There is good news and bad news about COVID-19.  In coping with worry and anxiety, a good starting point is to get the facts about the pandemic (rapid worldwide spread of COVID-19 due to the novel coronavirus).  Some pretty solid good news is that most people who are tested for the virus (usually because they have a dry cough, fever, and/or fatigue, or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19) don’t seem to have it.  Also, less than 7% of confirmed cases worldwide are fatal.  So far less than 1% of the U.S. population (actually less than 5 in 1000 people) has tested positive (indicating they have the virus).  However, because less than 1% of the population has been tested, and many people may have the virus and not show it, the infected percent of the population may be higher.  Data from China suggest that for every known case of infection, there could be up to 10 people with the virus that remain unidentified.   That might raise that 1% infection figure to 11%.  That’s more than 1 in 10!  People with undetected coronavirus infections may spread up to two-thirds of COVID-19 infections.  Government control efforts and public precautions appear to have reduced the rate of COVID-19 spread.

The way we think about the pandemic can have a big impact on how we feel and act in response to it.  Denial or excessive distraction may contribute to our under-reacting.  One reason we have anxiety is to motivate us to act in the presence of real danger.  COVID-19 does represent a real danger to each of us and those we love.  Though we might feel well, we could be taking actions that will either get ourselves or our loved ones sick.  It is important that we take the precautions recommended by experts (handwashing, covering coughs and sneezes, social distancing, staying at home, wearing a mask in public, and cleaning our living environments) to reduce our chances of getting COVID-19 or giving it to others.  These actions represent our power in the face of this pandemic.

It is also possible that we can exaggerate the danger, taking a bad situation and making it worse in our minds than it actually is.  For example, we might convince ourselves that we or our loved ones will definitely get the virus, and that if we do it will prove fatal.  This could result in disruptive anxiety (which could actually weaken our immune systems) and over-reaction.  In the face of worries, psychologists recommend that we estimate how likely it is that what we fear will happen.  Chances are you will not get the virus, and that if you do it will not prove fatal.  Psychologists also recommend that you identify and act on ways to prevent or reduce the chances of the bad outcome you fear.  This involves following the advice of the experts, recognizing when you’ve done all you can, and then distracting from the worries.  This distracting may become easier if you set aside 15 minutes or so each day to think through your worries, how likely bad outcomes are, what you can do to prevent them, and even what you’d do if the worst thing happens.  For example, if you develop symptoms similar to COVID-19, the first thing you want to do is contact your healthcare provider.  They will advise you of how best to proceed from there, including avoiding contact with others and getting plenty of rest. 

Helpful distraction is aided by engaging in interesting activities.  Here is a list of ideas for entertaining yourself, and a list of strategies for interacting with friends and family, while maintaining social distance.  This will help you keep your spirits up, prevent loneliness, and attend to the people and causes that are important to you.  Remember, there are still ways to exercise and relax your mind and body.  You can even take a class called “Punch Through Pandemics with Psychological Science”.  Take good care!