Tips for Dealing with High Anxiety in the Age of COVID-19


The new coronavirus has upended lives across the globe. Phrases such as “social distancing” and “sheltering at home,” not used even a month ago, have become the prime directive from a number elected officials.

Meanwhile, families are trying to home-school their children while working out of a home office – which may be just a corner of a table or couch – and that’s only if you haven’t already lost your job, business or savings and retirement.

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Some people are already in the throes of fighting the virus. Others are caring for a friend or family member who has it.

Anxiety and depression already affect millions in the U.S. Now, even more people are at risk.

“It does cause a significant amount of worry since things are being paused right now,” said Inger Burnett-Zeigler, a licensed clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “As a clinician, I try to remind folks that so much of this is out of our control right now. The one kind of thing that I’d like to reinforce to myself, to my colleagues and to the young people that I work with is: everyone really is in the same boat right now.”

For the health and safety of both patients and clinicians, mental health providers are now transitioning to telehealth services, which include either phone conversations or appointments using online video services like Skype, Zoom or Google Hangouts.

“We’re learning new procedures, we’re learning new technologies, but we’re really committed to being able to continue to meet the needs knowing that lots of folks are struggling with their transitions and their personal lives, and experiencing increases and stress and anxiety like many of us in the world are right now,” said Burnett-Zeigler.

But not everybody has a mental health provider. If that’s the case, Burnett-Zeigler recommends reaching out to your physician for a recommendation. “Your primary care physician can be a really great gateway into determining kind of where you are on the spectrum of symptoms and then helping to connect you to a more specialized provider,” she said.

Burnett-Zeigler also has a number of recommendations to reduce stress.

“It’s important to keep people empowered to try and take care of their mental health with some of the tools that they have,” she said. “So those are things like keeping your structure. Keeping your connections with friends and loved ones. Offering yourself some compassion about what you can and can’t do during this difficult time. Maintaining an exercise regimen if you had one, maybe starting one, if you didn’t have one.” 

She also suggests deep breathing and mindfulness.

“Mindfulness is really just about noticing. So I would say just be aware of how you’re feeling from day to day and take this opportunity to slow down,” she said. “It is a change and it’s a change that we don’t have control of. So thinking about letting go of that control, being in the moment and offering yourself some compassion and kindness. You know, no matter where we fall on the spectrum right now, we can only do what we can do in these moments. And being still and taking care of ourselves, I think, is the critical first step.”

Coronavirus Prevention Tips and Resources

Officials advise taking preventive measures to slow the spread of the virus, including: 

—Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water
—Using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
—Sneezing or coughing into a tissue and then disposing of the tissue
—Limiting contact with people regardless of how you feel
—Staying home when you are sick

Symptoms of COVID-19 include, but are not limited to:

—New onset of fever, cough, shortness of breath
—Congestion in the nasal sinuses or lungs
—Sore throat, body aches or unusual fatigue

If you think you have COVID-19:

Call you doctor before showing up at their office. If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, tell the operator that you think you have COVID-19. If possible, wear a mask before medical help arrives or presenting at a doctor’s office. More advice for those who think they have COVID-19.

Additional resources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Illinois’ COVID-19 website
Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) website
—IDPH COVID-19 hotline: 800-889-3931
—IPDH COVID-19 email link
City of Chicago COVID-19 website
—City of Chicago COVID-19 hotline: 312-746-4835
—City of Chicago COVID-19 email link


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