Currently, we are living through the biggest health crisis in our lifetimes. Not only is it impacting our physical health, lifestyles, and work lives, but it is creating a strain on our mental health as well. Today, we dive into a brand new research article on COVID-19 health anxiety, well-being, and productivity.
What is COVID-19 Health Anxiety?
COVID-19 health anxiety is the fear, anxiety, and apprehension about having or contracting COVID-19. Over the past several months, I’ve definitely felt this type of anxiety. Personally, the many unknowns about this virus and the related disease make it extra scary for me. But, enough about me! Research on stress outlines that threatening events, such as this pandemic, can lead to heightened levels of anxiety. And, you’ve probably heard that threats create a fight or flight response in individuals.
This fight or flight response was studied in the new article by Trougakos and colleagues looking at two different responses – emotion suppression and hand washing. Let’s first focus on the ‘flight’ response of emotion suppression and it’s impact. When you suppress your emotions related to a threat, you aren’t dealing with the emotions properly. Suppressing emotions can push people away so you get less support, can increase your feelings of distress, and can impact your overall well-being. You aren’t giving yourself an outlet for the emotions. In this pandemic, it might look something like telling everyone you are doing ok (even when you aren’t) when they check in on you. You may avoid talking about COVID-19 and your anxiety. You may pretend to be handling it all well and ignore the issue as much as possible.
However, suppressing emotions of COVID-19 health anxiety can lead to some bad outcomes. We know that ignoring mental health issues does not help them go away. In this new research, we learn that suppressing feelings of COVID-19 related anxiety leads to slowed goal progression, lower engagement with family and friends, and more physical health symptoms. Let’s break that down a bit. If you suppress your anxiety-related emotions, you are less likely to make good progress towards your goals at work. You are also focusing less time on your friends and family and more likely to complain of aches and pains, such as headaches.
How to Cope with COVID-19 Anxiety
A key takeaway of this recent work is that suppressing your emotions regarding your COVID-19 health anxiety will make you less productive at work, less engaged at home, and feeling more aches and pains. So, stop suppressing those emotions! If you feel anxious, talk to someone. Talk to your family and friends about how you are feeling. If it gets too overwhelming, reach out to a professional – there are a number of online therapists available as we all live in a semi-quarantined world. One way to cope is to actually face your emotions head on.
How else can you cope with this type of health anxiety? Now that we’ve discussed the ‘flight’ response of emotion suppression, what happens if you ‘fight’?
If you choose to ‘fight’, all the negative outcomes disappear in this study on COVID-19 health anxiety. How did they measure ‘fighting’? Well, all you need to do is be proactive and wash your hands frequently! The study showed that those that washed their hands more often were less likely to suffer from the consequences of this type of anxiety. Hand washing is a great example of problem-focused coping. If you can find a way to address the problem you are facing directly, you will be able to work through the threat more effectively than avoiding it. We all know hand washing is a great way to prevent the spread of disease. Thus, completing this simple task can help you feel more in control of the problem!
The takeaway here is to do the things you can to help prevent yourself (and those around you) from getting COVID-19. Wash your hands, wear your masks, and stay distanced from others. You’ll feel more in control because you are facing the problem directly. As a result, you will have fewer problems with productivity, engaging with family and friends, and physical aches and pains!
If you are feeling anxious, we urge you to consider focusing on problem-solving coping strategies like washing your hands and wearing a mask. And don’t hide your emotions! Plus, as always, practice some good, self-care during this time! Check out our tips on dealing with stress during this pandemic from early on in the quarantine for more ideas on how to cope!