Do you feel paralyzed with fear of COVID?

Like me, you probably know people who seem paralyzed with fear over COVID and new strains of the virus. As a psychologist, this becomes a topic of discussion with many, if not most, patients. Do vaccines work or not? Do boosters help or not? Do masks really protect? Do people distance enough? Is being outdoors safe? Is fear-mongering perpetuated? And the worries continue.

We need to ask ourselves what an appropriate level of worry should be. What steps can we take to reduce our anxiety? How do we minimize anxiety for other issues like flying in an airplane or public speaking? How do we combat depression from loss of connectedness with others and deprivation of doing some activities we love? Do we experience grief from loss of self as well as others?

Can there be different perspectives regarding fear?

Following is an excerpt of Ken Goodman, LCSW’s article entitled: Flatten the Fear with Facts.
I think his perspectives are realistic for us as we live in this new real world. It is important that we balance our anxieties with our quest to live our lives.

I recently had a Zoom call with a patient who leaves deliveries on her porch for a week and then disinfects the packages before opening them. Another patient shared how upon returning home she removes all her clothes in the garage, sprays her body with rubbing alcohol, and immediately showers. Following those two sessions, I walked outside and saw a man driving alone in his car wearing a mask. A female jogger, across the street, was wearing a mask too. She was by herself, a hundred yards from the nearest person. It made me think – when it comes to COVID-19, what is an appropriate level of worry and how can people stay safe and keep their anxiety to a minimum?

Prior to March 2020, people were not worried about getting sick. We lived our lives without safety measures and did not think about viruses spreading or killing people, even though they did. What changed? The country (and much of the world) was traumatized by the news of a pandemic.

Because our knowledge of the virus has improved since March, we must now flatten the fear, a difficult task for many reasons. Like toothpaste you can’t put back in the tube, it’s difficult to dial down fear. Once a trauma occurs, anxiety is maintained with fearful thinking and anxious behaviors.

Has trauma become an obsession?

Reducing anxious behaviors associated with COVID-19 is trickier than overcoming other phobias because of social pressure, social responsibility, laws, and the vast number of people living with fear and/or doing anxious behaviors in public.

If an individual was obsessed with motor vehicle accidents and researched online stories and videos of the 100 daily fatalities and the thousands of injuries per day in the U.S., they would be highly anxious to drive and avoid it as much as possible. In the summer of 1975, many people did not go into the ocean when the movie Jaws was released and that was just a movie.

Even if you do not know a single person who has experienced severe symptoms or died of COVID-19, you might live in fear due to the high volume of attention paid to the frightening aspects of the disease. The more one focuses on catastrophic possibilities or negative aspects of a problem, the more anxious they become. This is true for any issue, not just COVID-19.

Can you work toward balance?

The challenge for any problem is finding a balance between being safe while minimizing anxiety and living life. In the case of COVID-19, we must protect ourselves from the virus and the fear simultaneously.