7 Tips For Managing Coronavirus Anxiety From A Kansas City Mental Health Expert | KCUR

7 Tips For Managing Coronavirus Anxiety From A Kansas City Mental Health Expert

Mar 21, 2020

We know very little about how the coronavirus pandemic will play out in Kansas City. That’s making a lot of people really anxious.

“I see uncertainty as the core of the panic that we’re seeing right now,” says Katie Kriegshauser, director of the Kansas City Center for Anxiety Treatment.

Most people under quarantine in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak started, didn't end up getting COVID-19. They did, however, develop high levels of anxiety, isolation and psychological distress.

Kriegshauser says some of this anxiety is helpful. It motivates people to stay home and do what they can to follow guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to help “flatten the curve.” It can also be debilitating, though.

Kriegshauser recently shared some tips for managing anxiety.

1. Think of it more like physical distancing.

We've been told to practice social distancing, but that doesn't mean you have to stay isolated in your house. You can still take a walk around the block, go to a park or hang out in your back yard. 

"We definitely don't want to be taking that term 'social distancing' too literally in that we're socially isolating," says Kriegshauser. 

Face to face conversations with neighbors are still an option, as long as you're maintaining six feet of distance.

2. Use technology to stay connected.

We’re not able to socialize in the same ways we were a month ago, which means it’s an important time to get creative with how we engage with others and build communities, whether it’s via Skype, FaceTime or some other digital forum.

“We need to band together and create strong communities," says Kriegshauser. "Social interaction is really crucial for staving off depression and anxiety."

Kriegshauser says it's a good time to rekindle old friendships. She suggests watching a movie or eating dinner with a friend at the same time remotely. You can also make a simple phone call or send a letter by mail.

3. Try not to ruminate.

Kriegshauser says when you do spend social time with people, don't spend it bouncing your worries off of each other.

"Rumination is unproductive worry," says Kriegshauser. "And it's been shown to be contagious.... Co-ruminating instead of problem solving can increase depression and anxiety."

If you find yourself in a situation like this, she recommends validating the person's fears and emotions and then redirecting the conversation in ways to cope with those feelings.

4. Create structure.

Katie Kriegshauser, PhD, is the director of the Kansas City Center for Anxiety Treatment.
Credit KCCAT

It’s important to maintain some normalcy in your day. Kriegshauser recommends coming up with plans now that you can stick to, like standing FaceTime dates online with friends across the country. Or streaming a yoga class on a regular basis.

5. Limit your knowledge consumption.

We know there’s a lot going on and while it can be reassuring to feel informed, it’s not healthy to read every update on Twitter, Facebook or the CDC's website.

“Really set a limit on how many times you’re going to check Facebook,” Kriegshauser says. 

6. Keep an eye on whether your anxiety is becoming dysfunctional.

Kriegshauser says she often gets asked whether someone’s anxiety in response to a stressor is "normal."

“How we define a clinical anxiety disorder is interference in functioning and a degree of intensity of anxiety that is not typical for you," she says. "So is it interfering with your ability to maintain your social relationships, engage effectively in your work?”

She says we’re all going to have to adapt to a new normal, but if you’re not able to maintain those relationships, that can mean your anxiety is moving from normal towards possibly clinical levels.

7. Seek help if you need it.

Remote therapy is readily accessible and Kriegshauser says good evidence suggests that psychotherapy over video is as effective as it is in person.

“We’re a field that’s actually been, unbeknownst to us, preparing for this situation,” she says. “We’ve seen that many individuals don’t want to come into a therapist’s office for one reason or another.”

Following these national trends, The Kansas City Center for Anxiety and Treatment has now switched to 100% telehealth services. Mental health apps ranging from meditation to wellness have also seen spikes in recent use.

Kriegshauser says she's thankful for the changes because it allows many more people to get access to care right now.

Katie Kriegshauser spoke with KCUR on two recent episodes of Up To Date Special Coverage: Coronavirus In KC. You can listen to their entire conversations here and here.

Mackenzie Martin is an associate producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to her at mackenzie@kcur.org or on Twitter @_macmartin.