Coronavirus (COVID-19): Anxiety and How to Cope During a Pandemic

The World Health Organization has officially declared new coronavirus (COVID-19) a pandemic. Empower yourself to put your mental health first to help manage anxiety during this stressful outbreak.

Learn strategies for managing stress during a pandemic

It’s terrifying to learn that an illness such as coronavirus (COVID-19) is spreading across the globe. The early stages of a pandemic can be especially anxiety-provoking. During this time, you don’t know how widespread or deadly the illness is going to end up being.
Feelings of fear, anxiety, sadness, and uncertainty are normal during a pandemic. Fortunately, being proactive about your mental health can help to keep both your mind and body stronger.
Ways to take care of yourself include:
  • 1. Reading the news from reliable sources (and take breaks from the news)
  • 2. Recognizing the things you can control, like having good hygiene
  • 3. Taking measures only if recommended by the CDC
  • 4. Practicing self-care
  • 5. Seeking professional help from a licensed mental health professional if necessary
A Timeline of Coronavirus (COVID-19)

The new coronavirus disease, called COVID-19, has appeared and spread extremely quickly, making its way to over 100 countries since its December 2019 discovery in China. This particular type of respiratory disease is caused by a virus called SARS-CoV-2. It’s part of a larger family of coronaviruses, the majority of which cause only the common cold. 
More dangerous types of coronavirus include the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS-CoV) and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV). Like these more serious strains, COVID-19 can cause anything from mild respiratory problems to pneumonia or death.
Citing a mortality rate of 3.4%, the World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 a public health emergency.
How Many People Have Coronavirus? 
As of March 18, 2020, the World Health Organization has confirmed 179,111 cases of COVID-19 worldwide.3
  • Cases in the United States: 3,503
  • Cases in the Western Pacific Region: 91,779
  • Cases in the European Region: 64,188
  • Cases in South-East Asia: 508
  • Cases in the Eastern Mediterranean Region: 16,786
  • Cases in the Regions of the Americas: 4,910
  • Cases in the African Region: 228
Pandemics by their very nature expand exponentially.  Already at the time of this writing, the number of cases exceeds 6,000 known cases (those that have been diagnosed with covid-19 tests.  In reality, the case number far exceeds 10,000.

Ways to Manage Stress

The way you cope with stress can go a long way toward ensuring that you’re taking helpful action in managing your mental health. Here are ways to help you ease anxiety surrounding coronavirus.

Read news from trustworthy sources.

Avoid media outlets that build hype or dwell on things that can’t be controlled. Instead, turn to sources that give reliable information about how to protect yourself, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Develop an action plan.

There are always some steps you can take to decrease risk. It may be as simple as washing your hands well and limiting travel. But recognizing these can remind you to focus on things you have control over. Just make sure the steps you’re taking are actions recommended by reputable sources.

Set limits on your media consumption.

Tuning into media stories that talk about how fast an illness is spreading, or how many people are getting sick, will increase your anxiety. Limit your media consumption to a certain time frame or a certain number of articles.
While it’s helpful to stay informed, it’s also important you don’t allow yourself to be bombarded with anxiety-provoking news all day.

Avoid the herd mentality.

Be aware that many people take action that doesn’t help. Don’t jump on a bandwagon just because other people are wearing masks or performing specific cleaning rituals (unless those things are recommended by the CDC). Otherwise, your actions could prove to be unhelpful—or perhaps even destructive.

Practice good self-care.

Eating a balanced diet, getting plenty of sleep, and engaging in leisure activities are always key to helping you stay as physically and psychologically healthy as possible during stressful times. Good self-care also keeps your immune system robust.

Seek professional help.

If your mental health is being impacted by the stress of the coronavirus, then you may want to seek professional help. A licensed mental health professional can help you manage your fears while also empowering you to make the best decisions for you and your family.

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Mental Health Concerns

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In addition to mental health concerns that may arise as a result of anxiety surrounding a pandemic, it's important to monitor existing mental health conditions to ensure they don't worsen.

Depression and Anxiety

Researchers have found that some individuals may experience mental health problems for the first time during a pandemic. Adjustment issuesdepression, and anxiety may arise.
A study from the Ebola virus outbreak in Sierra Leone,1 indicated that increased numbers of people reported mental health and psychosocial problems. A study from the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 20092 indicated an increase in a variety of emotional symptoms, including somatoform disorders (symptoms such as pain and fatigue that can't be fully explained by a physical cause).
Additionally, some existing mental health conditions may get worse. Research suggests that individuals who are especially vulnerable to stress and anxiety may be at the highest risk.
Severe anxiety may also cause an increase in substance use. Individuals who have been in recovery may become more likely to relapse as their stress levels increase.
Researchers from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, found that people who were the least able to tolerate uncertainty experienced the most anxiety during the H1N1 pandemic.3 Those individuals were also less likely to believe they could do anything to protect themselves.
Caretakers may be at especially high risk for emotional symptoms during a pandemic as well. They may experience:
  • increased depression and anxiety
  • increased concerned about protecting their loved ones
  • guilt about causing/not preventing a loved one's illness if they become sick
In turn, children often adopt the coping strategies they observe in their parents. Parents who grow anxious during a pandemic may end up witnessing their children develop anxiety right along with them.
High anxiety and feelings of helplessness can encourage some individuals to adopt unproven remedies or prevention methods. Some of these methods may be harmful both to individuals and to the community as a whole. So it’s important to ensure that any actions you take are actually helpful.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Anxiety and How to Cope During a Pandemic: