How to keep coronavirus fears from affecting your mental health

Updated 1403 GMT (2203 HKT) March 14, 2020

(CNN)Coronavirus! Yes, it's a serious situation, and yes, it deserves your vigilance and attention.

But the constant spring of information, precautions and warnings, whether it's straight from the CDC or some recirculated, dubiously-sourced post on Facebook, can take a real toll on your mental health.
When does caution become overreaction? When does staying informed cross the line into, well, too much information?
The good news is, there is a happy medium between willfully ignoring the biggest story in the world right now, and going into a full-on panic. Here are some tips. Think of it like hand-washing and social distancing, but for your brain.

Pare down your sources of information

"There is a ton of information out there. The challenge is trying to determine which information is accurate." says Lynn Bufka, Associate Executive Director for Research and Policy at the American Psychological Association. She suggests taking control of your intake through the following steps:
  • Find a few sources you trust and stick with them. Choose one national or international source like the CDC, and another local nor national source so you can know what's going on in your community.
  • Limit the frequency of your updates. Things may be changing rapidly, but that doesn't mean you need to hang on every update. Think of it this way: If there is a tornado coming your way, you need information as soon as possible. The coronavirus is not a tornado. This may mean disabling constant notifications from news sites or social media.
  • Know when to walk away. "Try to get used to not knowing every little thing, and feeling okay with uncertainty," says Bufka. She recommends getting your phone off your person so you're not tempted to check it. Bufka says she leaves her phone on a charging station when she gets home so it's not constantly with her, beckoning with new information.
  • Practice social media self discipline. No, it's not easy to limit time on social media. But chances are, the churn of information and commentary you get from friends and acquaintances on your Facebook feed is more incessant than actual updates from news or health organizations. Bufka recommends uninstalling social media apps so it's harder to get to the content, or using tools to limit your aimless scrolling.

Name your fears

A pandemic is a rather abstract villain, so it may help to sit down and really consider what specific threats worry you. Do you think you will catch the coronavirus and die? "The fear of death taps into one of our core existential fears," says Bufka. "But you have to think about what your fear is, and how realistic it is." Consider your personal risk and how likely it is that you will actually come in contact with the virus.