From the psychiatrist Judson A. Brewer, M.D., Ph.D. in the NYTimes:
Anxiety and its close cousin, panic, are both born from fear and uncertainty. We have plenty of that with the current COVID-19 pandemic.
If information is lacking, our prefrontal cortex lays out different scenarios about what might happen. Some of these scenarios can be pretty scary.
Anxiety is contagious. The spread of emotion from one person to another is called social contagion. "People can sneeze on your brain", says Dr Jud. "Our own anxiety can be cued or triggered simply by talking to someone else who is anxious. Their fearful words are like a sneeze landing directly on our brain, emotionally infecting our prefrontal cortex, and sending it out of control as it worries about everything from whether our family members will get sick to how our jobs will be affected."
To break the anxiety cycle, do 2 things:
1. become aware when you are getting anxious or panicking and what the result is.
2. bring in the “bigger better offer” (BBO).
What is the “bigger better offer” (BBO)? Your brain will choose more rewarding behaviors simply because they feel better. Replace old habitual behaviors — such as worry — with those that are naturally more rewarding.
An example: If you notice that your touched your face, and start to worry: “Oh no, I touched my face, maybe I’ll get sick!”, instead of panicking, take a deep breath and ask: “When was the last time I cleaned my hands?”. Think. “Oh, right! I just washed my hands.” Here, we can leverage certainty: If we’ve just washed our hands, and haven’t been out in public, the likelihood that we’re going to get sick is pretty low."
Dr Jud: "Understanding these simple learning mechanisms will help all of us “keep calm and carry on” (which is how London dealt with the uncertainty of constant air raids in World War II) instead of getting caught in anxiety or panic in the coming days, and whenever we face uncertainty."
You will understand this more clearly if you watch some of Dr Jud's videos below. He has a coronavirus playlist:
There is also a longer explanation here: The 3 WAYS To Keep Coronavirus ANXIETY From Going VIRAL | Judson Brewer & Lewis Howes:
A Brain Hack to Break the Coronavirus Anxiety Cycle https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/13/well/mind/a-brain-hack-to-break-the-coronavirus-anxiety-cycle.html