What if I get the virus? What if someone I love gets this virus? What if the economy never bounces back? Should I go to the grocery store? Am I having a panic attack or a heart attack? Why can’t I think?

We can find ourselves spiraling down a deep dark hole of anxiety and fear when we start asking ourselves these kinds of “what if?” questions, but never pursue the answers. During this especially unsettling time as we grapple with all of the uncertainty brought on by COVID-19, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of the differences between anxiety and fear and how both can affect us.

Anxiety vs. Fear



Note that both fear and anxiety affect the whole body. They do this by creating a fight or flight response. In this response, the brain perceives a threat and gets us ready to either fight or flee from our enemy. As a result, everything increases: blood pressure, heart and breathing rates, and adrenaline and cortisol kick in. Cortisol is the stress hormone. If it is in your system too long, it can cause an immune system drop. Since the brain doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined fears, it will initiate this response, so it’s important to have strategies in place that prevent our brains from going into overdrive.

Managing fear and anxiety

Right now, during this pandemic, it’s important to acknowledge that we are experiencing both fear and anxiety. We do have a real and threatening virus in our midst that we all could get. And the financial implications something like this can hold are very real. Here are some strategies that can help us rein in the worry and keep our brains from responding in ways that are unhealthy:

While all of these tools may not work for everyone, simply being aware that there are ways to minimize fear and anxiety can be helpful. Finding the best strategies that work during stressful times like the present will leave us armed to better manage everyday worry and anxiety as well.

About the Author

Connie Fisher is a licensed clinical social worker with 26+ years private practice experience. She has presented numerous workshops on a variety of mental health topics including stress management, burnout, compassion fatigue and resilience.  In addition, Connie has 16 years of experience as an Adjunct Professor teaching a variety of courses on psychology, social work and human services.