Simple strategies to cope with fear during the COVID-19 outbreak

by Elizabeth Rago

I feel the fear and uncertainty of what's going on in the world in terms of panic in response to COVID-19 and it’s derailing me. I have a hard enough time keeping my shit together when we’re not on lockdown from a global virus, but the minute-by-minute updates of how many people are being diagnosed with Coronavirus and drowning in what-ifs and people ranting about toilet paper is dizzying.

To maintain my peace, I must have boundaries. I need to step away from the overwhelming need to check and see how the world is doing, as that leads to a catastrophized spiral of doom and panic.

I texted my therapist, the amazing Lauren Mollica, for a little insight on dialing down my anxiety and how I can be proactive in protecting myself from spiraling into a mess of stress and flailing emotions.

#1 - "Stress lowers the immune system. When you’re in fight or flight mode you can’t fight off illness as well as you could if you were calm," explains Lauren.


Both Lauren and my friend and therapist, Michelle Salerno, recommend grounding skills.

“If you find yourself going down the anxiety rabbit hole and all your regular strategies are not working, tap into your five senses,” Michelle said of the 5-4-3-2-1 technique.

The grounding activity starts with a deep inhale and an even longer exhale. Next, scan your environment. Look for five things you can see and say them out loud. Now, how does your body feel? Think of four things you can physically identify and say them out loud. For example, the sun is shining on my skin and it feels warm, or, my socks are tight on my feet.

Next, listen for three things you can hear around you. This could be the sound of people talking around you, the hum of your laptop, or a car muffler rumbling by outside. Now, say two things you can smell. Finally, say one thing you can taste.

“If you say these observations out loud, you cut off the running of your anxious mind,” says Michelle said. “Your thought process shifts and, hopefully, gets you passed that negative spiral.”

If grounding exercises are not cutting it, try the teletherapy option where therapists can videoconference a counseling session with you from the safety of your own home. Psychology Today has a nationwide list of practitioners that offer online and phone counseling.

#2 - Feeling unsafe? Identify what makes you feel secure.


"If that’s snuggling in a blanket at home - perfect!" says Lauren.

Take time to identify what or who brings you stability and comfort. Text, or better yet, call or Facetime a friend who will bring you laughter and peace for a bit. Snuggle with a pet, groom your houseplants, make a meal from scratch (chopping vegetables does wonders to stabilize your mood!), do yoga in your living room, or turn up some music and have a dance party.

Not in the mood to move? Tap into a conversation (like prayer) with a higher power that you deem as a comforter. Envision leaning on that being, releasing the responsibility of what you can't control to God, and then breathe and breathe and breathe.

#3 - Stay away from social media for now.


If watching the news or scrolling through feeds of endless updates about toilet paper hoarding gets your chest tightening - limit your time online. Find a source of info that will keep you informed, but not send you into unnecessary panic.

Here are some sound sources that have "skin in the game" and bear actual responsibility for the information they distribute: