DBT Skills for Managing Anxiety Around Coronavirus

DBT Skills for Managing Anxiety Around Coronavirus

With the emergence of Coronavirus, it’s safe to say that we are all a little anxious as we approach a changing world and the unknown. While there are many articles out there about managing the anxiety and fear of COVID-19, I thought it would be important to take a look at some psychological strategies from Dialectical Behavior Therapy to help us cope.


Pay attention: Now is not the time to be on your phone out in public or on the subway. Why? It’s smart to be aware of those around you. You should take extra precautions to not be around someone who looks visibly sick or is coughing. If you’re not being mindful, you may not recognize the various ways to keep yourself healthy.

For example, the other day I was on my phone while waiting for the train. Behaviorism and habit have trained my body to always take the express train to work. I got off my phone, was mindful, and saw that the local train that pulled into the platform across was empty, whereas the express train was packed. I made a mindful decision to take the other train because a precautionary measure is to avoid less crowded spaces, which I would not have seen if I had been on my phone.

In this situation, I chose to prioritize my physical health and mental health by taking the slower route. I would have been anxious being in such close proximity to others on the express train, but by choosing the other one, I was able to sit and relax. Our minds are typically going so fast with so much information, but it was nice to actually sit, listen to music, and radically accept that it’s okay to slow down.

Another great way to be more mindful right now is to make washing your hands a mindful activity! Hand-washing can feel very soothing and we often don’t take the time to recognize this and feel the sensations. It feels good to self-massage hands, take time to smell the soap, and feel the warmth of the water, all the while picturing your anxiety and stress (or germs!) washing down the drain.

Instead of singing “Happy Birthday” to measure your advised 20 seconds of washing, try deep breathing. I always recommend a long inhale and exhale. I advise saying to yourself “inhale, inhale, inhale, inhale,” while holding your breath for a minute, and then a slow exhale to the timing of “exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale.” Each inhale and exhale should take 3 to 4 seconds, so if you take about 5 deep breaths, you will have washed your hands thoroughly. You can also use this time for self-affirmations or personal mantras. It’s a good time to look yourself in the mirror and self-validate.

Be mindful of how others are feeling and try to live from the assumption that everyone is doing the best they can. Recognize that people are on edge right now, and scared or anxious. As a result, people may act edgy or frustrated more easily. Try not to judge and take it personally; they are doing the best they can in this unknown time and so are you.

On that same note, be mindful of your self-judgments. Feel what you need to feel and recognize that feelings aren’t facts. Try to be mindful that there are a lot of opinion pieces in the media right now. In one Google search or social media feed, you can likely find an article about how the Coronavirus is apocalyptic, and you can also find one that says it’s no big deal. This is a dialectic and remember, there is no absolute truth right now from people who are writing articles. Much of what is being put out there right now is feeling.

Be mindful about how much time you are spending checking or reading the news. A 24-hour news cycle can sometimes do more harm than good and cause a spiral of anxiety. We end up spending a lot of time and energy re-reading the same information over and over, while trying to find new solutions or truths.

A good idea is to ask a couple of trusted friends, family members or loved ones to keep you updated on news alerts or things you need to know, and take a break from the news. You can ask for help from them by explaining that you need a media vacation for your mental health, and for them to let you know if there is something urgent or alarming.

Use a wise mind. We all have the ability to read a tweet, an article, or a post online that can scare us or send us spiraling into fear and anxiety. Slow down and ask, “Is this source legitimate?” Use a reasonable mind to help you check the facts.


PLEASE SKILLS: Please use them, they work! Not only do they help prevent or lessen emotional dysregulation, they can help prevent or lessen effects of the Coronavirus. The number one advice to help prevent the spread of Coronavirus is to take care of yourself physically: get plenty of rest, be aware of symptoms, be mindful of how you are feeling, eat well, drink a lot of water, and take your medications. This foundation of physical health can also help your mental health.

Building Mastery: Now is a great time to try that hobby you always wanted to try! Cope ahead and download some apps to learn that new language you always wanted to, buy some craft supplies, or even build or fix that thing in your home you’ve been meaning to do.


Distract, Self-Soothe, Improve the Moment: Review and refresh yourself on what works for you and “DO WHAT WORKS.” Ride the waves of feelings and remember that nothing lasts forever, even when we feel our strongest, most uncomfortable emotions.

Cope-ahead: Just as we are suggested to stock up on medications and food, make sure that you have distress-tolerance items on hand. If sucking on your favorite hard candy is soothing for you, make sure you have them in the house. If reading works for you, buy some extra books. Coloring or art? Get some new supplies. Have your favorite scent around. These are all as important as having hand sanitizer.

Contributing: It is our survival instinct in times of anxiety to put ourselves and our loved ones first. People may seem “selfish” instead of “self-ish”. It feels good to help others. For example, my best friend had bought many hand-sanitizers and I didn’t have one. She gave me one and that act of kindness meant so much to me and made her feel good, as well. If you have something to offer someone, do it. Say hi and smile to that neighbor at the end of the hallway or in the elevator that you have never met. Ask an elderly neighbor if they need anything. It feels just as good for you as it will to them.


Recognize when you are making a “Thinking Mistake.” There is a lot of catastrophic thinking going on right now. While sometimes we can’t prevent that thinking, we can control our recognition that it is a “mistake,” which can help us reframe and help us to not predict negative outcomes.


It’s a sensitive time for a lot of people. Practice kindness. Assert yourself and what you need. Ask for help.

My wish for all of you reading this article is that you can accept, honor and validate when you are being skillful and make some changes when you are not. This is a time when we are all trying to prioritize our physical health, and in doing so, we may not prioritize our mental health. They go hand in hand; so, as you take care of you and your loved ones physically, please don’t ignore your emotional and mental health needs as well.


Take good care,

Jaime Gleicher, LMSW