UW Health psychologist shares tips for managing rising COVID-19 anxiety

MADISON, Wis. — With new COVID-19 cases rising to levels we haven’t seen since the winter, it makes sense that anxiety over the pandemic is rising too.

According to a recent poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 41% of people reported being “extremely” or “very” worried about themselves or their family getting COVID-19. That’s compared to just 21% in June. The number is about the same as it was in January when new cases were comparable to current numbers.

Shilagh Mirgain, distinguished psychologist at UW Health, said there are a few tips that can help people cope with rising anxieties.

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The first trick, Mirgain said, is identifying and validating your feelings. Many people felt a sense of anxiety, worry, uncertainty and anger as the Delta variant squashed some reopening efforts throughout the country. Mirgain said it’s important to acknowledge that frustration and express it in a healthy way like talking with loved ones, journaling, exercising or through creative endeavors.

A trick called future forecasting can help with breaking down habits of focusing on the worst-case scenario. Mirgain recommends stopping to ask yourself, “Is this thought helping or hurting me? Is this thought promoting well-being or is it creating additional suffering?” If the thoughts aren’t helpful, she recommends trying to redirect your attention to something more hopeful.

Mirgain said focusing only on what you can control makes coping easier. By focusing your attention on those things, you can create a daily sense of accomplishment by practicing good self-care and acknowledging the good.

Finally, seeking professional help can help with heightened levels of anxiety during difficult times.