Ok, folks. Here we go! Covid-19 is among us. Until now, as Director of the Washington Anxiety Center of Capitol Hill, I have decided that as a practice we needed to remain more in the shadows and treat each of our patients’ individual concerns about the virus. Recent events have now propelled me to speak further.
As a society (and I will bring social psychology into this), we have what is called diffusion of responsibility. Because we are not physically close to children starving in third-world countries, we do not think about it on a daily basis. We ‘diffuse’ responsibility to others. Now, Covid-19 is on our back doorstep and we are ruminating on it constantly.
The purpose of this blog post is to not discuss symptoms or Covid-19 recommendations. It is to discuss what is in our area of expertise: anxiety.
I have witnessed several events (majority occurring on social media) that have been concerning to me as a psychologist These events range from parents teaching their kids how to create medical masks, checking out daily news blogs for the latest information every hour on the hour, telling your child to not talk to friends (even within an acceptable medically-recommended distance), to even telling your child the “world is ending.”
One of the robust etiologies (causes) of developing an anxiety disorder is through modeling (e.g., kids witness mom or dad be scared on a plane, so kids learn to fear flying). While there are reasons to be concerned about Covid-19 (I will not address those here), we must also be very aware of how our behaviors impact our children. We do not want our children developing schemas (i.e., ways of thinking about themselves and in relation to others) that the world is scary and dangerous. It is important to teach them that we can tolerate uncertainty, as hard as it may be to stomach. I implore our readers to recognize that each action we take, each sentence you speak, can have a very high potential to create a clinically diagnosable anxiety disorder in your child.
As for us as parents, well, it is important that while we recognize everyone is experiencing anxiety as a collective, that it does not mean it is not still clinical. If you are thinking about your response to Covid-19 constantly and it is making you feel very anxious and distressed and/or you are responding with behaviors out of your own normal (e.g., you used to read the newspaper 1x a day and you are now reading it every hour and getting more anxious every time), it may be time to seek out professional guidance. Psychologists who specialize in anxiety are trained to be able to recognize what is functional and what is not. I encourage any adult, if you are questioning your emotional response to Covid-19 or it is really bothering you, please seek out help. We are here for you.
Director of the Washington Anxiety Center of Capitol Hill