Humans have always experienced anxiety as a defense mechanism to danger, says Fred Zelinger, a Cedarhurst psychologist. “Anxiety is fundamentally a survival need. If something worries us, we end up doing something to be safe, to avoid the danger,” he says.
But it’s no longer a sabre-toothed tiger that’s the threat, Zelinger says. Now it’s COVID-19, and the “doing something” might be frantically searching for hand sanitizer or stocking up on food in case of a quarantine.
“Will I be safe?’ That’s what this is all about,” agrees Deborah Serani, a psychologist in Smithtown who teaches at Adelphi University. Catastrophizing–mentally jumping right to the worst-case scenario–is at the root of much of this fear, Serani says. “You want to be reasonable with your thinking.”
Reasoned planning and adjustments to daily life are positive ways to manage fear, Zelinger says. “You want to regain a sense of control.”
Mary Czaja, 62, of Bay Shore, who is on disability with osteoarthritis, says she is taking some precautions such as avoiding crowds, but she’s also not “freaking out.” “I have a healthy respect for what’s going on,” Czaja says. “You always respect your enemies. The virus is the enemy.”
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