The headlines blast you with news about a new and dangerous flu strain. No matter what channel you turn to on TV, or tune in to on the radio, all you hear are dire predictions and scary commentary. Even for the most calm and serene person, this constant onslaught of information, whether hyped or real, can become a blood pressure raising, stomach-in- knots unrelenting nightmare. Certainly for those of us with anxiety issues, this kind of scare can push us over the edge, into an unrelenting state of panic. So what strategies can you use to cope with a sudden, scary health crisis, so it doesn’t send you into a spiraling hysteria?
Take a deep breath
Just stop for a moment and determine reality. Are the dire warnings just that - warnings. Is the situation stable right now? Are you able to calm down first, so that you can then navigate your way through the real facts? In order to get the facts and process them, you really do need to stop and gain control of your initial reactivity.
Get the facts
Find your reputable source of news information and facts. That can be a reputable news station with reputable health experts (rather than just reporters) providing the updates. Use government health websites like the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and WHO (World Health Organization) for supportive information, bulletins and updates and recommendations. Use your common sense to sift through the information being disseminated. Then put the threat into perspective so you can realistically put together a personal plan of action.
Get organized and strategize
Don’t let even serious news overwhelm you. If necessary, sit down with a paper and pen and make sure you have necessary emergency numbers, home supplies, adequate medications that you take for chronic conditions, additional supplies for your children, adequate water. Call your physician to get his opinion on the situation, as well as sound advice.
Obtain necessary items
Once you have your list it will help you to decide what items you may need to purchase, to pull out from storage (if you keep emergency supplies). Remember that some of the items you hear that people are purchasing may be a waste of money, if the experts have not endorsed the purchase. In this recent case of H1N1 flu, people rushed to buy surgical masks when in fact, they are more appropriate for use by infected individuals, to prevent germ spread when they sneeze or cough. Other more expensive masks are more efficient for preventing healthy individuals from contracting an airborne infection.
If you have problems with anxiety, then call family and friends and share your concerns with them. Let them know that you need their support. It is also appropriate to call your therapist if you have one. If you are struggling to control overwhelming feelings of stress and anxiety, then ask your doctor for a referral to a therapist.
Don’t sweat the nonsense
Remember that sometimes clarification of information can help to reduce your anxiety. For example, when the word pandemic was used to describe the H1N1 new flu, people misunderstood its actual definition. People initially assumed the word meant “greater virulence” when in fact, pandemic simply means that a strain of virus has extended its reach to several countries. The term does not relate to the severity of the strain or its mortality statistics. So make sure you understand the facts and make sure that you really understand the terminology being used.
Take a break
Experts recommend taking a break from the news. Allowing the reports to become all day long, incessant bulletins because you fear missing any information can create extreme anxiety. It can also be very debilitating to sit glued to the TV or radio without any intermissions. So put specific parameters on how often you will tune in to get news. Use diversions to get through the day and control those news gathering moments.
Known as The HealthGal, expert contributor Amy Hendel is a popular medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, columnist, and brand ambassador, as well as a health coach. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, you can find her on Twitter @HealthGal1103 and on Facebook at TheHealthGal. Her personal mantra is “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”