The coronavirus outbreak has made the world’s citizens more uncertain, with news about the pandemic triggering coronavirus anxiety, noted Kirstie Brewer of British news channel BBC. It’s understandable to be concerned about the latest news about the virus, but for some people, the outbreak further exacerbates existing mental health problems.
"A lot of anxiety is rooted in worrying about the unknown and waiting for something to happen - coronavirus is that on a macro scale," said Rosie Weatherley, spokesperson for Mind, a mental health charity. How can we protect our mental health and regain control of ourselves amid the pandemic?
Fears Amid the COVID-19 Outbreak
A poll from California researchers found that 40% of Americans felt anxious about the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, cited Paul Rogers of The Mercury News, a morning daily newspaper published in San Jose, California. In the University of Southern California (USC) poll, 85% of 2,436 US residents said they have been washing their hands or using hand sanitizer more frequently because of the outbreak.
61% said they have been practicing some kind of “social distancing” to help reduce their risk of infection. That also included 45% who said they have been avoiding contact “with people who could be high risk.” 42% reported avoiding large crowds and public events. Meanwhile, 7% of the respondents said they have worn face masks and 22% reported stockpiling food and water.
The poll also found that 25% of Americans have been avoiding restaurants, 20% cancelled pleasure trips, and 18% started studying from home due to the virus. When asked how often the respondents felt “nervous, anxious, or on edge” because of the virus, 24% admitted that they have felt that way on several days and 7% said they have during more than half the days. Moreover, 7% said they have everyday and 61% said they have not felt “nervous, anxious, or on edge.”
When asked about the effectiveness of various preventative measures to combat the virus, 91% said frequent hand washing was either extremely or somewhat effective. 33% said praying was an extremely effective method while 16% said it was a somewhat effective method. 26% said it was extremely ineffective and 8% said it was somewhat ineffective.
In a YouGov Plc poll commissioned by HealthCare.com, a non-government resource, parents with young children were more proactive as 5% of them were getting screened and 12% were purchasing face masks, quoted Frank Lalli of HealthCare.com. 16% have been stockpiling food while 21% have been stockpiling sanitizer or soap. 11% of parents even started working from home, 9% cancelled overseas travel plans, and 22% started avoiding public areas.
Meanwhile, in Canada, 59% of 1,479 Canadians nationally were worried about the COVID-19 outbreak, with 20% saying they were “very worried” and 39% being “somewhat worried,” according to a poll by research and analytics firm Leger Marketing, mentioned Vanmala Subramaniam of National Post, a Canadian English-language newspaper. The poll also found that 59% were worried that someone in their family would get sick from the virus, with 21% being “very worried” about the prospect of the virus infecting a family member.
How to Deal With Coronavirus Anxiety
1. Control the Amount of News You Read
For Nick, a father-of-two who lives with anxiety, reading a lot about the virus has contributed to panic attacks. “When I'm feeling anxious my thoughts can spiral out of control and I start thinking about catastrophic outcomes,” he said.
With that, it is recommended to limit the amount of time you spend reading or watching distressing news or content. You can decide when you will read the latest news about the outbreak. Be careful of fake news and make sure to get information from credible sources.
2. Live In the Moment
Stewart Shankman, a psychologist at Northwestern University who studies anxiety explained, “There's a point where, information gathering could become problematic,” cited Allison Aubrey of NPR (National Public Radio), a non-profit media organization.
Once you've unplugged from the news for a certain period, try downloading a mindfulness app to help prevent anticipatory anxiety. Explore and live the present moment. Observe your surroundings: What do you see, hear, smell, and touch? Acknowledge the uncertainty. Pause and breathe. Afterwards, shift your attention on what you need to do, on what you were doing before getting worried, or do something else. Do whatever you need to do mindfully and with your full attention.
Don’t forget to keep your self-routine or add something new to it to minimize somatic anxiety, which refers to the anxiety we store in our bodies, suggested Elissa Epel, Ph.D., who studies stress, as quoted by Nina Bai of the University of California San Francisco, a public research university.
3. Plan Ahead
Those who are prone to anxiety like to be in control. You can take basic steps to prepare yourselves for the possibility of coronavirus outbreak in your local area to make you feel a sense of relief.
You can ask your employer to allow you to work from home. Be prepared for disruptions like school closures. You can create contingency plans and consult credible sources of information to help you cope with an outbreak. Remember, planning ahead is just as important as learning to unplug and living in the moment.
4. Avoid Excessive Hand Washing
For individuals with OCD and some types of anxiety, being constantly reminded to wash your hands can be difficult to hear. Further, this can be a trigger for people who have recovered from OCD, argued Lily Bailey, author of “Because We Are Bad,” a book about living with OCD.
Charity OCD Action stated the issue you need to watch out for is the function. For example, are you washing your hands for a recommended amount of time to minimize your risk of spreading the virus? Or are you doing it in a specific order to feel “just right?”
5. Check in with Other People
Make sure you have the right phone numbers and emails of your loved ones since there are more people in self-isolation. "Agree on regular check-in times and feel connected to the people around you," suggested Weatherley.
If you’re self-isolating, try to strike a balance between having a routine and ensuring variety in each day. Self-isolation can be mundane but use the time to be productive. For example, you can read a book or accomplish the tasks listed on your to-do list.
It’s normal to feel anxious about the outbreak. We can read all the news we want, but we should not forget to take care of our mental health. We need to balance being informed and unplugging from the news. Exercise mindfulness and try to be as productive as possible at home.