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Me, Panic? 4 Ways I’m Dealing with My Coronavirus Anxiety

Coronavirus anxiety Coronavirus anxiety

Last week, I did a speaking event in Chicago and was completely unfazed by the rising panic about Coronavirus. This week, I cancelled an event, stocked up on pantry staples, and talked my mom out of attending a family wedding in England. While it may look like I’ve suddenly jumped into the deep end of mass hysteria, I’m actually pretty proud of myself for (so far) keeping a fairly even keel on my Coronavirus anxiety. I’m adjusting my actions while not ramping up my fear. But this hasn’t always been easy for me.

As someone who grew up with a “prepper” for a dad (no joke, he has an underground bunker stocked with Spam), for much of my life I was very used to existing in end-of-the-world disaster mode. But over the years, I’ve learned to reign in the anxiety provoked by my dad’s “be prepared” messaging, which is helpful for times like these. I’ve had a long time to practice strategies for helping me live in the space between panic and practical caution.

Here are four ways I’m coping with my Coronavirus anxiety right now – even as the situation changes rapidly day by day.

1) I’m limiting the amount of time I spend consuming news.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m staying informed. But every media outlet in the world is covering Coronavirus around the clock. There are breaking updates constantly, and because the virus has been moving at an alarming pace, it can be very overwhelming to stay on it in real-time. So I choose a couple trusted sources to check in with at set times of the day. By putting a cap on how much I consume, I avoid feeling buried in fear by the sheer volume of coverage.

2) I’m following directions.

I’m not generally a by-the-book Rule Follower, but right now, taking the prevention measures outlined by the CDC helps me keep my calm in a world of strangers touching all the same door handles as I am. Small action steps like hand-washing, limiting social interaction, and wiping down frequently-used surfaces feels downright cathartic right now, and it helps to know that I’m doing what I can to help flatten the curve (and keep my family healthy). As for the chapped hands, I’m using a nice-smelling balm to turn it into a self-care moment. A deep breath of lavender scent and clean hands? Nothing better. (Except for maybe the new freedom to cancel plans with a pandemic as an excuse.)

3) I’m planning for the possible

Planning doesn’t necessarily mean doomsday prepping (even though my dad may think so). I’ve found that getting organized helps me maintain my feeling of security and peace. This doesn’t mean I’ve been hoarding stockpiles of Costco toilet paper and bottled water, but it does mean that I’ve put some extra chicken nuggets in the freezer, bought a backup bag dog food, stocked our medicine cabinet, and shored up our collection of cleaning supplies. If we end up needing to self-isolate, I know I won’t want to be schlepping my kids to the grocery store. And if the worst doesn’t come to pass? We’ll use up this stuff in a reasonable amount of time, anyway.

4) I’m keeping my kids IN the loop.

My elementary-aged kids are getting an earful about Coronavirus at school, and they need some guidance and reassurance right now from a trusted source rather than the excited chatter of their friends. So I’m giving them the facts they need to know to keep them cautious but not scared of everyday life. That means reminding them to wash their hands (obviously), letting them know that we’re ready to care for them if they get sick, and sharing with them big news items and giving them space to ask questions. Being as open as possible — in a way that isn’t alarmist  — helps them, and also reminds me to focus on the things that I can control, rather than worry about the what ifs. After all, it’s all too easy to focus on those what ifs.

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Gemma Hartley is a freelance journalist and author of Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women and the Way Forward. She lives in Reno, Nevada with her husband and three young children.