The Covid-19 pandemic has brought shock, confusion, fear, anxiety, stress, and worry in everyday lives. While vaccines are being rolled out, the end of the pandemic still seems far away. The constant worry has put many on edge, increasing mental health issues.
Is the coronavirus pandemic affecting our mental health?
It’s frightening to be in the midst of a global health crisis. Many places have been under lockdown, and now, a year into the pandemic, some are trying to reopen with safety measures in place. Many people across the world have also lost jobs and loved ones.
The uncertainty brought about by Covid-19 means that we do not know what the future holds. We are still unsure how long the pandemic will last and how exactly we are impacted.
Not knowing whether things will continue to get worse and having to deal with sudden changes can get incredibly overwhelming. It is easy to get anxious and panicky with all the unknowns that we need to face.
Indeed, the pandemic has increased people’s anxiety. However, there are several things you can do to manage Covid-19 pandemic anxiety and fears.
Common reactions to Covid-19
The Covid-19 pandemic has far-reaching implications.
It’s not unusual for people to experience a wide range of feelings and thoughts in the face of significant changes and uncertainties. Disturbing new updates, together with worries about health and safety can take a physical and mental toll.
Common reactions to Covid-19 include:
- Feeling anxious, fearful, or worried
- Feeling stressed and overwhelmed
- Feeling sad, and tearful
- Feeling frustrated, irritable, or angry
- Feeling restless and agitated
- Feeling helpless
- Feeling disconnected from other people
- Feeling apprehensive about going out to public spaces
- Loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy
- Racing thoughts
- Physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, digestive issues, fatigue
- Having trouble concentrating or sleeping resulting in insomnia
- Having trouble relaxing
Coronavirus anxiety symptoms
In addition to being a health crisis, Covid-19 has also brought about mental health issues. Some anxiety symptoms can be short term, such as:
- Rapid heartbeat/ palpitations
- Inability to concentrate
- Shaking and sweating
- Difficulty swallowing
Symptoms of anxiety from the Covid-19 pandemic can also include:
- Sense of impending doom
- Over focusing on the news
- Avoidance by hiding from what is going on
- Feeling tense, irritable, or impatient
- Pacing or spacing out
- Feeling like you’re on a spinning wheel
- Inability to perform activities of daily life
Mental and psychological effect of Covid-19
The coronavirus pandemic can also have long-term mental health and psychological effects. Constantly being on high alert and experiencing fear and worry, as well as sudden disruptions can have far-reaching consequences.
It can precipitate post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and panic attacks, depression, substance abuse, and even obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
A study conducted in July 2020 identified symptoms such as avoidance, compulsively checking for symptoms of infection, worrying, threat monitoring, and inability to leave the house because of Covid-19 fears as part of Covid-19 anxiety syndrome.
Those who experienced these symptoms were also more likely to suffer from anxiety, post-traumatic stress, general stress, and suicide ideation.
Dealing with the Covid-19 related news
It’s important to stay informed about what is happening, especially in your community so that you can take the necessary precautions to stay safe.
However, checking the news obsessively can have an adverse effect. Misinformation about what’s going on and sensational coronavirus news will only feed your fears and worries.
Here’s how you can deal with Covid-19 news:
- Stick with trustworthy news sources on the pandemic.
- Avoid checking for updates too often. Constantly checking for news on Covid-19 can fuel anxiety.
- If you want to avoid the media totally, ask a reliable friend or family member to share important updates with you.
- Limit media consumption to 30 minutes each day if you are dealing with anxiety.
- Verify the information that you receive before sharing it with others. Misinformation can cause anxiety and unnecessary panic.
How to stay calm during the coronavirus pandemic?
With such uncertainty during the coronavirus pandemic, feelings of anxiety and fear may crop up. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, here’s what you can do to stay calm.
1. Focus on the things that you can control
We can’t control how long the pandemic will last or what is going on in our communities. You can, however, take steps to reduce your personal risk of catching the virus.
2. Look for the positive
Seek out news that talks about the improvements in the pandemic, such as the vaccine rollouts and decrease in risk of death due to better treatment options. Be mindful of the social media and news reports that trigger anxiousness.
3. Plan what you can
With the many changes happening – school and workplace closures, self-quarantine, social distancing – it’s natural to feel concerned about the situation. You can stay calm by planning what you can do. Plan your day or week by making a list of things that you want to complete.
4. Maintain a routine
As much as possible, maintain a routine. Knowing what comes next in the day will help you to focus and concentrate on the tasks at hand.
5. Stay connected with friends and family
While social distancing helps keep us safe from the virus, it comes with its own risks. Isolation and loneliness can contribute to anxiety and depression. Staying in touch with loved ones via video chat or apps such as Zoom can help ease anxiety. You can also use this time to reconnect with old friends.
Do be aware of what you are talking about. Take breaks from talking about Covid-19 and simply enjoy good company.
6. Talk to a trusted person
If you’re feeling particularly anxious or worried, talking to someone you trust can help you calm down. Having a support system and staying connected can also help keep loneliness and depression at bay
7. Take care of yourself
Eating healthy, getting enough sleep, meditation, and other self-care techniques can help to manage stress.
Exercising can help relieve stress and anxiety.
Regular sleep and wake routine can also help if you’re having insomnia due to Covid-19 worries.
8. Get into an exercise routine
A healthy body is a route to a healthy mind. Studies have proven that physical activity can have a positive impact on our psychological function. Many fitness instructors are now providing online fitness classes which you can join for a fee. There are also plenty of exercise videos available on YouTube that you can easily follow.
There can not be a better time than this to get into a daily meditation practice. Meditation can ease anxiety and help you focus. If you’re new to meditation, here are some guided meditation videos that are available online:
- Meditation for beginners
- Meditation for deep relaxation
- Meditation for walking
- Meditation for reducing stress and anxiety
- Meditation for peaceful sleep
10. Continue to practice safety measures
Wearing face masks, gloves and using hand sanitiser when you are out and about can help ease fears and worries about catching the virus.
11. Take things slow
Allow yourself time to adjust to the ‘new normal’.
If your community is returning to normalcy, allow yourself to ease back into ‘life before Covid’ at a pace you are comfortable with.
12. Participate in virtual hobby/fun activities to keep your mind engaged
If you’re stuck at home, virtual hobbies and activities can help to keep your mind off the pandemic. Here are some places that you can visit virtually:
Virtual Museum visits:
- The Louvre
- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
- The Vatican Museum
- British Museum, London
- Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
- Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Virtual Zoos and Aquarium visits
Virtual Theme Park visits
Check out other virtual resources like virtual libraries, cooking lessons, etc.
13. Help others who are in need
It’s easy to get caught up in our own concerns during these times.
However, focusing on others who are in need can shift our perspective and be good for our own mental health. Reaching out to those who need a hand can give you a sense of control and purpose for your life.
14. Get professional help
If you find yourself unable to cope, get professional help. Your doctor may be able to recommend certain natural sleep supplements that can help you get a good night’s rest.
Helping children deal with Covid-19 anxiety
Children are not immune to anxiety and worries brought about by the pandemic. Here’s how you can help them deal with it.
Structure and Routine
Structures and routines are helpful for both parents and children. In fact, children thrive with a planned routine. Knowing what comes next will help them keep their minds off the pandemic. Alternately, an unstructured day can result in children being bored and fretful.
You can include time for chores, schoolwork, play, and exercise in your children’s daily schedules. Many children around the globe are attending virtual classes. Ensure that you monitor your child’s involvement within these sessions to keep a tab on his daily learning.
There are also various options to enroll your child in virtual hobby classes like music, art, foreign languages, etc which will help in creating a more fulfilling schedule for them.
Older children can have access to the internet to keep in touch with their friends via video chats or social media. If possible, include outdoor activities in their schedule.
Focus on being in the moment
Children can feel stress, fear, and anxiety from the pandemic too.
Encourage them to focus on being in the moment.
Reminding them to do the things they can to take care of themselves, such as staying indoors, washing hands, and keeping clean can help take their minds off things that they cannot change.
While kids are limited in their options outdoors, use this opportunity to engage with them, build friendlier connections, and create more fun moments together.
Children (even babies) can sense it when parents are stressed or anxious. Thus, find a way to ground yourself so that your kids do not pick up your worries. Model calmness and try your best not to share your worries with your children.
Look for things to be positive about even if things are going haywire. As you stay positive and point out the good things that are happening, your children will be less anxious as well. Focus their attention on the positive things that are happening, rather than the uncertainties of the pandemic.
Inculcate healthy habits in kids
Get your kids to develop healthy habits. While going out may not be an option for you, there are plenty of physical play-based exercises that you can do with your kids to get them moving. Exercise will help kids release stress, anxiety as well as pent-up energy.
It’s also a good time to teach children about cleanliness and hygiene. For children who seem edgy, you can try teaching them meditation techniques to help them calm down.
There is nothing to be ashamed of if you’re feeling stressed and anxious because of the pandemic. It’s important to take care of both your mental and physical health.
Do seek professional help if you find that you are unable to cope with this season.
Having certain levels of anxiety during the pandemic is normal, but remember that there are ways to beat it too!
Medically Reviewed by:
Y. M. Khoo
PhD, MSW, MPPA, LCSW
Y. M. Khoo has over 20 years of experience in the mental health field. She obtained her master’s degree in social work, specializing in mental health, from Washington University in St. Louis, and her doctorate in social work from Saint Louis University. A licensed clinical social worker, Y. M. has experience working with adults with mental health and substance abuse issues in inpatient, outpatient, and residential settings, as well as forensic patients, and individuals with co-occurring developmental disabilities and mental illness. Y. M.’s research interest focuses on cognitive and mental health of older adults, and minority health disparities.
You can view Y. M. Khoo’s list of published works here.