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One Change That Could Lessen Your Anxiety During (and After) COVID-19

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Hansa Bhargava, MD - Blogs
By Hansa D. Bhargava, MDBoard-certified pediatricianApril 21, 2020
From the WebMD Archives

Before the COVID-19 crisis, I wrote and talked a lot about mental health – the rise of anxiety in our kids, suicide rates increasing by more than 50% in certain age groups, and depression being a significant issue in our college kids. There are many factors that contributed to this in the “pre-COVID” era including our fast-paced lives, the pressure to do more in less time, and the impact of screens.

Now that we’re in the new COVID-19 reality, we have a whole new set of stressors to deal with, but one of the pre-COVID factors is still a problem, now more than ever: Screens and media. Not only are we stuck at home, without normal diversions of work, school, and social activities, but the fact that we are learning new facts about COVID-19 every day creates a constant stream of changing news. Is COVID-19 passed through the air or shoes? What about the child who died? When can shelter-in-place be lifted safely? How many people who are carriers are asymptomatic? When will the vaccine come out? The questions are endless and truthfully, the information is a moving target because we just don’t know enough to answer everything at this moment. But the effect of hearing this constant changing, and often frightening, information is stressful – for ALL of us.

As an executive member of the Communications and Media Council for the American Academy of Pediatrics, I work on policy and recommendations on how much screen and media exposure kids should have. One of the issues we’ve talked about is how information that we get 24/7 can keep kids in a fearful and anxious state. But here’s the thing – research has shown that a constant stream of stressful information, can also impact ADULTS as well. In fact, news can even influence behavior. Such was the case a few years ago when several suicides influenced others to take their lives too and there was a slew of mass shootings. Bad news is not good for our bodies – and bad news all the time is even worse.

If we know this is true, and if we media is feeding us more stressful information than ever right now, wouldn’t this be the time to re-think our media intake? Could we take this coronavirus “pause” in our lives as an opportunity to change one habit that could truly help us to be happier, less anxious people?

Recently, I tried this myself. I decided to avoid social media and news for a solid 24-hour period every week, usually on Friday evening and until Saturday evening, as well as weeknights starting around 6pm. It was hard at first, because I admit, I love being ‘connected’ and I, too, have FOMO. But I’ve noticed that with even this minimal decrease in media consumption, I am calmer and happier. It really has changed my mood, and ultimately, even my productivity, as well as my ability to sleep.

I know it sounds simplistic, but taking a media fast can really make a difference. And by doing this ONE thing, we can potentially reduce our stress and anxiety. We can’t control what’s going on out there, but we can change how we digest it and how we react. And maybe this new habit that we learn during this time, can be a ‘silver lining’ from all of this. Because it can lead us to be calmer and more resilient going forward, to handle whatever life sends our way.


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About the Author
Hansa D. Bhargava, MD

Hansa Bhargava, MD, is Chief Medical Officer at Medscape Education and a board-certified pediatrician. She is the author of Building Happier Kids: Stress-busting Tools for Parents. With expertise in parenting, mental health, and pregnancy, she has helped develop the WebMD Baby App and WebMD Pregnancy App. A regular contributor to Forbes, she is frequently interviewed by major news outlets on issues of health and well-being in children. In addition to her work at Medscape Education, she has collaborated with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and is an elected executive member of the AAP Committee on Communications and Media.

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