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COVID Anxiety is Very Real

By Jean M. Breny, PhD, MPH, Professor and Chair, SCSU Department of Public Health

There is no doubt that at some point during the 18-months of the COVID-19 pandemic, you or someone you know has felt anxious.  Anxious about the tremendous numbers of COVID cases and deaths, fear around transmission, uncertainty about getting the vaccine, and impatience and urgency to get back to life as we all once knew it.  If you have felt any of these emotions, you are not alone!  You are not “losing” it: COVID anxiety is a real thing, and most often it comes when we do not feel in control of something.

We thought that this past summer could be the end of COVID, but here we are; still seeing large numbers of people dying daily and parts of the US with increasing rates of cases. And, as we move into the fall and winter of 2021, we see the days getting shorter and holiday stress starting to pick up, the added anxiety of COVID doesn’t help.  Aren’t we done with this, already? 

I am not going to lie, for the past several years now, there has been a lot going on in our world that I feel anxious about. But, no matter the trigger, ways to manage anxiety are similar:

  • getting out in to nature and exercising
  • engaging in stress-reducing activities like yoga and meditation
  • seeing those friends and family members who support you and help you to feel better
  • taking a nap
  • And my personal favorite, taking 10 very deep breaths.

COVID also brings with it some very real and unique stress and anxiety triggers and here are some suggestions on how to best manage these:

Winter is Coming!  That means the onset of other things that could cause us to get sick, like the flu or common cold. What you can do is follow simple past practices to stay healthy: get a flu shot, take extra Vitamin C and zinc or any other supplements that have worked for you; stay hydrated; stay away from people who are sick; and if you are starting to feel run down, rest.

Facts Matter! If you are hearing conflicting stories or theories about COVID transmission, rates or statistics, about the vaccine, or about treatments; go to trusted sources for the most up to date facts and information. Sites such as CDC.gov, npr.org, and the CT DPH site are all excellent sources of information.

Don’t be Isolated! It’s true that sometimes being alone seems like the best thing when we have anxiety or fear, especially around a communicable disease like COVID. In some cases, this might be true but for the most part this is harmful.  Being around and connecting with people who serve your highest good, who help you feel better physically and emotionally, is much better than trying to pick yourself up. And, there are so many great ways to do this!  Join a sports team, go to trivia night (but wear your mask!), phone a friend, take an art class, go to a concert…all can help lift the spirits and make you feel hopeful again.

Feel Optimistic! I know this is hard to do when the news is so dire, but I know we will all get through this. Plan for yourself some big things you will do when is safe to do so: that trip to New Zealand you always wanted to take, or that family reunion you’ve had to put off for two years. As we start to see some normalcy of life and living again, planning for a fun event will help you pass the time.

The current indicators are that we are starting to get a handle on COVID.  Last week, we received some good news when Dr. Anthony Fauci appeared on CNN to say that for those who are vaccinated, Halloween trick or treating and all of our fall and winter holidays should be fine and even encouraged, because of how stressful the past year and a half has been.

Another piece of good news is that, due in large part to the efficacy of vaccinations, we are seeing a decline in daily new cases of COVID across the U.S. Just this week we are also seeing hospitalizations decrease, which is an indication that those who have tested positive are not getting as sick as they once were, particularly in terms of breakthrough cases in vaccinated individuals.

Although only slightly more than half of the overall U.S. population is fully vaccinated, that number is increasing and is much higher in Connecticut. There has also been hopeful news about vaccination approvals for children, with both Moderna and Pfizer in clinical trials testing the efficacy of their vaccines among 5- to 11-year-olds.

And, more good news, booster shots are available for the most vulnerable of our population – the elderly and those with compromised immune systems – as well as for our health care front line workers. New medications to treat COVID symptoms are also under development by Pfizer and Merck.

The bottom line is this:  we are moving in the right direction and we will get through this. There is hope on the horizon!

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