Busting COVID-19 Fear: Going Out Without (Much) Anxiety

A couple of months ago, you were probably having a hard time imagining how you were going to get used to staying home 24/7. But you and your family did get used to it—just in time to prepare to go back out into the world again.

And it isn’t even the same world you left a few weeks ago. Now, as you’re being told to enter a “new normal,” when you can move around more freely—to the doctor, office, grocery, restaurants, maybe the garden store—you’re rethinking, well, everything. The questions seem endless. Should you wear a mask? Gloves? Visit friends? How do you engage more freely with the rest of society and still maintain a safe social distance? Will you remember to wash your hands? And when you do venture out, will you or someone you love contract COVID-19? It can be overwhelming.

Anxiety and fear are emotions most of us are experiencing as we navigate our lives with the shadow of coronavirus all around us, said Dr. Melinda A. Cobb of Hancock Counseling and Psychiatric Services.

“Often, people are very anxious, particularly if they have to leave,” she said. “They’re on guard, fearful, and being watchful of other people around them. But I also think all of us are pretty sick of being stuck at home, and I definitely think going out will bring some positives, including being back in touch more directly with people. We’ll at least be able to see friends and co-workers.”

But as we go out into the world, even on a limited basis, it’s a good idea to take care of our mental health while we’re thinking about our physical health.

“Maintaining good mental health through this is a question of control and choice,” she said. “When we have control over the decisions we make, we are more comfortable.”

With that in mind, here are a few tips for leaving the fear behind:

  • Have a plan before going out. Decide, before you leave home, if you’re going to wear a mask or gloves, for example. And know where you want to go—maybe you decide not to go to some places where you know there will be a lot of people.
  • Start with a short trip to build confidence. You might choose a trip to a rescheduled doctor’s appointment. Then, as you gain confidence, add new places. But if you aren’t ready to go to a movie theater, an exercise class, or out to dinner in a restaurant, wait until you are.
  • Be prepared to be asked to do things differently in public places—maybe wearing masks, standing six feet apart, and hand washing. At a restaurant, there might be limits about how many people can sit at one table.
  • Know that feelings of fear, loneliness, isolation, sadness, and depression aren’t abnormal. Talk about them with family and friends.
  • Be aware if you’re using unhealthy coping mechanisms, including alcohol and drugs. Try to replace those with exercise and conversation with others.
  • Don’t forget about people who are vulnerable to the most severe symptoms of COVID-19: older people and anyone with a compromised immune system. Until there’s a vaccine or substantial treatment, they are unlikely to be able to safely go out in public as much as others who aren’t as vulnerable. Check on them.
  • As you work through the emotions connected to this difficult time, let it make you more empathetic toward people who suffer from mental illness. “I think a lot of very normal people are experiencing almost obsessive-compulsive feelings about germs. There’s also a condition called agoraphobia—some people who have it can’t leave their houses,” said Cobb. “It does give everyone a little insight into those conditions.”

At least until there’s a vaccine for COVID-19, experiencing feelings of anxiety and fear are completely understandable. But, by following the guidelines above, and a little patience, they will likely lessen over time. Meanwhile, if you have questions about mental health or any other health-related topic, contact us. And, remember, we’re all in this together!

Dr. Melinda Cobb’s practice focus is on mood and anxiety disorders. Her office is at Hancock Counseling and Psychiatric Services, 120 W. McKenzie Road, Suite F, Greenfield. She can be contacted at 317-468-6200.