As the coronavirus spreads, more and more people are becoming anxious about what it means in their life. After all, entire cities have been quarantined in China. Travel restrictions have been put in place throughout the world.

It’s perfectly normal to feel anxiety about this emerging health crisis. The coronavirus can be a deadly disease, but we also know that it’s most likely to be deadly in people who already have a weakened immune system.

Here’s how to cope with the anxiety and fear surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.

Human beings are social animals, so we enjoy social contact with others — our friends, family, even co-workers. During a pandemic, we can’t see people nearly as often as we used to. We may have to be working from home, dealing with children who are doing virtual classes, and handling a lot more than we’re used to doing in our daily lives. You can still be social, however, you just need to practice physical — not social — distancing.

Practice this kind of distancing anytime you’re out in public and take it seriously. Keep socializing virtual only — no get-togethers, no dates, no play dates for your children. Wash your hands regularly, especially if you need to go out. Minimize your car trips when you do have to restock groceries or essentials to no more than once per week. Use mail order, online, or telephone services to obtain needed goods, medications, or services as much as possible.

Wear your mask whenever out in public or even indoors with groups of friends or family members of a different household. Continue to wash your hands and refrain from touching your face. The virus is mostly airborne, so it’s primarily spread through coughs, sneezes, singing, yelling, and talking in an enclosed space (think indoors) with others. But you can still contract the virus by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus, and then accidentally touching your face, nose, or mouth.

Both flu and coronaviruses are spread through everyday contact, through talking in close quarters with someone else, touch, a cough, or a sneeze. If you’re sick, stay home and don’t go to work or out in the world. If you’re not sick, stay away from close contact with a person who is and engage in healthy habits when it comes to cleanliness.

That primarily means washing your hands regularly and thoroughly. Out running errands? Come home and wash your hands, singing the ABC song in your head as you do. Use warm-to-hot water, plenty of soap, and don’t stop washing until the song is done (some health experts recommend singing it twice). Can’t get to a sink? Carry a small travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer with you (keep it in your car if you prefer), and use it regularly.

Keeping your immune system happy and healthy can help too, especially if you do get sick. A healthy immune system starts with a balanced diet and getting the amount of sleep you need to feel well-rested every night. Engaging in regular exercise is also important, even in the winter.

The longer you watch or read something, the more money a company makes, whether it’s online, on the TV, or on your phone. The coronavirus is a great opportunity for companies, as they work to scare you into believing that this outbreak is something you need to worry about constantly right this very minute.

It’s not. So instead of playing into their hands, limit your consumption of media and stories related to the outbreak. Scientists and public health officials are working overtime to better understand the virus and are looking at ways to limit its impact. Trust in their work and efforts.

If you need updates, check out a government resource for the best, most accurate information, such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

No matter what the focus of one’s anxiety, using what’s worked in the past to help manage those feelings is usually a good bet. Maybe it’s engaging in self-talk, to undo the irrational thoughts coming into your head with rational, fact-based responses. Maybe it’s reaching out to a trusted friend or family member, just to talk through your anxiety. Or maybe it’s engaging in some mindfulness or meditation techniques — ones that you’ve learned and that have worked for you in the past.

Whatever works to help relieve your stress and reduce your anxiety, try to do more of that in times like this, when you feel like the stress of this virus outbreak is getting to you. You have to take time for yourself. You’re of no use to others that depend on you if you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed-out, or out of control. Do whatever you need to do to keep your sanity about you and to continue to work on your stress levels. Maybe it means more exercising, more reading, more Zoom chats with friends, or even starting to see a therapist (virtually, of course). Be realistic in your emotional health needs and do your best to get those needs met.

Lots of people in the summertime feel like it’s more safe to gather in large groups of people to enjoy a common event, whether it be music or food or something else. However, the coronavirus hasn’t “magically gone away” as one leader predicted. It’s still very much out there, and still very much infecting and killing people every day.

Avoid any type of large social gathering where people are not socially or physically distancing from one another. Avoid groups of people who aren’t wearing masks. Avoid any outdoor venue where you’re going to be touching a lot of surfaces and there’s no indication anyone is cleaning those surfaces between customers. One example of this is a county fair in Ohio where the condiment stand turned out to be the cause of many coronavirus infections. People there — many without masks — were huddled around the condiments, grabbing bottles of ketchup and mustard, and then using those same hands to stuff food in their mouths.

While you may think, “Hey, if I get out to that event this weekend, I’ll feel less stressed” is a good rationale, every such exposure carries increased risk of contracting the coronavirus and bringing it home with you to other family members. This isn’t meant to scare you, but instead to help you understand that every decision you make carries with it certain possible outcomes. Carefully consider those outcomes ahead of time, before you find yourself in a situation you didn’t think “would be all that bad.” (Drinking alcohol also increases risk, as people’s inhibitions and good judgment often are reduced.)

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Remember, outbreaks like this do occur from time to time throughout the world. It’s normal. While they can be very scary — especially if you live in a highly-infected area — the actual chances of your becoming infected are very small if you take common-sense precautions and continue to take the pandemic seriously. Wear a mask even if your friends don’t. Continue to wash your hands after every trip outside of your house. And keep physically distant from others, even if it’s “just friends” on the back deck.

The more seriously more people take the coronavirus, the shorter amount of time America will be in lockdown. The less seriously fewer people take the pandemic, the longer amount of time America will be in lockdown. It really is that simple.

This column was originally published on January 31, 2020 and has been updated to reflect the changing coronavirus pandemic in America.

Learn More & Stay Informed

CDC: 2019 Novel Coronavirus

World Health Organization: Daily situation reports

Data visualization (may reinforce fears, however): 2019-nCoV Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE