How to not freak out over Coronavirus
It’s been near impossible to scroll through your newsfeed over the past few weeks without hearing about coronavirus or COVID-19.
Unfortunately, it’s likely the tally of infection numbers and tragedies reported worldwide will continue to grow and our thoughts are with all the individuals and communities affected. We are also grateful for the work of medical professionals and scientists trying to slow the spread of the virus and to find a vaccine.
For those who haven’t been directly affected, fear, uncertainty and anxiety are running high and it’s totally normal to feel this way.
However, there are small steps you can take to maintain your mental wellbeing during this time.
Take time to look after yourself
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the rolling coverage and reports in the 24/7 news cycle that we live in.
Consider taking regular breaks from Facebook, Twitter and news sites and give yourself the space you need to recalibrate. The news isn’t going away.
More importantly, feeling stressed can actually make you more susceptible to getting sick. That’s because stress floods your body with cortisol, a stress hormone that suppresses your immune system.
Try meditation or yoga, eat healthy, go for a walk and do regular exercise, but most of all, keep doing your daily routine.
From a cognitive behaviour therapy perspective, try telling yourself:
- ‘I’m feeling stressed about coronavirus but that’s ok’
- ‘What is in my control and what’s something small and practical I can do right now?’
- ‘What is out of my control?’
- ‘Where can I find good quality info about this virus?’
A study showed that people who had a harder time accepting the uncertainty of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic were more likely to experience elevated anxiety.
Luckily, there are small ways to practice tolerating uncertainty by reducing certainty-seeking behaviours, such as reducing how often you check your phone for weather updates or tracking your arrival time every minute on a long haul plane flight.
Of course, the balancing act comes with not fighting anxious thoughts completely. Accept when you have anxious thoughts and let them wash over you.
If your distress is starting to impact your ability to work or study or to live your life then talk to your GP about finding a good clinical psychologist.
Check in on your loved ones
You’re not alone in the fear and uncertainty you may be feeling so take this opportunity to ‘look out’, ‘get talkin’’ and ‘listen up’ and start a conversation with your friends and family.
Support people from overseas
COVID-19 is indiscriminate – it doesn’t just affect people from particular cultural backgrounds.
In particular, this virus is impacting universities and tertiary education institutions, as well as their international students.
Research shows that a high proportion of international students experience mental ill-health and socialising is really important for them to build their support networks in a new country.
Delays to the academic semester and orientation week due to temporary uni closures can have a detrimental impact on their mental health.
So be sure to support our international friends because they are a big part of our community.
Remember the positives
Governments and medical experts are doing everything in their power to contain the virus and treat those already infected.
The outbreak struck only a few months ago but we already know its genetic features, and more than 100 biotech companies are already developing antiviral drugs.
We’re living in a time where scientific progress, collaboration and communication between organisations and governments is uber fast.
Plus, there is no evidence that your dog or cat can be infected so don’t be afraid to give them a hug if you’re stressed out by the news.
Get the facts
There is a whole lot of misinformation about COVID-19 on social media and in the media and this can create uncertainty, which is one of the hallmarks of how we, as people, work out how risky a situation is.
Other major factors include invisibility (we can’t see this virus), salience or how intense the imagery is from this unfolding event, and lack of control, the latter being the major reason why toilet paper is flying off the shelves – people are trying to take control.
Check out this list of COVID-19 Q&A’s from the World Health Organisation (WHO) to arm yourself with accurate and up-to-date info.
Fact one, coronavirus is not new. It’s the umbrella term for a large family of different viruses. COVID-19 is the specific strain that originated in Wuhan, China in December 2019. It’s highly likely that you’ve already contracted a strain of coronavirus in your lifetime.
Fact two, most evidence so far has shown that the virus causes only mild symptoms in most people.
Fact three, for most people in most locations the risk of catching COVID-19 is still low.
Take practical steps
Many people are trying to take back control but it’s important to take helpful steps.
Again, check out WHO’s handy Q&A’s and this vid for tips.
Some of the most effective ways to protect yourself and others against COVID-19 are super basic:
- Frequently clean your hands
- Cover your cough with the bend of your elbow or a tissue
- Stay home if you’re feeling unwell
If you’re in need of mental health support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.
For resources and up-to-date information for COVID-19 in Australia, check out health.gov.au, call the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080 or speak to your GP.