It’s no secret that the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is making its way across the world. The virus’s quick spread is leading to the cancellation of large gatherings, online schooling, social distancing, and, in some cases, quarantines.
For anyone, this could lead to heightened levels of coronavirus anxiety and fear. But for those in recovery, many of whom already struggle with managing anxiety, it can be especially taxing. Pair that with a lack of face-to-face connections with others—a touchstone of recovery—and the combination has some on edge.
Managing early recovery
Those in long-term recovery have likely found their footing in the world of sobriety. But it can feel a little rockier for those new to it.
Faith Lusk lives in Minnesota and has been sober for one year. For her, talk of the virus and the surrounding precautions have brought up many emotions. At the forefront is fear.
“All my life, I have been driven by fear,” she said. “Fear of things I don’t know and have no control over. My behavior in situations like this is a lot like my drinking. I obsess over it all day, and I can’t stop. I get so consumed by my fear that I just lose sight of rational thinking.”
For Peter Rohr, who has been sober a little over a year, anxiety is rooted in his financial well-being. Much of this comes from coaching high school track.
“Coaching track is the key to me being financially stable throughout the year,” he said. “The only way I’ve found to try and manage my anxiety is to continue my normal workout routine and try to stay focused on work as much as possible. When I’m at home, it’s a struggle, because I haven’t found anything to do to keep my mind off the uncertainty.”
Though social media has a place in times of the unknown, it also has a tendency to perpetuate fear and spread inaccurate information. For this reason, Lusk has decided to take a social media break for the time being.
“I did not set a time limit for how long I’m going to be off,” she said. “With me deleting the app, I reached out to my beloved father who I trust very much. I asked him to keep me informed if he felt we were becoming more at risk and to only share facts with me.”
Maintaining a connection
When it comes to living a life in recovery, one of the most vital pieces is the ability to connect with other people and avoid isolation. Now, social distancing may have an effect on people’s ability to do so.
Social distancing is a way of “flattening the curve,” a phrase that has become familiar to many in the past few weeks. Flattening the curve means taking precautionary measures to minimize the number of people who become infected with the virus at one time. This lets healthcare systems continue to care for those who need it. Without taking measures to flatten the curve, the healthcare system will become overwhelmed. This is currently happening in Italy.
“I think it’s a hard time because many of the recommendations we’re making are about increasing the distance between people. But of course, being close to people is what makes life a pleasure,” Carolyn Cannuscio, the director of research at the Center for Public Health Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania, told the Atlantic.
For those who often attend 12-step meetings or other support groups, the lack of those face-to-face meetings may feel threatening to recovery. However, there are a plethora of resources available online. Phones and the internet still provide the ability to connect with others.
“This is definitely not an excuse to relapse,” said Nancy Carr, who lives in California and has been in recovery for 16 years. “There are also online meetings and so many online resources available. This is a time to go within and love ourselves and others more now during this stressful period.”
Sarah Roberts has been in recovery for 18 years. She resides in British Columbia and works in the wellness field. During this time, she encourages people to keep their health and wellness at the forefront.
“It’s a challenging time,” Roberts said. “It’s rife with panic … the best thing we can all do is to protect our health. Boost our immune systems. Realize the value of our health … What we need is to reduce stress, drink water, eat nourishing foods, get our rest, and exercise. Boosting our immunity means we give ourselves the best chance of fighting the virus if we catch it.”
Roberts adds that now, more than ever, is the time to focus on health and to practice activities like deep breathing, stretching, talking to a friend, walking in nature and meditation.
“We must become vigilant about protecting our health,” she said. “Keep in mind that drinking/using doesn’t make coronavirus go away … it just dampens your immune system and puts you right back on the hamster wheel.”
For Lusk, putting her wellness first comes down to the same thing as sobriety. She’s simply taking it one day at a time.
“As for today, I am practicing fact over fear to help cope with all the scary information floating around in my head,” she said. “I’m proud of myself for continuous improvement in my life and facing these fears. Even when it seems like I can’t do it, I do it just a little bit more.”