Coping With Coronavirus Anxiety – Norman Brier, Ph.D.

It is normal to be anxious – Given the politics and mixed messages that infuse discussions of the Coronavirus, the limited knowledge that we currently have, and the as yet insufficient tools  available to manage the illness, most of us are likely to feel a profound sense of uncertainty. We cannot predict either our or our loved ones risk for the virus,  nor what will happen in regard to many everyday small and large matters. The result is that we are likely to be very anxious. 

To manage our anxiety it is helpful to:

1. Focus on the facts by relying only on information from reliable information sources such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;

2. Keep things in proportion – by noting: 

a) what the Coronavirus symptoms actually are. Based on the 55,924 cases found in China the two most common symptoms are fever (about 90%) and a dry cough (about 67%). The next most common symptom is fatigue (about 40%). Other symptoms include sputum or thick mucus production (about 33%) and shortness of breath (about 19%) *. In terms of progression, symptoms typically start with fever, followed by a dry cough, and then for some but not all, shortness of breath. It is  particularly important to note what the symptoms of  Coronavirus are not , for example, a runny nose or cough triggered by post nasal drip.

b) our own and loved ones actual risk of getting ill as a result of the virus based on whether or not we have known risk factors.  Currently these risk factors include: having an underlying health condition such as heart disease, lung disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and diabetes, and being age 60 or older, most likely because of the increased likelihood that past this age it is more likely that a person will have an underlying health condition. c) if we are keeping our concerns in proportion to the actual  level of risk we face by not “catastrophizing or allowing ourselves to fill in the unknown with the worst outcome that we can imagine and by not allowing ourselves to become preoccupied with the dangers posed by the virus listening throughout the day to updates about its spread;. 

3. Consider using the serenity prayer –  Given the fact that at present we have only a limited amount of control in regard to the virus, we may benefit by following the wisdom described in the “serenity prayer”- to first distinguish what we can control from what we cannot, and then to try to control what we can. In regard to the illness, at present that includes taking established precautions (i.e. washing our hands frequently, covering a cough, distancing ourselves from others, especially others  who cough, and avoiding touching our eyes, nose, and mouth*.

4. Focus on whatever comforting information is known – We might note such things as: the mortality rate for people without a preexisting condition is less than 1%; our lacking particular risk factors for the virus, the mild nature of the illness for the majority of people (i.e. 81%) who are infected, the declining rate of the virus in countries where the virus was first seen, and the relatively low mortality rate of less than 1% when all people who have been infected are considered rather than the 3% to 4% when people who show signs of illness are only considered (*all facts taken from WHO website).

5.  Create and employ diversions –  It is helpful to help us divert our attention away from our fears and to relax. We need to engage in activities that we enjoy (e.g. Netflix, video games) and that in the past  have helped us relax (e.g. hobbies, meditation). 

6. Connect to others – Since social distancing to mitigate the risk of the virus is extremely important, we may feel isolated and lonely. We need to talk to friends and family regularly, share how we are feeling and coping, see how others are feeling and coping and  talk about issues unrelated to the virus as well. 

7. Be our aspired self – In the face of our having only limited influence over our external environment, we may be able to increase our sense of  control by attempting to regulate our “internal” environment. To do so, we can define and set behavioral targets as to how we aspire or ideally wish to be. For example, we can imagine ourselves as reasoned, a person who strives to think carefully about what constitutes a reasonable risk before acting, considerate, and calm.


Coronavirus Information

National government and official sites.

NY State official resources.

Town Of Bedford local resources.

Apple COVID-19 App IPhone screening tool.

How To Make Your Own Facemask using common materials.

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