Managing anxiety and stress related to the coronavirus pandemic
The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) may cause anxiety and stress for a lot of people. Health anxiety and the fear of the unknown, can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in both adults and children. In this article, we talk about managing anxiety and stress related to the coronavirus pandemic, and coping skills that will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger.
Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic, many of us, even those who have not been infected by the virus, have experienced feelings of isolation, hopelessness, anxiety, and stress.
People who may respond more strongly to the stress of a crisis include:
- Older people and people with chronic diseases who are at higher risk for COVID-19
- Children and teens
- People who are helping with the response to COVID-19, like doctors and other health care providers, or first responders
- People who have mental health conditions including problems with substance use
It’s important to understand that everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. How you respond to the outbreak can depend on your background, your mental and physical condition, and the community you live in. There is no wrong way to react to the threats that the coronavirus pandemic brings.
Most people’s lives will change in some way over a period of days, weeks or months. But in time, it will pass.
If experiencing anxiety and stress related to the coronavirus pandemic, you may notice some of the following:
- increased anxiety
- feeling stressed
- finding yourself excessively checking for symptoms, in yourself, or others
- becoming irritable more easily
- feeling insecure or unsettled
- fearing that normal aches and pains might be the virus
- having trouble sleeping
- feeling helpless or a lack of control
- having irrational thoughts
Anxiety during this time is completely normal, as lack of control and fear of the unknown are two of the biggest triggers to anxiety – the most common mental health condition among people.
How to manage anxiety and stress related to the coronavirus pandemic
You see all these new stories, information on social media, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in being worried about it. However, keeping a realistic perspective of the situation based on facts is important. Here are some ways you can do this.
Stay informed but set limits for news and social media
Avoid obsessing over endless Coronavirus coverage. Sometimes it can be difficult to separate facts from rumors. Use trustworthy and reliable sources to get your news like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the World Health Organization, or some of our major media, and just stick to them for information. They are professionals. They do the best job they can of gathering and communicating the information. That will also protect you from the irresponsible, the rumor mongers, the people who are using this as an opportunity to sell things or to inflame racial hatred or ethnic hatred.
Furthermore, too much time on social media may increase your worry and levels of anxiety. Consider limiting how much time you spend on social media.
If you find the coverage on coronavirus is too intense for you, talk it through with someone close or get support.
Maintain a daily routine
Your routine may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak in different ways. But during difficult times like this, it’s best if you can keep some structure in your day.
As you work from home, it could be tempting to fall into a more lethargic lifestyle, which could lead to negative thinking.
- Wake up and go to bed around the same time
- Exercise regularly, especially walking – you can do this even if you need to self-quarantine
- Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate.
- Search for online exercise or yoga classes, concerts, religious services or guided tours
- Maintain a healthy, balanced diet
- Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
- Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
Reframe “I am stuck inside”
Rather than thinking you are trapped inside your house, try to see this time as the opportunity to focus on your home and yourself.
Doing one productive thing per day can lead to a more positive attitude. Set your sights on long-avoided tasks, reorganize, or create something you’ve always wanted to. Approaching this time with a mindset of feeling trapped or stuck will only stress you out more. This is your chance to slow down and focus on yourself.
Create new routines
Having something special during this time will help you look forward to each new day.
Studies have shown that planning and executing new routines that connect you to what really matters in life is the best recipe for good mental health.
It’s important to establish structure, predictability and a sense of purpose with these new routines. Use this opportunity to enrich your life.
For example, perhaps you can start a daily journal, finally learn a new language, or take a walk every day at 4 pm. You can make a habit of connecting with your family over FaceTime every morning, making sure you still support each other even if you are physically apart. Remember that talking things through with someone can help lessen worry or anxiety. You don’t have to appear to be strong or to try to cope with things by yourself.
Connect to others
During times of stress, friends and families can be a good source of support. It is important to keep in touch with them and other people in your life.
If you need to restrict your movements or self-isolate, try to stay connected to people in other ways, for example through email, video and phone calls.
Focus on reducing the anxiety and stress related to the coronavirus pandemic in yourself and others.
Sharing the facts about COVID-19 and understanding the actual risk to yourself and people you care about can make an outbreak less stressful.
Accept negative emotions
It is understandable to feel vulnerable or overwhelmed reading or hearing news about the outbreak. It is important to acknowledge that a lot of anxious thoughts and emotions will show up during this time and to accept them rather than trying to push them away or escape them.
Acknowledge these feelings. Remind yourself and others to look after your physical and mental health. Also, don’t judge people or make assumptions about who is responsible for the spread of the disease. The coronavirus can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, nationality or ethnicity. We are all in this together.
For parents: how to talk to your child about the coronavirus pandemic
Children and teens may have a particularly hard time making sense of what’s happening in such a scenario, given their pending brain maturation, their lack of experience, and their inherent suggestibility and vulnerability.
Children and teens react, in part, on what they see from the adults around them. When parents and caregivers deal with the COVID-19 calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children. Parents can be more reassuring to others around them, especially children if they are better prepared.
How a child can respond to the anxiety and stress related to the coronavirus pandemic, depends on various factors, such as:
- The age of the child
- The comprehension abilities and developmental level of the child
- The presence, severity, and type of anxiety disorder(s) or other psychiatric conditions
- Prior history of trauma or serious illness of loved ones or self
- Occurrence of other recent stressors or major life events (such as parental divorce, death of loved ones, major move, change of school), etc.
Recommendations on how to help your child manage anxiety and stress related to the coronavirus pandemic:
- Talk to your children about coronavirus but try to limit their exposure to news and social media. This is especially important for older children who may be spending more time online now. It may be causing anxiety.
- Give children and young people the time and space to talk about the outbreak. Share the facts with them in a way that suits their age and temperament, without causing alarm.
- The most important and impactful form of communication to your child/teen is your own behavior. Children typically tend to be perceptive and sensitive to the behavior of others in their surroundings. If you and other adults in the household are acting and behaving calmly, you are sending a clear message to your child/teen that there is no need to panic or worry.
- Try adhering to usual routines and schedules in the household as much as possible. Consistency is key. If your child/teen’s school is closed, helping your child/teen have structure during the day, may help anxiety.
- Work with your child’s therapist/psychiatrist to determine the best strategy to navigate this situation, taking into account the unique circumstances of your child.
- Help your child notice and verbalize the experience of anxiety rather than avoiding it. Putting anxiety-related feelings in words facilitates faster and optimal processing of those emotions and experiences. Normalizing the experience of anxiety as one that many people around the world feel, can also be helpful.
- For an older child/teen, point them in the direction of scientifically authentic and reliable sources of news information about coronavirus. Educate your older child/teen on distinguishing reliable and scientific sources of information about coronavirus from non-reliable ones.
- For young children, basic reassurance from parents that they and their loved ones are safe is important. You may use story-telling and role-play with younger kids to illustrate simple facts. Keep any information you give- simple, short and concrete with younger kids.
- While the novel coronavirus does warrant seriousness, children understand and engage best through stories and play. A creative learning activity about COVID- 19, that is tailored to the age, developmental level and degree of anxiety of your child, maybe a useful way to help your child understand the facts.
- If your child/teen suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and tends to fixate or get stuck on certain things, you would need to take that into account while creating an activity or exercise. Children/teens with OCD may also struggle more than usual with handwashing, checking, counting and other compulsive rituals during this time, particularly as they hear recommendations for regular handwashing as part of prevention measures for coronavirus and as they hear about the rising numbers of people affected by the virus. In that case, you may work with your child’s therapist/psychiatrist.
In this article, we talked about managing anxiety and stress related to the coronavirus pandemic, and coping skills that will make you stronger during this time being.
Remember that anxiety and stress during this time is completely normal, as lack of control and fear of the unknown are two of the biggest triggers to anxiety. It is understandable to feel vulnerable or overwhelmed.
During times of stress, friends and families can be a good source of support. It is important to keep in touch with them and other people in your life. Avoid obsessing over endless Coronavirus coverage. Sometimes it can be difficult to separate facts from rumors. Use trustworthy and reliable sources to get your news.
We are all in this together.
Please feel free to comment on the content, share your thought and feelings, or ask any questions in the comments section below.
- The ABCs of Coping with Anxiety: Using CBT to manage stress and anxiety
- The Wellbeing Journal: Creative Activities to Inspire (Wellbeing Guides)
- Coping with Anxiety: Ten Simple Ways to Relieve Anxiety, Fear, and Worry
- Supporting Adolescents and Teenagers with Anxiety & Stress: Evidence-Based Strategies
- The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal: A Creative Way to Stop Freaking Out
- The Calm & Mindful Notebook – Guided Self Care Journal with Writing Prompts – A5 Gratitude Journal to Promote Mindfulness, Self Kindness, Meditation, and Stress Relief
References and Further Reading