It’s hard to keep up with the news on coronavirus and the advice we should follow, which can lead to Coronavirus anxiety. Add in images of empty supermarket shelves and people on public transport wearing face masks, and many are beginning to genuinely panic.
What is Coronavirus anxiety
‘Coronavirus anxiety’ might seem far-fetched, but experts say that, as the number of cases continues to rise, people are beginning to feel anxious. We’re confused about everything from whether to fill our store cupboards to the risk of needing to self-isolate.
As toilet paper is rationed in some supermarkets and shelves once filled with hand sanitiser lay bare, for some people the concern has become anxiety.
And if you already suffer with anxiety, the concern over the virus may be adding to that, too. For people with existing mental health issues, it can be exacerbated by news reports, social media and even hearing someone cough on the train or bus.
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As news reports fire out left right and centre, people are adding to their own concern with hurried messages on WhatsApp groups, emails flying around workplaces about contingency plans, and social media flooded with advice on how to wash our hands.
How to keep calm and manage Coronavirus anxiety
Staying calm can be difficult when you see others panicking, and we respond with increased panic. For example, if we see others stockpiling, we might be inclined to do the same thing.
Psychotherapist Silva Neves says: “It is easy to panic when we face a fast spreading killer virus. The ‘threat centre’ of our brain gets activated immediately. This is for a good reason, as our brain’s first response is survival. So, when we pick up on danger, we become hyper vigilant to all of the stories about the virus. Increasing fear and anxiety rise and turn into panic. Panic, too, is contagious.”
Coronavirus anxiety is “feeling out of control with what is going to happen next,” says Neves. And because we don’t know what is going to happen next, there’s an unknown element, too.
It’s important to recognise, too, that there is a general feeling of panic which you might consider ‘coronavirus anxiety’, and those who suffer with anxiety having their issues heightened by news about the virus.
“Having an anxiety about it and having a panic about it are two different things,” says Neves. “People find many ways to relieve this anxiety – they put a mask on their face, they buy cans of baked beans in bulk and so on.
“These things are good to reduce anxiety, but they are not helpful to avoid contracting the virus. The best way to stay safe is to follow the actual medical advice, which is to wash your hands, often.”
Being prepared for Coronavirus can help quell anxiety
Therapist Claire Goodwin-Fee of The Therapy Couch specialises in anxiety. Suffering with an immune problem herself as well as asthma, she says recently had to show someone her inhaler as they panicked because she coughed.
She says that as a society we struggle with the unknown, and the news of coronavirus taps into the automatic nervous system – the part which deals with fight or flight. Our reaction to panic is linked to that.
Her top tip is to try and stay focused on the facts, as well as protecting yourself by planning ahead.
“For example, if you have some antibacterial wipes with you that can help against general germs, that can be calming if you’re on public transport,” she says. “If you need to, avoid talking about it, changing the subject if someone brings it up.”
Limit how much you watch the news
Anxiety can turn into rumination – thinking about different scenarios. We see someone on the train who seems unwell, or we hear about a friend of a friend who is now in isolation. It all adds to the anxiety, says Neves.
“We can literally have a thought after another thought and another thought, and before you know it, you feel overwhelmed with fear and panic.”
“It is important to remind ourselves that worrying about it will not have an impact on the spread of the virus, but can have an impact on your mental health.”
Coping with the possibility of self-isolation
UK newsreader Jon Snow is in isolation, and has been posting videos to update on how he’s coping. It’s another element of the virus which can exacerbate anxiety as people worry whether they’ll have enough supplies if they need to self-isolate, and whether they will cope mentally with the two-week isolation period.
“Being in isolation can also trigger the survival part in us, because our primitive brain knows that we are unlikely to survive in isolation: what guaranteed the survival of the human species was the entire tribe being alert to danger, not just one person on their own,” says Neves.
Make sure you stay in contact with friends and family if you have had to self-isolate, and order healthy food where you can rather than takeaways.
Limit social media to manage Coronavirus anxiety
Staying away from social media could help, as well as avoiding too many news stories, says Goodwin-Fee. Stick to one news source, and limit the time you read about coronavirus.
“Be reasonable with the precautions you are taking, and reason with yourself. Is it likely you would recover?” she says.
Writing things down might also help, while if you are really concerned you could call your GP, or speak to Samaritans, adds Goodwin-Fee.