The Coronavirus is Contagious. So is Fear.

By now you’ve probably received an email from your employer, your airline, your phone company, your child’s school, your doctor’s office, and every other entity you’re connected to with some messaging about the coronavirus. We fully expected news coverage of it, and at least a press conference or two from the government, but coronavirus has gone so far as to email us — repeatedly. It has made personal contact to a private address, bringing with it tips and tricks to avoid it.

The awful truth is that we simply can’t.

The coronavirus, much like Zika virus and Ebola virus and Swine Flu and SARS and West Nile virus, is in the air. It’s already earned a new nickname, COVID-19, to distinguish it from the other coronavirus strains that most of us mistake for a bad cold. It is a real virus that causes a real health concern, especially for older adults and people who may have chronic heart, lung or kidney disease. It does require vigilance and behavior modifications to protect yourself, especially as it is easily spread.

But does it require panic? Will our heightened anxiety about coronavirus translate into protection? Will waiting in line at Costco with a year’s worth of toilet paper spare us or expose us? What should we be doing to stay healthy?

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“Intense, sustained anxiety can suppress the immune system, and given the amount of exposure to the coronavirus information being circulated around the clock, most people are experiencing more anxiety and for longer periods,” said Joshua Flatow, a psychiatrist at Pacific Mind Health in Los Angeles, Calif. “Of course, anxiety will not cause any illness, but the suppression of the immune system can increase susceptibility.”

Consider how the run on supplies may be affecting you. Typically you may go buy bottled water and pick up some hand sanitizer while in the checkout lane. Now you can’t find hand sanitizer. Nor can you buy masks. Bottled water is scarce on shelves, and easy-to-find over-the-counter medications for things like fever and cough are suddenly impossible-to-find.
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Last week Amazon had to crack down on people trying to profit off of fear by attaching misleading information about coronavirus to products, and this week it has removed more than half a million products for price gouging. How are we supposed to prepare when we can’t get what we need to be prepared?

You Do Not Need to Buy Anything Special to Combat Coronavirus

The reality is you don’t need to buy anything special to combat coronavirus. You need to be disciplined at washing your hands thoroughly and often. You need to maintain a clean environment, including wiping down surfaces touched by multiple people, especially cell phones. You need to avoid crowds and provide some extra personal space when in lines or congested areas. You need to isolate yourself if you are sick or exposed to someone sick, and resist the temptation to find comfort in denial.

And you need to manage your anxiety.

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“As troubling as it is, coronavirus has united us around the world,” said Joshua Flatow, a psychiatrist at Pacific Mind Health in Los Angeles, Calif. “We felt for the whistleblowing doctors and nurses in Wuhan. We tried to imagine what it would be like to be stuck on a cruise ship with infected people and no ability to leave. We felt grief and relief as our calendars cleared with all the cancellations and postponements of events and commitments. The world is experiencing the same worry, and it’s this global concern and connection that has spread fear and spiked anxiety.”

The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 is going to persist until it stops spreading, and anxiety will continue spiraling as well. Many aspects of this outbreak are out of our control, but what we can do is protect our mental health.

Tips for Staying Sane amidst COVID-19 Craziness
  • Maintain normal routines, even in abnormal situations. Doing as much of your normal routine will give you a sense of control and decrease your feeling of vulnerability and powerlessness.
  • Get some rest. Not only is sleep good for your immune system, but it also helps regulate your emotions.
  • Even if you’re staying away from crowds, try to take a walk and get some fresh air. A little bit of exercise and balance in nature can have a calming effect.
  • Find your “thermometer” person, the one who you trust to take the temperature of a bad situation. The one who knows just what to say to get you off the emotional ledge. Talk through your concerns with him or her, and tune out the frenzy people or media outlets who cause your heart to beat faster and make you feel a little dizzy. If you’re isolating to reduce exposure, be sure to reach out over the phone or text since isolation can actually worsen anxiety.
  • Distract yourself with games, movies, meditation, books, crafts, home improvement projects, whatever you enjoy. Be active in shifting your focus from a major source of anxiety to a source of joy or relaxation.
  • Stay hopeful. Yes, this is a scary time, but many people who were infected have completely recovered and many people had symptoms no worse than a seasonal cold. People are actively doing things like working from home and cancelling events to contain the spread of Covid-19. With each day that passes, we become better at managing the pandemic, testing symptomatic people, providing real social support, and understanding the virus.
  • Get help if it becomes too much. Each person’s threshold for anxiety is different and based on a multitude of factors, but if anxiety is affecting your ability to function or you’re unable to shift your focus off of the virus no matter how hard you try, you likely need professional help.

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Pacific Mind Health is Offering Telemedicine to Our Patients

Pacific Mind Health in Los Angeles, Calif., is offering its patients the opportunity to obtain and continue their care through its easy, convenient telemedicine program. Telemedicine is a form of a secure video appointment that allows patients to connect with a provider from the comfort of home.

​Primary doctors and urgent care clinics are also encouraging phone and telemedicine visits for patients, especially those with fever and dry cough, symptoms of COVID-19 infection that arrive 2-14 days after exposure. If you are feeling sick and are unsure if it is due to allergies, flu, or another virus consider these appointment alternatives to contain exposure.

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Anyone feeling extra anxious over coronavirus should not feel hopeless or unsupported,” said Dr. Flatow. “Even people with optimal mental health are struggling with tolerating vulnerability and managing uncertainty associated with an outbreak like this. At Pacific Mind Health, we help patients not only develop effective strategies for coping with this event, but also with everyday life events that cause anxiety.”

Pacific Mind Health offers comprehensive mental health care for a range of psychiatric conditions. If you are looking for a psychiatrist in Los Angeles or Long Beach, California, or telepsychiatry in California, please contact us to schedule an appointment.