DAVID GREENE, HOST:
So did you find that you were speaking with people over the weekend and they were talking nervously about the coronavirus and that made you just more anxious? Well, if that happened to you, you are not alone. But there are ways to reduce your risk and reduce your anxiety level. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports that you can start by focusing on what you can control.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Nothing fuels anxiety like uncertainty, and there's plenty of that at the moment. Take these folks in my own community I met on my way to work.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: How can you know how at risk you are?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: It makes me nervous because I am very confused.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: How can you know if there's going to be an outbreak?
AUBREY: And when there aren't good answers to these questions, that feeling of vulnerability can set in. Here's Catherine Belling of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
CATHERINE BELLING: We've got a kind of national anxiety at the moment, and we are all in a state of extreme uncertainty right now.
AUBREY: But there are steps you can take to reduce your stress. Those of us who are prone to anxiety like to be in control, so basic planning and preparedness may help. If an outbreak happens in your community, know ahead of time the trusted sources of information, develop contingency plans if work is disrupted or schools are canceled.
BELLING: It's very important to say, well, no matter what happens, I've done the best that I can to be prepared and also the best that I can to prevent the worst-case scenario happening.
AUBREY: Other things that can protect you - and you've likely heard this many times now - wash your hands. And keep your hands off your face since touching your eyes, nose or mouth is how the virus can enter your body. And infectious disease expert Daniel Kuritzkes of Brigham and Women's Hospital says also be aware that when an infected person sneezes or coughs, the little respiratory droplets that can carry the virus can only travel so far.
DANIEL KURITZKES: Respiratory droplets travel about 1 meter, or 3 feet, before they tend to settle out of the air.
AUBREY: So there is a way to keep a safe distance. The CDC recommends 6 feet for safe measure, so following that advice may help you feel in control, too. Another helpful approach during times of uncertainty is simply to take good care of yourself. And psychologist Stewart Shankman of Northwestern University says one way to do this is to prioritize good sleep.
STEWART SHANKMAN: Numerous studies have shown that if you get a good night's sleep, if you reduce the stress in your life, that your immune system is strengthened significantly.
AUBREY: It turns out that not everyone who gets infected with a virus becomes sick. This has been documented in people who are sleep deprived and also shown in people who are stressed out. In one study where researchers exposed a whole bunch of people to a common cold virus and then tracked who got sick, they found that people who had reported higher levels of stress were about twice as likely to develop cold symptoms compared to people who were the least stressed. So Shankman says reducing anxiety could help you fight off a virus.
Now, it's hard to just tell people, don't be stressed. But here is an idea that could pay off - why not just unplug from the news?
SHANKMAN: There is a point where, you know, information gathering could become problematic.
AUBREY: Now, no one is suggesting that you stop listening to NPR. But if you are obsessing about the coronavirus and reading every tweet, every alert, every article, just disconnect for a while.
SHANKMAN: I guess my advice would be to gather some information. But at some point, continue to live your life.
AUBREY: It's good to stay informed, but information overload won't lower your risk of getting the virus.
Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
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