Skip to main content

Coping with Fear of Exposure to COVID-19

No one is immune to being exposed to COVID-19, but health care workers are right in the trenches every day. It is a scary time for many reasons, but fear doesn’t always serve us. When you have to keep showing up, it’s important to prevent that fear from becoming debilitating. The best way to start managing your fear is to fully process what exactly you’re afraid of and why. 

If you’re afraid of getting sick yourself, there may be more than one reason why. Is it because of the uncertainty of how the disease would impact you? Or is it more related to having to take time off work and feeling guilty about it? Do you have family members at home who rely on you to take care of them, and being sick would prevent you from doing that? A lot of concerns right now are extremely valid. Once you dig deeper into why you’re afraid, you can start to plan for it, if that situation occurs. For instance, if you get sick and can’t cook dinner for your kids, how can you fill that need for them (and yourself)? You could reach out to some neighbors or nearby friends to see who would be willing to bring over dinner once a week. Or you could preemptively prep and freeze a bunch of meals, just in case. It probably won’t take away your fear entirely, but having a plan will alleviate some anxiety around “what if?” - you can shift your mindset from “what if this happens?” to “this might happen, and it will be okay.”

If your fear is more rooted in being a carrier and getting your friends, family, or others sick, think about the actions you are taking to prevent that. How are you keeping yourself safe while at work? Are you staying home when possible and wearing a mask when out in public? Most likely, you’re doing everything you can to keep yourself and others safe. There may be other actions you can take to greater reduce your stress around this. You probably already have a good sanitation routine for when you first get home from work (or before you even leave work) - before interacting with the people you live with. If there are multiple bathrooms in your home, maybe you also need to claim one as yours and yours alone to keep things virus-free. And if you’re working in a COVID unit or are otherwise at particularly high risk, you might want to take over an entire room and isolate yourself for the time being. If you don’t have an extra bedroom, maybe you can set up a cot in your den or basement or take over one of your kids’ rooms. The risk is never zero and that is a difficult fact to face - but remind yourself of the many precautions you are taking and how significantly that reduces the risk of spread. 

In general, one of the best ways to handle uncertainty is to focus on what you do have control over. Make sure you feel in control of other parts of your life - little things like keeping your bedroom clean and meal planning/prepping can help you feel significantly less overwhelmed. It is normal to feel afraid right now but pay attention to if it starts to turn into panic. While fear, anxiety, and panic can all look similar, fear is a more immediate response to a direct threat. Anxiety and panic are less concrete – you may have a harder time identifying your specific reason for uneasiness in that moment or be feeling fear almost constantly.  Not sure if your emotions are signaling a bigger concern? Take a quick mental health screen. Results aside, if you’re feeling like it’s hard to cope, it may be time to talk to a professional who can help you identify strategies specifically targeted to your worries and needs.