You have a cough. A weird ache here or there. Next thing you know, you’re down the Google / WebMD rabbit hole and have diagnosed yourself with a disease that you’ve simultaneously never heard of but also somehow now are an expert in managing.
We’ve all been there.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought the unthinkable to our front door. Tempered anxieties are now untamed, pushing at every “button” we have. Each “end in sight” moment - “we’ll just be hanging out at home a few weeks”, the summer reprieve, the vaccine - has brought its own curveball to push the pandemic into extra innings. And if you are already living with a chronic illness, it may seem like too much to handle without hermit-holing it up for another year.
What is one to do when health anxiety, especially health anxiety during COVID-19, seems like it’s ruling your life?
Here are a few ideas that might help.
1. First, let’s call a spade a spade. This pandemic is crazy. You’re not wrong to worry about how contracting COVID may impact your health and family’s wellbeing. You have one body and want to treat it well. Don’t forget that health includes your mental wellness, too. As you manage your health worries, acknowledge that COVID is very real threat, and yet …
2. It's about balance. Is there any other explanation for a symptom? Is there any other way to view a scenario. Is there a middle ground? A non black-and-white, all-or-nothing take on socializing? Want to get out but also limit risk? Think about the things that make you smile, figure out a safe way to make those happen, and develop alternatives for things you can live without. How can grocery pickup/delivery, eating takeout, and outdoor get togethers make a different for you?
3. Maintain your regular checkups with your Primary Care Physician, OBGYN, or other healthcare provider. These routine visits allow you and the healthcare team you trust to assess your baseline and discuss your worries. Don’t have a PCP, OBGYN, or other provider you like or trust? Call your insurance company to learn who is in-network and get something on the books.
4. Limit media consumption - both mass media and social media. While the pandemic is very real and very serious, the 24/7 news cycle doesn’t allow for a break from the heaviness of it all. Identify the sources you trust and get your information from them. Social media can also break us down in so many ways - false or misleading articles shared without regulation or watching friends behave in ways we deem unsafe can take a toll on us. Need support in this area? Set app limits on your phone or use timers to encourage breaks.
5. Focus on the things you can control, like your own mask wearing, hand washing, and social distancing. You also have some control over the space in which you live (unless you have toddlers - that’s a story for another day!) - make it your safe haven. Right now, think about three things YOU can control:
6. Health anxiety is often higher in people who experience larger amounts of isolation. Isolation can have major impacts on physical and mental health, too, causing changes in your sleep, memory, digestion, heart function, and mood. Consider ways you can connect with others that feel safe to you … Walks or meet-ups at the park? Visits with 1 - 2 friends who are fully vaccinated? Virtual game night with friends? There are more opportunities to connect with others now than ever before - be creative in finding something that works for you.