COVID-19: Anxiety and Cognitive Distortions


By Kathleen Jones, PA-C

I came across an early study out of China where 1,210 people rated the psychological impact COVID-19 was having on them:

53.8% - Moderate - severe impact

28.8% - Moderate - severe anxiety

16.5% - Moderate - severe depression

Have you felt anxious in the past 2 months? I think we all have. I’m sure a study conducted within our own community would reflect similar numbers.

Our thoughts can run wild during times like these - it is important to try and catch these cognitive distortions until they spiral.

“Cognitive distortions” are thought patterns that cause us to view reality in inaccurate and usually negative ways. Left unchecked, they can worsen depression, increase anxiety and strain relationships.

Examples of cognitive distortions:

Overgeneralization:  “I heard of someone younger/healthier than me that died of COVID-19, so I will die too.”

Jumping to conclusions: “I will definitely get COVID-19 because I work in a hospital.”

Catastrophizing: “The world/economy is heading into chaos and won’t recover.”

Magnification/minimization: “This is not a big deal. The media is blowing it way out of proportion.” Or “This will lead to our ruin as a nation.”

Labeling: “I just found out I have COVID-19. When I felt sick, I didn’t practice social distancing. I am a failure.”

Emotional reasoning (belief that your emotions are the truth): “I am afraid, so we must all be in danger.”

I have definitely had some of these thoughts. So what can you do?

1 - Identify the thought.

2 - Try to reframe it (Any objective evidence? Alternate explanations? Gray areas?)

3 - Ask, is the thought helpful to you/others?

4 - Take what you learned and either dismiss the thought or grow (Could the thought be reframed to encourage change?)

Viktor Frankl was an Austrian Neurologist/Psychiatrist, and a Holocaust survivor. He wrote, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

We are nowhere near the atrocities of the Holocaust, but we are in a unique and trying time. What can you do to make things a little easier on yourself, and others?


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