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Dealing with anxiety
during COVID-19 crisis

Silver Hill Hospital

COVID-19 has real-life consequences with infection rates and death tolls, but it also brings with it a great deal of uncertainty with many questions that cannot yet be answered. That combination can produce great anxiety, particularly for those with underlying difficulties such as addiction, mental illness or other medical vulnerabilities.

Everyone has their own coping mechanisms when dealing with a crisis. For those who are struggling with anxiety, Silver Hill Hospital President and Medical Director Andrew J. Gerber, MD, PhD, offered advice during one of his “On Our Minds” video series episodes. The series of videos may be found here.

Anxiety, Gerber said, is by some measures the most common psychiatric symptom in America.

“Anxiety is a warning system that tells us the world is not safe,” Gerber said. “What I would say to somebody with an underlying anxiety disorder is: Now more than ever is a time for self-care. It is not a time to tough it out, which rarely works and often makes things worse, but rather a time to be empathic toward oneself. Tell yourself that in a time when everyone is feeling anxious, of course, I’m likely to feel even more anxious than others.”

Gerber offered the following tips for coping with anxiety during the COVID-19 crisis:

  1. Connection. “So much of anxiety is related to the feeling of being alone,” he said. Gerber advises to be with people who reinforce feelings of reassurance and calm. If physically being with those people is not an option, Gerber suggests connecting by phone, video chat, virtual groups or social media. “All of these are powerful ways of not feeling alone during a crisis,” he said.
  2. Physical exercise. Even though going to a gym to exercise with others is not an option at this time, “we have to be innovative and find ways to keep ourselves active physically even under the current circumstances.” Exercising at home or going for a walk or jog away from others are examples of being physically active during the COVID-19 crisis.
  3. Limit exposure to news. Staying informed is important but being bombarded with COVID-19 news and death-toll statistics 24/7 is not healthy and can be very anxiety producing. Limit news exposure to one or two hours a day, Gerber suggests. Also, while social media can be a good tool for connecting with family and friends, limit news intake from these sources.

Gerber pointed out that an unfortunate reaction to stress for some people is to think about harming themselves or even taking their own lives.

“I want to urge anybody who is having feelings like that to reach out right away. There are services available and we can get you help,” Gerber said. “If you feel acutely in danger of harming yourself, please call 911 and emergency services can take care of you.”

The number for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is 1-800-273-TALK. For inpatient, residential or outpatient treatment, call Silver Hill Hospital at 1-866-542-4455.