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The pandemic has many people stressed, and preventive measures like social distancing and isolation can have drastic effects on people’s mental health. The World Health Organization (WHO), says it is normal and understandable that people are experiencing fear in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Anxiety is an expected response to such uncertainties. However, while anxiety is a normal and expected reaction to the pandemic, too much of it can start to cause harm. Feeling stressed and fearful every day takes a toll on health and well-being very quickly. 

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), anxiety disorders include disorders that share features of excessive fear and anxiety and related behavioural disturbances. These disorders include separation anxiety disorder, selective mutism, specific phobia, social anxiety disorder (social phobia), panic disorder, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder, substance/medication-induced anxiety disorder, and anxiety disorder due to another medical condition. Understandably, the pandemic has caused a lot of people to have to deal with anxiety.

The increased stress from the pandemic can be reflected in behavioural changes like:

• Fear and worry about your health and the health of your loved ones

• Fear about your financial situation or job

• Fear of loss of support services you rely on

• Changes in sleep or eating patterns

• Difficulty sleeping or concentrating

• Worsening of chronic health problems

• Worsening of mental health conditions

• Increased use of tobacco and/or alcohol and other substances

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends a ten-step plan to deal with stress and anxiety during this pandemic. They are:

1. Media Distancing. All anxiety stems from uncertainty and an active imagination which produces catastrophic thoughts. Distancing from media consumption can aid in reducing anxiety. The more anxious you feel, the more you should distance from the media. If required, stop seeking out any news as this can feed your anxiety. Any vital information you need to know, you will find out.

2. Take Action. Worry increases anxiety. Know the difference between worrying and problem-solving. Anxiety will try to bait you with many “what if” questions, but try to turn your attention away, and focus elsewhere. Much of anxiety stems from a lack of confidence in our ability to handle challenges, so push yourself to tackle tasks one uncomfortable step at a time.

3. Straighten Your Perspective. Perspective helps put the problem in the right scale. The vast majority of people infected with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms or no symptoms at all. The Infection Fatality Rate of Covid-19 for various age groups:  

• 0.003% for 0–19 years

• 0.02% for 20–49 years

• 0.5% for 50–69 years

• 5.4% for 70+ years

Even if you are in a higher risk category, if you take care of yourself properly, your risk of death is still low.

1. Stop Over Checking Physical Symptoms. Symptoms like cough do not mean that you have COVID-19. Do not scan your body looking for symptoms. This behaviour reinforces your worries and will increase anxiety.

2. Stay Productive. Though there are many things out of our control, our response to the crisis is still ours to direct. Put your attention on creating and accomplishing, not on the virus or being unemployed. Try out a new skill, or get back into an old one.

3. Stress Reduction Activities. Guided meditation, yoga, exercise, and a gratitude journal are all practices that lower stress. Try to keep a daily habit that can help bring down your stress levels.

4. Don’t Exceed Guidelines. Do not go into extremes to evade the coronavirus. As long as you wash your hands, there is no reason to clean packages brought to your home or worry.

5. Preserve Some Sense of Normalcy. Try to maintain some semblance of normalcy in your daily routine. Unless you are in a high-risk category, you do not need to lock yourself in your home.

6. Reach Out to Others. The pandemic has drastically cut down our interactions with others. Reaching out to relatives and friends who are isolated or in need will boost their spirits and yours.

7. Seek Professional Help. If you are experiencing an escalation of anxiety, talk to a medical professional who can help you through this difficult time. Medication for anxiety, depression, and insomnia might also be needed and can be prescribed by a psychiatrist or your primary care physician.

The pandemic is a hard time for many of us, and there is no shame in wanting a little extra help to deal with it. Access emergency care in Doha with Naseem al Rabeeh. We will aid you in facing these unprecedented times.

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