Covid Anxiety

January 10 2021 | by

DEAR DR. POPCAK: I am utterly paralyzed by fear of COVID-19. I live in Britain, and we are still deeply impacted by all that’s happening. I am an elderly, 80-year-old widowed lady living alone in my home – my age and frailty makes me particularly vulnerable to this disease. My children and grandchildren all live far away from me. I’m afraid my upcoming birthday will be one of the loneliest in my whole life – no one is coming to visit me because they said they don’t want to infect me. I am simply afraid to go outside for fear of catching the virus, and so I have my food brought to me from the supermarket. I only speak to my friends over the phone, but it’s not the same thing.


Dear reader, know that my prayers are with you. While you feel very alone at this time, know that you are not alone in this experience. In Scripture the Lord reminds us, “Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand,” (Isaiah 41:10).

First, it’s important here to note that fear and anxiety are two different things. Fear is the natural, and appropriate response to an imminent threat. Its job is to keep us safe in the face of a clear and present danger. Anxiety, on the other hand, hijacks this God-given fear-threat system and causes us to experience disproportionate responses to actual threats or suffer feelings of panic. Healthy fear enables us to identify practical solutions to address the problem. Anxiety, on the other hand, causes us to become so focused on the problem that we can’t see any way to address it. To lower your anxiety, you need to focus as much as possible on what you can do to strengthen your connections while staying safe.

Doing this will require you to develop a different mindset. There are several ‘bad thinking habits’ that research shows can cause anxiety. One of them is ‘catastrophizing’, the tendency to think about problems in a manner that makes them infinitely worse. For instance, it is true that COVID is an infectious disease and that, at your age, you are in a higher risk category. But when you act as if COVID is behind every corner just waiting to attack you when you least expect it, you are catastrophizing. Every major public health agency in the world recognizes that social interaction can be safe as long as proper precautions (e.g., wearing a mask, practicing reasonable social distancing, asking extended family/friends to quarantine before getting together for holidays) – are taken.

The fact is, your anxiety is not caused by the pandemic. It is being fed by your response to it. The human brain is actually wired to be more anxious when we are alone. As inherently social creatures, human beings are not meant to be alone. Biologically, we need the presence of others to feel safe. As long as you take appropriate precautions, there is no reason that you cannot see friends and family and still stay healthy

Of course, the most important connection we can make is with God. Bring your fears to him. Talk to Him as a friend. Ask him for the courage you need to respond to this situation in a manner that brings you closer to him and the people you love.

The more we intentionally cultivate meaningful connections with God, the people who love us, and our best selves – especially in the face of hardship – the more we can fight back against the anxiety that threatens to consume us.

Updated on January 10 2021