Coined only in the late 2020, coronaphobia is a new type of anxiety specific to COVID-19
It is fair to say that 2020 took the world into unprecedented times. From a world where people were increasingly mobile, the coronavirus put the world on a virtual standstill. As global lock downs ensued, there were increased reports of stress, anxiety and a decline in mental and emotional health.
While heightened levels of anxiety about Covid-19 is unsurprising, when does anxiety become an actual medical condition?
What is Coronaphobia?
The researchers who helped coin the term late 2020 say that coronaphobia is a new type of anxiety specific to COVID-19.
While pandemic related stress is unsurprising given the uncertainties, and research seems to corroborate that COVID-19-related worries have led to greater levels of anxiety, how can you tell whether your or someone else’s anxiety is a normal, healthy reaction to the pandemic or falls under the criteria for coronaphobia?
The researchers defined coronaphobia as “an excessive triggered response of fear of contracting the virus causing COVID-19, leading to accompanied excessive concern over physiological symptoms, significant stress about personal and occupational loss, increased reassurance and safety-seeking behaviours, and avoidance of public places and situations, causing marked impairment in daily life functioning.”
Director of the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania, Lily Brown, PhD, has said that she has asked patients to use their pandemic behaviour as a marker.
“Essentially, are you able to do the things that you need to do to live a relatively fulfilled life? Are you able to connect with people? Are you able to get your groceries for the week? Are you able to fulfill the duties of your job if you’ve been able to maintain employment?…….Oftentimes, what happens when people have anxiety disorders is their anxiety starts to spill over so that it increasingly becomes more and more challenging to follow through on their obligations and get their needs met.”
In other words, if you are able to still live your day to day life despite feeling increased worries, you are probably not suffering from coronaphobia.
How do we prevent Coronaphobia?
Given that Coronaphobia is triggered by stress and anxiety caused by the global pandemic, being able to navigate and manage your stress levels is key.
Studies have shown that getting adequate sleep, eating properly, having a healthy relationship with social media and daily exercise all help with anxiety management. Given that most of these are self-explanatory and/or related to sleep, we shall focus on sleep.
According to the University of Oxford, getting to sleep, difficulty staying asleep and vivid dreaming has been widely reported across the general population during this period of the coronavirus.
The Sleep Foundation offers some tips on how to improve our sleeping habits:
- Establishing a routine
- Reserve your bed only for sleep
- See the light
- Utilising Relaxation Techniques
- Be careful with naps
- Staying Active
Establishing a Routine
Establishing a routine makes it easier for your mind and body to acclimate to a consistent sleep schedule, which is why health experts have long recommended avoiding major variation in your daily sleep times.
Sleep-specific aspects of your daily schedule should include having fixed wake up and sleep times. You should incorporate a wind down routine to get your body and mind ready for sleep. Perhaps light reading, stretching, meditating. etc. With the pandemic, you may wish to give yourself extra wind-down time.
In addition to time spent sleeping and getting ready for bed, it can be helpful to incorporate steady routines to provide time cues throughout the day, such as showering and getting dressed even if you aren’t leaving the house, consuming meals at the same time each day.
Your Bed is only for Sleep
Sleep experts have emphasised the importance of creating an association in your mind that the bed is for sleep. That way, when you get into bed, your body and mind are primed for sleep.
Practically, this means that you should not be working or watching TV from the bed and if you find that you are having a hard time sleeping, do not spend more than 20 minutes tossing and turning. Instead, get out of bed and do something relaxing in very low light, and then head back to bed to try to fall asleep.
Seeing the Light
Exposure to light plays a crucial role in helping our bodies regulate sleep in a healthy way. As you deal with disruptions to daily life, you may need to take steps so that light-based cues have a positive effect on your circadian rhythm.
With this in mind, try and expose yourself to some natural light everyday. This might be less of an issue in equatorial Asia but still something to be mindful about in these unprecedented times.
Utilising Relaxation Techniques
Apart from acting as sleep aids, the utilisation of relaxation techniques can also help with stress management in general.
Deep breathing, stretching, yoga, mindfulness meditation, calming music, and quiet reading are just a few examples of relaxation techniques that you can try. There are a multitude of resources available to help you with these if required.
Another relaxation strategy during this pandemic is to avoid becoming overwhelmed by coronavirus-related news. For example, you can try techniques such as:
- Bookmarking one or two trusted news sites and visiting them only during a limited, pre-set amount of time each day.
- Cutting down the total time that you spend scrolling on social media.
Be Careful with Naps
While it could be tempting to take 40 winks, it is common sense that if you have slept a lot during the day that you might then have trouble falling asleep at night.
While napping is perfectly fine, it would be advisable not to approach naps in a hap hazard fashion. There are many functions of naps and you can get further information here.
Studies have long shown that there is a relationship between exercise and sleep. Exercising improves sleep for many people. For example, moderate-to-vigorous exercise can increase sleep quality for adults by reducing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. It also decreases the amount of time they lie awake in bed during the night.
If you can go for a walk while maintaining a safe distance from other people, that’s a great option. If not, there is a wealth of resources online for all types and levels of exercise. Many gyms and yoga and dance studios live-stream free classes during this period of social distancing.
As always, please always seek professional medical advice as required.