Battling Severe Anxiety Amid the Growing Coronavirus Pandemic

Nicole Rojas
Mar 29, 2020 - 12:06

It’s a sunny Friday afternoon and I haven’t checked my temperature all day today. I’m considering this a victory. Every day for nearly two weeks, I’ve obsessively checked my temperature for any concrete signs that I may have coronavirus. I had a mild fever over a week ago and the very thought that I could be one of the thousands of people suffering from this devastating virus has pushed me over the edge. 

I have what’s called generalized anxiety disorder—or GAD—and have worked hard to stop it from controlling my life. People with GAD display symptoms similar to panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and other types of anxiety, according to the Mayo Clinic. GAD can be all-consuming, even for those of us who are “high functioning.” 

On any given day, I’m overthinking about something I said to my coworkers, worrying about the worst-case scenarios, being incredibly indecisive and failing to sleep or concentrate because I’m just thinking too much. Thankfully, I have a therapist who’s taught me new coping skills and helped me overcome the worst parts of my condition. 

But the worldwide pandemic has derailed any progress I’ve made. 

Before the world went into full panic mode, I was visiting family in Chile and planning a trip with my dad to Madrid to visit my brother who was studying abroad. All that changed at lightning speed in a matter of days. I arrived back in the States on a Tuesday, by Thursday my brother was on a plane back to New York and by Sunday I stopped leaving my childhood home. I don’t just mean I didn’t go out to buy groceries—I haven’t even gone out to our backyard. 

I’ve cried nearly every day this week — including twice while writing this essay. A conversation with one of my best friends Maria Elena Perez, who also happens to be my editor, nearly brought me to tears as well. She offered to FaceTime me while we both grabbed some much needed Vitamin D outside. Her offer warmed my heart…and caused a tightness in my chest. Going outside absolutely terrifies me right now and that frustrates me to no end.

It’s overwhelming trying to separate my anxiety from the news of the virus, especially as a reporter. It used to be much easier to identify my anxieties and to find the logical solutions to that. The coronavirus pandemic has made that incredibly hard. How can I know for certain that I don’t have the virus when our government has so horribly failed us? 

Sadly, Americans around the country are experiencing high levels of anxiety and a host of other mental health issues triggered by the pandemic. Mental health experts worry that social distancing and isolation, which are absolutely key to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, are triggering those with mental health issues. 

“We hear a lot of people saying ‘I feel very alone, I’m very anxious and scared,’” Christina Bradley, manager of support programs at the National Alliance on Mental Illness of New York City (NAMI-NYC), told Buzzfeed News. “We’re getting a lot more calls about suicide and suicidal thinking.” 

To combat this, mental health experts suggest sticking to routines if possible and being keenly aware of your mental wellbeing. This is particularly crucial for communities of color, where stigmas surrounding mental illnesses reign supreme. 

Communities of color can have higher risks of poor mental health and lower acceptance of getting help. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five adult Americans will experience mental illness. To add to that, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health notes that adult African Americans/Black people are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress yet are less likely to seek out help. 

In times as distressing as these, it’s important that we become acutely aware of our own mental health. We need to be our fiercest advocates, particularly when we’re struggling. As my own anxiety gets worse, I know I have to reach out to my support system and my hope is that our readers who are struggling do the same. There is a wealth of resources, some of which we’ve shared below, for those who are struggling with mental illness. 

Resources For Those Struggling

  • NAMI has shared a number of resources for those struggling with mental health issues during the pandemic. Individuals dealing with increased anxiety are advised to get their emotional support system in place. This includes keeping familiar routines as much as possible, staying connected with others, and reaching out for help when needed. NAMI also has a helpline that’s available Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. EST for mental health resources at 800-950-NAMI (6264). 
  • The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, which strives to break the stigma of mental health issues in the Black community, has a directory of mental health providers and programs that serve the African American community. That resource guide is available here
  • Mental Health America (MHA) says it is important to address the mental health effects of the virus as well as the physical ones. MHA has been using a screening process to monitor an increase in anxiety throughout the nation. Due to higher numbers of anxiety screenings, MHA has provided a wealth of resources for those seeking more information. Those resources are available here
  • People experiencing emotional distress during the pandemic can also contact the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline at 800-985-5990. The helpline provides crisis counseling and support 24/7, 365-days-a-year. 
  • New York, which has become the epicenter of the virus in the U.S., launched a free mental health hotline for COVID-19 patients. Governor Andrew Cuomo said that 6,000 professionals signed up to field calls, NBC New York reported. Call the hotline at 844-863-91314. 

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At the end of each story we publish about the coronavirus, we are now sharing the following information:

Coronavirus 411

Coronavirus, officially named SARS-CoV-2 but also known as COVID-19, is a novel virus that causes a number of respiratory illnesses, including lung lesions and pneumonia. The virus spreads easily from person to person through the air when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. 

COVID-19, which originated in Wuhan, China, has spread to some 176 countries. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic. President Donald Trump declared the COVID-19 outbreak a national emergency on March 13. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 can take between two to 14 days to appear. The CDC recommends calling your doctor if you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop symptoms, including fever, cough and difficulty breathing. If you also experience persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse and bluish lips or face, seek medical attention immediately. 

In order to keep yourself and others safe, be sure to wash your hands frequently, practice social distancing and avoid touching your face. The CDC is recommending that gatherings of 50 people or more be canceled for the next eight weeks. Click here for information on how to prepare for a quarantine. 

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.

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