Managing ‘What If I Get Covid?’ Anxiety

How families can keep worry in its place during the pandemic

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Posted in , Nov 20, 2020

Reassuring a family member

My family has a couple of favorite anxiety management sayings that come from my son’s picture bookshelf. One is to watch out for “the What-If monster,” and the other is, “Don’t feed the worry bug.” Both are front and center as we try to keep worry in its place during the pandemic.

Worry is a universal human condition—but during the pandemic, as work, school and social routines continue to be disrupted, it’s normal to feel concerned. It’s even expected to feel yourself ratcheting up from worry and into anxiety, particularly if case numbers in your community are moving in the wrong direction, or you know someone who has been ill or died from the virus.

Managing our anxiety is part of navigating this difficult time with grace, strength and authentic positivity. Within families, the fears might manifest differently across different generations. But from kids to grandparents, everyone has two questions on their mind: “Will I be ok?” and “Will you be ok?” 

Use Your Worry for Good
The irony of worry is that it’s an uncomfortable feeling that can actually be very good for us. If we didn’t worry, after all, we wouldn’t feel motivated to protect ourselves from the very real dangers of the coronavirus. We might take ill-advised risks like gathering with groups indoors or leaving our masks at home. We might even hold back from reporting symptoms or getting tested—all in the name of “keeping calm.” 

A healthier path is to acknowledge that the worry comes from a set of true facts about Covid-19. Follow public health guidance to participate in the solution to the pandemic crisis. Use the language of “using our worry for good” with your family to focus on the empowerment that comes with doing the right things to protect yourself and others.

Watch Out for “What If”
Oh, that “What-If monster” is a sneaky one! It’s so tempting to worry in the form of “what if” questions. “What if I get sick?” “What if you get really sick?” The list of hypotheticals is long. One helpful technique is to call attention to “what-iffing” when you hear it from your family members (or yourself), and gently, even jokingly, urge yourself away from asking questions you can’t answer. 

Another approach is to lean into the “what if,” taking a moment to make a plan for if a member of the family has to quarantine, thinking through where you would get tests and laying in food and medical supplies (think chicken soup and pain relievers). Strategize and prepare until you can answer a “what if” question with, “We have a plan for that.”

Don’t Let the “Worry Bug” Grow Too Big
We all know that to everything there is a season, right? And it’s true that there’s a time to fret and a time to let go of worry. If you notice anxiety growing and feeding on an increasingly large amount of your and your family’s energy, take steps to dial the big feelings down

First, turn to the practical, reassuring ideas we’ve discussed—have a plan, follow good public health advice. If you’re still overly anxious, try setting a time in your calendar for worry—and not inviting your anxiety to the table when it’s not “worry time.” Finally, don’t hesitate to reach out to a friend, family member, clergy person or counselor for support. 

Just because it’s normal to worry doesn’t mean that anxiety has to define your family’s life during this challenging time. Don’t forget that worried questions go both ways. You might ask, “What if…we learn to get through hard things together with love and commitment?” Now that’s a way a family can pull through this together.

More on keeping your family healthy during the pandemic.

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