In the past few months, you may have learned a lot about Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), a new infectious disease that has infected millions of people around the world and resulted in several hundred thousand deaths. You might have been feeling a lot of anxiety about the COVID-19, being acutely aware that you belong to a group (older people) that is more vulnerable to severe outcomes from the disease. Unfortunately, this disease has been disproportionately fatal among older individuals as having one or more underlying conditions can worsen symptoms and result in life-threatening complications. According to an article in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, over 74% of patients hospitalized with this disease in March were aged 50 years and over. Data shows that nearly 90% of the diseased had one or more underlying conditions.

Coping with COVID-19

It is possible to cope well with stressors related to this pandemic. However, doing so requires one to be aware and proactive. Below are some suggestions on how to do so.

1- Be aware of the common symptoms of COVID-19. These include fever, cough, and breathing difficulties. Seek medical help at the onset of any cold or flu-like symptoms. If you have severe symptoms, particularly breathing difficulties, call 911.

2- If you have a medical emergency or any condition that needs a visit to the hospital, do not delay. Certain health conditions, particularly cancer, heart disease, metabolic conditions, and autoimmune diseases like arthritis are more common in old age. They need to be managed regularly. It is understandable that you may fear to catch COVID-19 during your hospital visit, but hospitals have protocols in place to ensure the safety of both patients and staff. Not managing these conditions may pose a risk greater than COVID-19.

3- Take the preventive measures (e.g., washing hands) seriously. Perhaps the most important measure in isolation. Since no effective treatments or vaccines for COVID-19 are presently available, protective self-isolation is the best way to stay healthy and safe from infection.

4- Ask for tangible support. The less you go out into shopping centers and crowds, the safer you are. So, call the grocery store and see if they offer delivery services. Neighbors or relatives might also be more than happy to pick up your medications for you.

5- Seek social support. Social support makes us feel loved, valued, and esteemed. It helps us feel that we belong. Lack of social support presents a significant risk to health. Ali Jawaid, of Brain Research Institute of the University of Zurich, says, in a letter in Science, “Social isolation in seniors has been linked to increased depression and suicidality as well as to increased pro-inflammatory and decreased anti-viral immune responses.” So, how to get the support you need while also isolating? Try distance and virtual socialization. Phone calls, video calls, and even chatting with neighbors from afar might help you feel more socially connected. Call your extended family, relatives, or friends and ask them to check in with you regularly.

6- Adopt a healthy lifestyle. Try to avoid smoking, drinking, and overeating. Watching the news for hours is also unhealthy and may increase your worry and anxiety. Instead, try to manage your stress in healthier ways, such as by doing yoga, exercise, relaxation, and deep breathing practices, or just watching funny movies and TV shows. Do not forget to eat healthily, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy proteins (e.g., nuts, fish), healthy fats (e.g., olive oil), and plenty of water.

7- Seek counseling if you feel depressed or overwhelmed. It’s important to understand that stress and anxiety can negatively affect your body’s autoimmune response. If you have recurring mental health issues, contact mental health providers, many of whom now offer services via phone and video. Don’t be shy to ask for help if you need it, most mental help provides accept Medicare and Medicaid.

Keep in mind that your most important task is to meet your essential needs without unnecessary exposure to health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can do it.