Online therapy is in high demand as coronavirus anxiety drives people to get help without leaving their homes

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  • Anxiety and stress related to novel coronavirus outbreaks across the US have "reached epic proportions," a therapist told Insider.
  • Some businesses, including virtual therapy practices, seem to be benefit ting as people seek coping mechanisms in the sterility of their own homes.
  • Insider talked to online therapists and virtual therapy organizations about how fears about the virus are affecting demand.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

When Hailey Neidich woke up to coronavirus-related news alerts on her phone, her heart started pounding and her mind swelled with worst-case-scenario thinking. Would the virus harm her toddler? Could it affect the 2020 election for, in her opinion, the worse?

As a therapist, Neidich knew she needed to tackle the rising anxiety head-on. So, she booked a massage. "Texting my massage therapist when it's a tough week is common," she said. Advertisement

Meanwhile, Neidich's own patients, as well as those who wanted to become her patients, were taking similar steps: texting her for last-minute, virtual appointments.

"The number of calls for potential clients I've had in the last 24 hours has quadrupled from a typical start to the week," she said on Tuesday, adding that she has a waitlist for the first time in a while. "I think this is likely due to the fact that I'm an online therapist exclusively, and people are super anxious but perhaps not wanting to venture out to a practice to meet with someone at this time."

Business Insider talked to other virtual therapy services and found that Neidich's theory seems to hold true.
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Online therapists are dealing with higher demand and a common worry

Alon Matas, the founder and president of the online counseling service BetterHelp told Insider "the number of new members with concerns of stress and anxiety in February more than doubled compared to February of last year."There's no way to prove that's strictly due to coronavirus, and not a growing business or other common stressors like election-related worries or even Valentine's Day-related emotional lows. But BetterHelp therapists have reported how coronavirus has increased the level of anxiety with their current clients, Matas said. Advertisement

Carl Nordstrom, the CEO of Online-Therapy.com, told Insider that, the last week, his company has seen a more than 30% increase in new clients compared to the week before. "We have a strong feeling that people are generally more anxious because of the coronavirus," he said.

Talkspace, perhaps the most well-known online and mobile therapy program in part thanks to endorsements from celebrities like Michael Phelps, has seen over 10% growth in requests "and that number is accelerating," a spokesperson told Insider.

"This is likely due to coronavirus anxiety as well as traditional therapy patients looking for an alternative that allows them to access therapy remotely," she said. Advertisement

The platform has also received new traffic from international sources including Asia and Europe.

Cheri McDonald, a psychologist in Westlake Village, California, who specializes in treating trauma, said that while she hasn't seen an increase in requests for virtual appointments, 100% of those who've had either virtual or in-person visits scheduled have brought up the coronavirus.

"It's on everyone's minds. It's their fear of their own safety, their family's safety, and if they can even trust what they hear in the news," she said. Advertisement

McDonald also said that more people have cancelled in-person appointments due to sickness in the past couple weeks. "I don't know if they're sick or afraid of being sick," she said.

How to deal with coronavirus-related anxiety

Outside of seeking therapists' help, virtually or otherwise, coronavirus-related stress can be managed in part by setting parameters around how much you read about or watch news about the issue, Julie Pike, a clinical psychologist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who specializes in anxiety disorders, previously told Insider. Advertisement

Too much exposure, especially from sketchy sources, can make consumers overestimate threat and underestimate their coping abilities, which is a recipe for anxiety.

"While it is fine to have a general idea of what is happening, especially if you live near an area with high concentration of cases, it's important to limit media exposure, particularly from undocumented or potentially unreliable sources," she said. McDonald, meanwhile, tells clients who are worried about potential outbreaks in their communities or homes that they already have the tools to protect themselves: They can wash their hands frequently and thoroughly, avoid people who are sick, and follow other public-health recommendations. Advertisement

They should also remember that "we're all in this together," she said.

"If you're feeling anxiety, lean on each other," she said, adding that feeling connected and supported is good for the immune system. By contrast, she added, "fear erodes us and isolation erodes us."

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