Controlling Health Anxiety during a Global Pandemic

Max Hovey, a passionate Media & Communications student, believes that “there is nothing more therapeutic than knowing that sharing your own negative experiences can in some way help others with their own”. The 21-year old Briton knows how tough it is to open up and to share feelings, which motivates him to give advice to his community. He shares his own experiences and discusses topics that mean a lot to the LGBTQ youth; from dealing with your sexuality to body positivity. The mental health advocate fights stigma and raises awareness on issues that affect our society. At The Flow House, and for UNDRESSED, Max Hovey captures a full range of questions that matter to our generations. 

I don’t think any of us truly saw this day coming, if I’m honest. We all heard about this mysterious virus back in December which slowly gripped China. It became very real when it hit Italy, now most of the world is under strict lockdown. We are now experiencing, for the first time in our lifetime on such a scale, a global pandemic. This is scary for us all in so many different ways. In most cases the health implications of the virus are not affecting us, so we are just worrying about the day to day direct impact, such as social distancing. However, for those that struggle with health anxiety, this is literally their worst nightmare.

For those that don’t know what health anxiety is, it’s an obsessive worry about having or obtaining a serious health condition. Now, most health anxiety triggers are relatively irrational, like a lot of anxious thoughts (that’s not putting down anxiety, I have it). However, in the current situation, it could be argued that a fear of obtaining such a condition is not irrational at all, it is a very valid and justified concern. This is not only going to be affecting those with health anxiety, or even general anxiety. This pandemic is likely to be bringing on anxious thoughts to those who have never been a sufferer, so this article can be for all of you.

The important thing to remember about coronavirus is that there are clear things we can do to prevent it spreading, all of which the majority of us are now doing; including hand washing, masks, not touching our faces, and most importantly social distancing. So, one thing to bear in mind, is that if you are doing all of these things then the risk of catching the virus is relatively minimal. However, I know as well as anyone that the unconscious mind doesn’t care about facts or evidence, it creates its own narrative. We can have heightened paranoia over the slightest things, the minute we get a slight sore throat we could convince ourselves that we have the virus, even if we’d been up drinking all night and screaming on karaoke just to give us something to do (which would clearly give us a sore throat). Suddenly, everything is a worry.

So, there are clear things we can all do to prevent the spread (side note, that I hope you are all doing, yes you). But there are also things we can do to control our anxieties and keep our mind occupied. So, here are a few tips from both a psychological perspective and a lifestyle perspective:

1 – CBT Thought Diary – These are amazing, and I cannot recommend them enough. CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) basically tries to rewire your brain to think differently. The use of a thought diary means that you will deeply analyze your circumstance, triggers, and thoughts before they become a deep-rooted spiraling emotion. So, if you become anxious about the virus, try a thought diary as you may be catastrophizing.

2 – Look After Your Health – Now, I’ve already mentioned the things that can be done specifically to avoid catching the virus, but that’s not saying that there isn’t more that can be done indirectly. Let’s take this time to truly look after ourselves; a healthier body has a healthier immune system. So, take this time to focus on eating well, ensuring we get all the vitamins we need especially us our sunlight intake is going to be limited and drink plenty of water! I’m not saying you can’t eat unhealthily at all – hell I had a dominos and a bottle of wine last night – but, have everything in moderation. We are already going to be getting less physical exercise, so try to keep your diet balanced.

3 – Help Others – Imagine this: Someone you love and care about came to you with complete paranoia, “I’m going to die, my whole family is going to get sick, we’re never going to recover from this”. Are you telling me that your empathetic and supportive response would be to agree with those statements, reinforce your loved one’s fears, and increase the shared panic? No. Your instinctive response would be to try and soothe their pain, reassure them and calm them down. So, helping others can be a good way of solving your own problems. Take my platform, for example, I am a dedicated mental health advocate because I severely suffer from my mental health. I have taken my own worries and concerns and used them as a way to project positivity and supporting others, trust me it works.

4 – Only Listen to Facts, and Limit their Intake – Firstly, the internet is full of bullsh*t – periodt. The fact people were spreading rumors that the virus was being contracted via 5G networks was embarrassing. So, when it comes to Coronavirus facts, stick to verified news networks that you trust. Additionally, limit your intake of said facts. One of the worst things we can do is constantly immerse ourselves in the reality of the situation, as it is bloody scary. I’m not saying to be completely ignorant but take some time to detach from it. I’ve made a point now of not checking the news when I wake up, and not checking it before I go to sleep. The last thing I need is to start my day negatively or end it negatively. I have also turned off news notifications, so I don’t have a sudden punch in the gut when my phone tells me something horrific has happened.

5 – Get Some Sleep – Now, I know this is easier said than done for some people, but sleep is so important when it comes to both physical and mental wellbeing. Try to avoid your phone for at least 30 minutes before you go to sleep, maybe try reading a book or some meditation instead. Put some calming sounds or music on to help you completely detach when you get into bed. Being on your phone in a dark room is scientifically proven to make going to sleep harder, especially if it is full of worrying information. So, cherish your sleep. You wouldn’t neglect the way you cook food, so don’t neglect the way you try to sleep.

As I said, you don’t have to have health anxiety to try these, or general anxiety. The Coronavirus has transformed all of our lives, and we all need to do what we can to stay positive. So maybe try some of these techniques and see if they make you smile just a little more than you were before.

Text + Image: Max Hovey
Photography:  Jack Peilow
Editor-in-Chief: Karim Coppola
In exclusive for: The Flow House