They already had an anxiety disorder. Then the pandemic hit coronavirus

They already had an anxiety disorder. Then the pandemic hit coronavirus
Written by Leon

At first, Jonathon Seidl was not worried about the corona virus despite his anxiety. But that changed.

The 33-year-old digital media strategist from Dallas, who is taking medicine for his condition, said his concern was less about getting sick than if the battered economy could sustain. Would he be able to give birth to his family? Would it be a run in grocery stores? He couldn’t shake his worries.

So he rose. His heart collapsed. He wanted to go to bed early “because sleep was the only temptation.” But his sleep was rarely restful. “I would wake up at night,” he said.

The pandemic is worrying enough for most people. For those with anxiety disorders, this is a special challenge, especially if they are not receiving treatment.

This is the case for about two-thirds of people with anxiety disorders Dr. Bruce Schwartz, president of the American Psychiatric Assn. “Those are the ones I’m worried about,” he said.

Schwartz, who maintains a practice in New York, said those undergoing treatment “are doing pretty well” before the pandemic.

Still, some therapists say they have noticed an uptick of symptoms with the spread of the virus. And for some anxiety disorders, the recommendations of health officials may seem to feed the problem.

People who are afraid of interacting with others now hear advice to avoid crowds. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder who fear so much bacteria that they wash their hands too much now hear public health authorities often encourage hand washing.

Standard treatments can deal with the fear of coronavirus in people who already have anxiety problems, which helps them avoid emotional extremes, psychologists say. The goal is to accept an appropriate level of anxiety and live with some uncertainty.

“You don’t have to like any of this happening to accept that this is our reality right now,” he said Vaile Wright, director of clinical research and quality at American Psychological Assn. People can focus on what’s under their control, she said, like how to work from home or deal with kids with schools closed.

Mary Alvord, a psychologist in Rockville, Md., said she sees increased anxiety in people whose fear of picking up bacteria drives them to rituals to ease that fear. Public health messages about cleaning surfaces and washing hands may cause some patients to think “we were right all along,” Alvord said.

So “we really have to deal with reality checks,” she said. People with an anxiety disorder tend to focus on “what-if” ideas and worst cases more than what’s happening now, she said. “That’s what we’re trying to get under control.”

Psychologist Mary Alvord, on the left, holds an online video conference with a colleague instead of meeting in person.

(Steve Ruark / Associated Press)

It’s hard to get people around compulsive behavior to focus on taking reasonable precautions without pushing their permits, he said Neda Gould, Assistant Director of An Anxiety Clinic at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore. A mental health provider can help them set goals and boundaries, she said, while relaxation and meditation techniques can help “turn off the increased anxiety or stress response … or at least knock it down.”

Someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder may be encouraged to touch any surface they are afraid of being contaminated, and then not wash their hands for 20 minutes, and even then for only the recommended 20 seconds rather than five minutes with burning hot water, Wright said.

For people who are worried about dealing with others, public health advice on avoiding groups also makes therapy challenging, Gould said. The most important thing is to stay in touch with other people, and it can be done through social media, email, video conferencing or phone calls, she said.

Alvord actually said that she avoids the concept of “social distancing” and instead talks about “physical distance and social connection.” It enables online connection, she said.

It can be difficult for anxious people to reach out when they feel overwhelmed, Wright said, so other people should try to contact them just to ask how they feel.

“There’s nothing wrong with talking about the virus in a productive way,” and encourages people to take care of themselves physically and emotionally without causing panic and devastating riffs of “what-ifs,” she said.

And it’s OK to contact friends and family “and not talk about the virus right now,” she said. “We need that too. We need a balance. “

Schwartz recommends that people who stay at home limit the time spent listening to the news, which includes not leaving it in the background. And he suggests that you are busy with projects like cleaning of wardrobes and drawers and cooking with one’s family, as well as going outdoors for walks.

Alvord, who leads 18 therapists in two offices, said her practice, like many others, has moved her patients into online contact. She noted that thousands of psychologists signed up for their latest webinar on practicing psychology remotely during the pandemic period.

In her case, the shift was fostered both by people eager to show up in person and the practice’s own precautions for a caseload that could land 50 people in a waiting room on a Saturday morning.

Research shows that internet therapy can be as effective as doing it personally, Alvord said. But “it’s different than having someone in the office,” she said. “I just see you from the waist up … I don’t see you walking. I don’t see whole gestures. “

Gould said she recently moved all of her sessions to telephone or video conferencing, including group sessions. The goal is to help people like Seidl, who says he has found some solace in thinking about life after the outbreak.

“It’s one of the things that gives me hope,” he said, describing a point where his mind goes down and his heart stops competing. “There is so much relief, and there is so much rest.”

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