s very important to try to focus our attention in these three areas.

Your biggest resource is your attitude

Our mindset and way of viewing the situation is in fact what determines, for the most part, our level of discomfort with what’s going on. There are many things you can do to improve your mindset and your attitude towards the situation. The first of which is to make sure that you are thinking adaptively. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), we examine our thoughts and test the reality and adaptivity of what we’re thinking. Most humans make two errors in their thinking: jumping to conclusions and blowing things out of proportion. One way to challenge these cognitive errors is to look at the data.

Practical preparation to limit the risk of exposure and transmission

While we’re here mainly to try to assuage your anxiety over the Coronavirus, please note that there are several practical steps you can be taking to reduce your risk of getting or spreading the virus. Please use the links below for a comprehensive guide on what to do:

General information on Coronavirus

Why Social Distancing is critical!

How to wash your hands

How to stop touching your face

Engage in mental and physical exercise to combat immediate stress

There are many effective methods of stress management. If you notice that you are feeling agitated, trying mindfulness can be very helpful. You may also benefit from deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. And simply relying on friends and family to talk things through can be as helpful as staying active or practicing any of the above exercises.

Whenever you notice that you’re focusing on an unhelpful or uncontrollable aspect of this situation, try to divert your attention to some of the above strategies and techniques. And if you notice that you are overwhelmed or feeling significantly bothered by these worries, we suggest that you make an appointment with a mental health professional to discuss them in greater detail.

Here’s to your health!

– The USP Team

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