It’s easy for anxiety to get the better of Crossroads residents amid the uncertainty of the new coronavirus pandemic.

“The unknown is scarier than anything else,” said Justin Alexander, a Victoria native, licensed professional counselor and co-founder of mental health provider Believe Behavioral Services.

With the first COVID-19 related death in Texas reported in nearby Matagorda County and the national number of infections at more than 4,000, it can be hard not to worry. But Crossroads residents should not let those worries get the better of them although counselors said the pandemic has increased worries with their patients.

“The response I’m seeing in this short time frame is very different than with past events, and I think it’s mainly because we’ve gotten into this state of anxiety,” Alexander said.

While the COVID-19 pandemic may be new to the world, Crossroads residents should remember that uncertainty is not.

“Of course you worry,” said Lane Johnson, chief medical officer for the Gulf Bend Center, which offers public mental health services in the Crossroads. “What I want them to focus on is what do you actually control. Stop worrying about what you have no control over.”

Alexander agreed.

“We’re not out of control, we’re just not in as much control as we are previously used to,” he said.

Unlike previous disasters and calamities like Hurricane Harvey and 9/11, there’s plenty Crossroads residents can do to protect themselves in the new coronavirus pandemic.

Public health officials have said washing hands, social distancing and good hygiene are among the best methods to prevent the spread of the virus.

Ironically, after 9/11 and Harvey, there was little for Americans to do other than wait and hope for the best, Alexander said.

Good practices for sleep, eating and exercise can go a long way in managing anxiety related to the new coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So can taking a break from troubling news reports.

But those strategies cannot substitute for directly addressing the thoughts that are causing the fears, Alexander said.

“If you notice an increase in anxiety, the first questions you ask are ‘What was just going though my mind? ... What’s the evidence for this ... or against this?’” he said. “You challenge those thoughts.”

During disasters where events are beyond an individual’s control, the public also can find themselves in a runaway cycle of anxiety known as “catastrophizing.”

“Catastrophizing is a thinking error that means ‘I’m not sure what is going to happen, but it’s going to be bad,’” Alexander said.

According to Psychology Today, the condition is widely studied and involves two steps of detrimental thinking.

First, people may predict a negative outcome even when the future is not apparent.

And then they may jump to the conclusion that if a negative outcome does occur, it will result in a catastrophe.

Panic buying, Alexander said, is one way people cope with feelings of powerlessness and uncertainty.

In recent days, Crossroads groceries and supermarkets have reported sellouts for toilet paper, hand sanitizer and food, prompting some to restrict the number of items per customer.

When people feel they lack control in their lives, they may try to regain it through other available means – like purchasing supplies.

And when others see empty shelves and hear about stockpiling, they may feel compelled to also engage in panic buying, thus creating a cycle.

Crossroads residents can both support their community and take control in their own lives by refraining from buying too many essential items.

Finally, when residents find themselves unable to cope with their anxieties despite their best efforts, it may be time to seek help from a mental health professional.

And doing so, Alexander said, should not cause anyone to feel shame or embarrassment.“(Even) counselors go to counseling,” he said. “We all do this.”

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Jon Wilcox reports on courts for the Victoria Advocate. He may be reached jwilcox@vicad.com or 361-580-6515.

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Jon covers crime, public safety and the courts at the Victoria Advocate. Born in Huntsville, Ala., he grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism at Texas State University.

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