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How Do I Feel “Safe”?: Anxiety and COVID-19

By Debra Kissen

Understand that right now it is natural for us to be concerned. The common analogy to describe anxiety goes something like this: You’re in the wild, there’s a tiger near but are unsure where it is. Is it there? Is it here? Where can you go for safety? What can you do make sure you’re safe? Now – replace “tiger” with the “Corona Virus”.

As a collective dealing with this novel virus, we are unsure where exactly “it” is. Is it next door? Do I have it? Do you have it?

We are unsure of where we can go to be safe or what we can do to ensure safety. What can I do to make sure I’m safe? Should I keep cleaning, nonstop? Isolate myself from everyone, even my partner or kids? Stockpile toilet paper? 

This is your body’s fight or flight response at work. To a certain extent this response is useful and necessary, and remember that these are important signals to respond to, as the purpose of the fight or flight response is to keep us safe. 

Our main concerns now involve helping people adjust to this new uncertainty, identifying irrational fears, and building reasonable safety practices.

The question we are now asking is–how far do you take these precautions? Are you compulsively checking news sites? Cleaning doorknobs even if someone hasn’t used it recently? Are you checking your body for “signs and symptoms” more than might be reasonable? People with excessive anxiety start to engage in these types of behaviors to try to ensure safety, get certainty – find out exactly where the “tiger” is and where exactly they can go for safety.

If anxiety-based behaviors are affecting your way of life and your ability to function well, there are things you can do to help you manage. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has a great list of articles and resources – it would be a good place to start. 

If you think you might need more support, most therapists are adapting their sessions to a Telehealth (web-based video or phone call) option. Reach out to your therapist to see what they plan on doing to help keep you and the rest of the community safe by limiting travel to and from offices. If you do not have a therapist and would like to speak to you, you can check the ADAA Find A Therapist Directory to find a therapist near you. If you are in or near Chicago, Light On Anxiety has wonderful therapists you may schedule with here.

Dr. Debra Kissen is CEO of Light On Anxiety CBT Treatment Center. Dr. Kissen specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)...

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