FARGO — With schools closing doors, flights getting canceled and shelves getting cleared of toilet paper, it's perfectly normal to feel some anxiety as the coronavirus pandemic begins to affect our day-to-day lives.
Behavioral health specialists say it's how you respond to anxiety that can help you and your community during a public health crisis.
Dr. Jon Ulven, a behavioral health psychologist at Sanford, said everyone is wired to meet new things with a certain level of nervousness as a way to protect themselves from harm.
The coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19 now considered a pandemic by the World Health Organization, is no different, though people can feel that nervousness and anxiety in different ways.
"You can have people who feel little to no anxiety about this, and you can have people who are losing sleep," Ulven said. "They might have upset stomachs. Sometimes people have diarrhea."
He said it is hard to see whether or not the amount of anxiety or concern we're exhibiting is appropriate because there's still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the outbreak.
"We don't know for certain how this is going to unfold, but it looks like the fear and the threat is going to be with us for a while," Ulven said.
He added that uncertainty brings out a psychological concept in many: perception of control.
This can manifest as panic buying of toilet paper and household cleaners. The act gives many a sense that they're doing something to protect themselves.
Ulven said the line between fear-driven decision making and logic-driven decision making can often become fuzzy, which is why he says the coronavirus outbreak is a situation that calls for a commitment to conscious changes in everyday behavior.
That includes social distancing, monitoring how much we touch our faces, and paying attention to how long and effectively we wash our hands.
Ulven added that relying on trusted sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization can help separate facts from fiction to reduce anxiety over the unknown.
It's also important to assess your anxiety regularly to understand when it becomes too much and when it may be time to seek help managing it.