8 Tips to Manage Your Coronavirus and Social Distancing Anxiety, According to an Expert

Isolation and health fears are affecting everyone.
Isolation and health fears are affecting everyone.
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While the spread of COVID-19 has become a threat to the physical and financial health of the world, the increasing disruption to daily life is exacting another toll, this one on our collective mental health. To stave off transmission, citizens are being urged to keep their physical distance from one another, leading to protracted time either alone or with members of the household. Coupled with unending media coverage of the virus and accompanying worst-case scenarios, anxiety in communities has become palpable.

If you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed by the risk of illness or the reality of limited activity, it’s important to reach out to local mental health professionals for guidance. In many cases, telemedicine appointments will be available. For more general tips on coping with feelings of unease during this period of uncertainty, Mental Floss spoke with David H. Rosmarin, Ph.D., the founder and director of the Center for Anxiety in New York and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. Here’s what he had to say about staying balanced in these tumultuous times.

1. Remember that social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation.

A man holds a toy while video calling a woman and child
Video calling loved ones is a great way to stay connected and feel less alone.
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Leading health experts from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have made it clear that minimizing the impact of coronavirus means lessening transmission by staying home. For people who thrive off social interaction, the practice can be troubling. But Rosmarin says a lack of physical proximity shouldn’t mean a lack of socializing.

“Social distancing does not mean social isolation,” he says. “We can use electronic means to connect to each other.”

Rosmarin says phoning friends and staying in touch can allow us to maintain our connections, though he cautions that social media doesn’t provide the same benefits. “Social media and news might make you feel connected, but it creates distance,” Dr. Rosmarin says. Instead, call or conference people you know personally, one-on-one. Playing online games or other virtual activities can also help you maintain feelings of remaining connected when avoiding in-person visits.

2. Don’t let the news cycle dictate your emotions.

The coronavirus situation is dynamic and seems to change by the hour, resulting in a number of people feeling compelled to stay on top of updates by constantly checking their phones for new information. While that can be stressful at any time, it can affect your ability to relax if you surf news outlets just before going to sleep. “People need to be shutting off information an hour before they go to bed,” Dr. Rosmarin says. “It’s not a good time to be watching the news.” It’s very unlikely an update will be so urgent or pressing it would lose relevance by morning. Sleep is critical to a healthy immune system, and giving yourself an opportunity to unwind is important.

Rosmarin also recommends avoiding scrolling during mealtimes for the same reason. In some cases, it may be best to avoid news or news outlets that make you feel particularly stressed. WHO recommends [PDF] checking in on the news once or twice a day at specific times, and getting information from reliable sources like local health authorities to avoid rumors and misinformation.

3. Don’t argue with people who seem unconcerned about the crisis.

Two children arguing
Now is not the time to pick fights.
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One major source of stress for people right now is the fact that they might face peer pressure from friends or family to attend gatherings when they aren’t comfortable being in groups—even small groups. Others may be upset people aren’t following federal or state guidelines to stay home.

Arguing about it isn’t productive. “This comes up a lot,” Dr. Rosmarin says. “In-laws may feel rejected, or a friend may want to come over. I would suggest a technique called ‘validation.’ You convey to a person that their feelings are reasonable. If someone wants to come over, you can say you’re sorry but that you’re practicing social distancing. You can say, ‘You might feel I’m rejecting you, but I’m not. I want to see you.’ As opposed to, ‘You’re crazy and you’re not paying attention.’ That conversation will always go south.”

4. Ask family members to respect your boundaries.

For many households, school cancellations and shifting to a work-from-home arrangement means couples and children are spending a lot more time together. People who previously had time and space now have neither. Boundaries need to be established. “People need to have a set-up for work,” Dr. Rosmarin says, whether that’s literal (a desk) or figurative (an armchair). Whatever that area is, other family members need to respect that when you’re there, you’re trying to be productive or recharging. “You need to have a certain area of the house where you can go without judgment, a place to either decompress or get things done.”

If you feel a fight coming on, remember you’re in this together—sparring with someone you love and need isn’t going to solve much.

5. Practice a certain amount of acceptance.

A young woman sitting indoors on a sofa at home, reading a book
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In many ways, people are able to exert a significant degree of control over a pandemic. Social distancing, hygiene, and other precautions can make a tremendous impact on the seriousness of the situation. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed by possibilities, Dr. Rosmarin says it’s important to acknowledge our control has limitations. “It’s rare these kinds of things happen, but if you look throughout human history, they do happen,” he says. “We need to respect and appreciate that there’s only so much we can do.” It’s good to pause, step back, and realize you’re doing what you can given the circumstances.

You can also try a technique known as temporal distancing, which imagines how you’ll look back at the present. Thinking about how you’ll remember or regard these events helps remind you they’ll be exactly that one day—a memory.

6. Give yourself a few minutes to think the worst, then move on.

Whether you’re fearing becoming ill or stressing about the overall consequences of coronavirus—and for many, it’s often both—there may be value in giving yourself some time to let your imagination take off. “For a couple of minutes a day, it’s acceptable to think the worst and then move on with your life,” Dr. Rosmarin says. Imagining what you might do if you or a loved one falls ill allows for a degree of emotional preparedness, so long as you confine it to a limited amount of time.

7. Don’t ignore your regular routine.

A woman walking her dog in the park
Continuing aspects of your usual routine, like walking your dog in the park, is a good way to maintain some normalcy.
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Do laundry on Sundays? Keep doing it on Sunday. Not going to work? Get dressed anyway. Maintaining a semblance of a regular routine will go a long way toward helping you avoid feelings of disorganization and unpredictability.

“Anxiety is just the beginning,” Rosmarin says. “Within a week or two, people are probably going to start feeling depressed, sad, and lethargic, especially since we are distancing from one another. That’s really where the benefits of scheduling come in.”

Sticking to your normal sleep and wake times, your exercise routine, and other practices will maintain feelings of familiarity. It will also help you adjust when the world returns—as it inevitably will—to normalcy.

8. Don’t hesitate to seek help if you need it.

For people already struggling with anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or depression, fears over coronavirus can be especially disruptive. Always seek professional help if you feel overwhelmed. Currently, the Center for Anxiety is offering one free virtual consultation no matter where you are in the country. Dial their office at (646) 837-5557 during normal business hours for more information.

7 Quick Tips for Disinfecting Your Home the Smart Way

Frequent cleaning of high-traffic areas can reduce the spread of illness in your home.
Frequent cleaning of high-traffic areas can reduce the spread of illness in your home.
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With many people spending more time—or virtually all of their time—indoors, it’s natural for thoughts to turn to how to best clean surfaces that might help minimize the risk of spreading illness. Although researchers believe respiratory droplets are the primary way coronavirus is transmitted, preliminary data, which is not yet peer-reviewed, suggests the virus may remain on some surfaces for hours or days.

While scrubbing isn't a complex process, there are nonetheless some areas of your home you might be neglecting. Here’s how to best approach a household scrub, as well as identify and disinfect some common germ hot spots.

1. Pay attention to high-touch surfaces and clean them frequently.

High-touch surfaces are exactly what they sound like: Areas in the home that get handled and touched regularly. Think doorknobs, light switches, appliance handles, toilet handles, faucets, and remotes. And don’t forget laptops, keyboards, desks, and phones.

2. Don't just do a quick wipe down. Get the entire surface.

Taking a disinfecting wipe to the keyhole of a doorknob isn’t going to do you much good—it's important to really scrub all high-touch surfaces. Make sure you get every available surface area, including the plate behind the knob where fingers and hands often brush against it. When cleaning remotes, make sure you don't just scrub the buttons, but the space between them as well.

3. You can use soap and water.

While products claiming to kill 99.9 percent of germs are best in this scenario, there's another option if you're having a hard time tracking down those supplies—simply mix some dish soap in water. It won’t kill organisms, but it can remove them from the surface. (And while soap and water can work for high-touch surfaces throughout the home, you shouldn't use the solution on electronics like your remote or keyboard.)

If you’re looking to kill germs, diluted bleach (four teaspoons to one quart of water) and 70 percent alcohol solutions work well. But it's important to note that bleach and other cleaners can harm certain surfaces. So be sure to do your research and make sure the product you're using won't cause any damage before you start scrubbing.

4. Take laundry precautions.

If you’re trying to be extra-vigilant about the spread of germs in the house, you should consider washing clothes at the highest possible temperature and disinfecting laundry bins. It’s also advisable to use disposable laundry bags.

5. Remove your shoes before entering the house.

This step is more preventative, but it’s a simple way to keep from tracking in contaminants. Remove your shoes before going inside and leave them near the door. It's also a good idea to clean floor surfaces with disinfecting mop cloths, but be sure anything you use is safe for the finished surface. Cleaners like bleach can discolor certain materials.

6. Don't forget to clean your car.

Even people vigilant about cleaning their home can neglect their car interior. Since you’re constantly touching virtually every surface, be sure to wipe everything down regularly, including the steering wheel and door handles. If you have a leather interior, there are auto wipes available for those surfaces. And before you go wipe down any touchscreens, be sure to check your owner’s manual to see if they require any special microfiber cloth.

7. Give your debit cards a wipe.

It’s a good idea to disinfect credit or debit cards that follow you around on shopping excursions. As with all high-touch objects, be sure to wipe them down every day.

[h/t New York Times]

The World Health Organization Is Releasing a COVID-19 App to Combat Coronavirus Misinformation

WHO MyHealth is meant to help clear up misinformation surrounding the novel coronavirus.
WHO MyHealth is meant to help clear up misinformation surrounding the novel coronavirus.
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As is the case with most crises, the novel coronavirus has become a breeding ground for misinformation. Because the disease is so new, there are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding it, but that hasn't stopped people from claiming to know how to treat, prevent, and detect COVID-19. In an effort to separate fact from fiction, the World Health Organization (WHO) is launching an app dedicated to sharing what we know and don't know about the virus, 9to5Google reports.

Named WHO MyHealth, the new app is a collaboration between former Google and Microsoft employees, WHO advisors and ambassadors, and other tech and health experts. Users will be able to compare their symptoms with those linked to COVID-19 and receive public health updates specific to their location. As of now, there are plans to invite people who have been either been diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19 to share their phone's location history to give experts a better idea of how the virus spreads.

WHO MyHealth, which is currently being built as open source, is set to roll out for Android and iOS on Monday, March 30. If you have questions about COVID-19 you need answered immediately, you can also access accurate and up-to-date information through the WHO's chatbot.

Any information regarding novel coronavirus should be met with skepticism when it can't be traced back to organizations like the WHO or the CDC—especially when it comes to supposed cures. No specific medication has been proven to treat or prevent COVID-19, so you shouldn't take advice from anyone claiming otherwise.

[h/t 9to5Google]