The Coronavirus is here. Whether you call it novel Coronavirus, NCoV or COVID-19, one thing is for sure it has affected each one of us, directly or indirectly, regardless of where we live, maybe except if you are in Antarctica. Television and Social Media have certainly heightened the fears resulting to global panic, we could perhaps even say that the virus is spreading faster through gossips than the Coronavirus itself.
Over the past several days, we have seen major sporting events cancelled or suspended, financial markets all over the world collapsing, schools closing, travel bans, countries implementing lockdowns and hourly updates of the COVID-19 statistics. Downplaying the virus is certainly not a good preventive measure, but neither is overkill, overblown reporting and over-reactions.
In our generation in which information is just a click on a mobile phone, it is very tempting to check for updates, but checking several times a day can keep us in an escalated state of anxiety, fear and panic. We have to keep in mind that our anxiety influences those around us and too much anxiety, fear and panic creates emotion contagion and spreads panic which is not helpful at all in times like this.
“The good news about the widespread anxiety is that it is fueling big changes fast—many people in affected areas are being very careful to limit exposure. Anxiety fosters prevention and safeguarding behaviours. Prevention reduces anxiety. While some anxiety helps us cope, extreme anxiety can become coronavirus panic. When we are in a panic state, we suffer, we stress out our children, we are more likely to make mistakes and engage in irrational decisions and behaviour,” said Dr. Elissa Epel (PhD), an American San Francisco based psychologist who studies stress, about the difference between anxiety and panic, and steps you can take to prevent panic and be prepared.
Panic can create new problems, such as overbuying that creates supply chain shortages of masks , sanitisers, toilet paper, and xenophobia (dislike or racism) toward certain groups.
First things first, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms related to Coronavirus, you are in an area where it is known to exist, or you are concerned about being exposed to it, make the right choice to do the necessary measures to avoid spreading it to your friends especially your loved ones. For specific information on what to do in your country with regards to this, check out your government’s official health website. However, general health advice by such bodies includes: wash your hands regularly, avoid handshakes, cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough, dispose of used tissues in the bin, avoid large crowds of people, comply with any shutdown advice, avoid travel, and avoid eating raw food out. It is important that when doing these safety and hygiene behaviours that you do them without becoming obsessive about it. If you need to wash your hands, just wash your hands. Don’t think about germs etc. If you notice that you are starting to get anxious or obsessive thinking about it, just notice those thoughts and recognise that you don’t need to engage in those thoughts at all or with emotion.
In situations that are uncertain and evolving such as this COVID-19 event, it’s understandable to feel stressed, anxious, panicked, or upset, among other emotional reactions. When you are feeling these emotions, allow yourself time to notice and express what you are feeling. This could be by writing them down in a journal, talking to others, doing something creative, or practicing meditation. Take a thought at your thoughts or perspectives of the situation and check in to see if they are rational or not, as if you are feeling overwhelming emotions, there could be some irrational or unhelpful thinking about the situation going on. Being aware of Thinking Traps and learning how to reframe them can be ideal when unhelpful thinking is going on. Download our Thinking Traps PDF by clicking here. Then click the worksheet under 'Anxiety' to download it.
Whilst some countries have recommended, and even enforced self-isolation to the home, this can be not great for our mental health. If you are allowed to leave your house, try to keep a healthy routine as this can have a positive impact on your thoughts and feelings and overall mental health. This can include: eating healthy meals, physical exercise like walking, running or stretching, getting enough sleep, and doing things you enjoy. If you are confined due to your home whether due to your countries regulations or out of your own concern, do try to keep as much regularity and activity into your day where possible even if you are stuck in your home. This could involve doing home fitness exercises, work on a project on your computer, pull out your puzzles or boardgames, get into a spring clean of you house early, or something else relaxing or productive. Do avoid self-isolation beyond what is necessary (i.e., safety recommendations) due to feelings of overwhelming anxiety or fear.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of contracting the novel coronavirus. Most are common-sense measures, like washing your hands thoroughly, disinfecting commonly used household surfaces (such as doorknobs and light switches), keeping hands away from your face, and steering clear of others who are coughing or sneezing. In addition, try to keep yourself in good health so that your immune system functions at its best. Make sure that you are up to date with recommended immunisations, especially those that protect against flu and pneumonia as these illnesses can make you more susceptible to the novel coronavirus. Influenza and pneumonia can also cause additional serious complications if you contract them along with or as a complication of coronavirus. Talk with your doctor to determine if you require additional immunisations.
While preparation can be helpful, at a certain point it becomes counterproductive. A good example of this is the recent surge in demand for face masks, sanitisers and toilet paper resulting in a shortage in supermarkets of these products. The WHO recommends wearing a mask if you are coughing or sneezing, or if you are caring for someone who has COVID-19. Otherwise healthy individuals will not gain much from the use of masks as a preventative measure. In fact, according to the U.S. Surgeon General and infectious disease experts, wearing a mask may not prevent you from contracting the virus due to improper use, incorrect disposal, poor fit, and more frequent contact with your face (Washington Post, 2020). Taking extreme and unnecessary measures like this can also increase your anxiety by making you believe that you are at higher risk of contracting the virus than you actually are.
Receiving support and care from others has a powerful effect on helping us cope with challenges. Spending time with supportive family and friends can bring a sense of comfort and stability, just make sure you are not infected. Talking through our concerns, thoughts, and feelings with others can also help us find helpful ways of thinking about or dealing with a stressful situation.
Finding credible sources you can trust is important to avoid the fear and panic that can be caused by misinformation, as there is a lot of misinformation on the internet these days. Credible sources will generally be your government health websites. The latest information from health authority websites is also regularly changing as it is being updated as more becomes known about the website.
Following from the above tip, it’s understandable to want to keep informed, especially if you or your loved ones are affected. At the same time, constantly reading, watching, or listening to upsetting media coverage can unnecessarily intensify worry and agitation, especially when it’s information that is blown out of proportion or is inaccurate. Take a break from news or social media, especially if there’s no new information. Focus on things that are positive in your life and actions and situations that you do have control over, which is still many.
Our minds and brain/nervous system are made to protect us with its inbuilt survival mechanism that has been around for many thousands of years. This is also known as our ‘flight or fight’ system which activates when we see a lion and we need to either fight (fight) it or run away (flight). As such, we are biased toward putting our attention to potential threats, whether that’s consciously or subconsciously. When we find ourselves swept up in thinking about the scary things that could happen, it’s important to remember this tendency to overestimate the likelihood of a bad outcome. Yes, it is possible that something bad could happen, but it’s likely not going to be as bad as what your brain thinks it is going to be. Acknowledge these worries and fears, recognise that they can be exaggerated, and practice refocusing your mind on the present with your breath. This is what it means to be mindful. To be aware of the present moment, without judgement. Starting a formal mindfulness meditation practice can help you develop the skills to do this.
Each county has their own Department of Health or Health Ministry which has valid information about COVID-19 and how to protect yourself and on how we should handle this crisis. Check out your government’s health information website and keep yourself informed.
Official health websites in Australia:
By Australian States:
Official health websites in America:
We wish you every health for you and your loved ones during this current time. Just remember, things will improve in time as our countries governments continue to work with many bodies around the globe to contain this virus, and things will start to go back to normality. Look after yourself in the mean time and keep it positive.
Disclaimer: information in this article is not medical advise and should not be treated as such. For medical advice including medical advice specific to COVID-19 or any other infectious disease, please consult your doctor or your government’s health website.