The Prime Minister addressed the nation on live TV to tell us that we will ‘lose loved ones before their time’ because of the coronavirus outbreak, so it’s no surprise that so many of us are experiencing a peak in anxiety.
The current news cycle looks like the opening montage of an apocalyptic horror movie, and every headline leads on spiralling death counts, panic in the streets and dire warnings from official-looking medical professionals.
The coronavirus outbreak has now been officially classified as a global pandemic. So it is undoubtedly serious. Older people and people with pre-existing health conditions are at risk of becoming seriously ill or dying, and it is vital that we are all cautious and doing everything in our power to protect these vulnerable sections of society.
But mass panic is not helpful. Increased levels of stress and anxiety are the last things we need at a time like this, but if you are feeling anxious right now – know that you’re not alone.
Whether you have clinically diagnosed anxiety or not, being abruptly knocked off your normal routine and isolated from your social circles and support systems is bound to make you feel edgy. Add that to our culture of inescapable rolling news and legitimate concerns for family members, and it’s likely you will feel your heart rate start to rise.
We asked different sections of the public to explain exactly why they’re feeling anxious right now, and their coping mechanisms for getting through the worst of it.
Last night I was anxious to the point of tears, convincing myself I had coronavirus (even though I was showing no symptoms). But I’m more anxious about passing it on, than I am about having it myself.
As for coping mechanisms – I’m trying to close the abundance of ‘Coronavirus- how we are coping with it’ emails before reading them (unless they are important to read), so as not to have reminders of the crisis every five minutes.
I’m trying to listen to the news as much as is sensible to keep up to date, but not any more than that, so as not to overload myself, and I’m using social media less.
I’m also trying to take reasonable steps without panic buying – I’m buying a few extra tins of food, but not stock piling. I’m making sure I have loo roll, but not clearing the shelves.
My family are anxious. Someone at work has had coronavirus and communications around it (and in general) were slow. All our corporate events and travel have been postponed, which isn’t good for business and makes your commercial targets harder to achieve.
From a family perspective, we have a small child who is constantly picking things up, and close family with weak immune systems.
We actually thought my husband’s mum had it, but it turns out she had pneumonia – we have to wear masks around her now, which makes it feel quite scary.
On top of all that, shops have ran out of everything and the media is adding to mass hysteria. My main coping technique is to keep focussing on official NHS advice and not get sucked into hearsay or what people say on social media.
World Health Organization: Mental health advice
Avoid watching, reading or listening to news that cause you to feel anxious or distressed; seek information mainly to take practical steps to prepare your plans and protect yourself and loved ones. Seek information updates at specific times during the day once or twice.
Stay connected and maintain your social networks. Even in situations of isolations, try as much as possible to keep your personal daily routines. If health authorities have recommended limiting your physical social contact to contain the outbreak, you can stay connected via e-mail, social media, video conference and telephone.
During times of stress, pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in healthy activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly, keep regular sleep routines and eat healthy food. Keep things in perspective.
Read the full mental health guidance here.
I’m a GP and I feel anxious. Advice is changing daily and we have to keep up to speed with it as it happens.
As of today, all of our appointments are going to be telephone calls and we are only bringing in those that are absolutely necessary.
You can’t see a patient over the phone which makes it difficult to assess and is a concern as you don’t really know how sick they are, especially when it comes to children.
I wonder whether us GPs will be needed in hospital – I haven’t not done hospital medicine for four years, so that is a concern.
I’m also really conscious of not wanting to panic and not wanting others to panic, but it’s obviously very serious.’
I live with generalised anxiety disorder which means that every day I have some level of anxiety.
For me, anxiety manifests as a heavy feeling of dread, feeling sick and having an upset stomach, it makes me exhausted because of the adrenaline that runs through my body, I feel breathless and hot. It’s overwhelming and makes me want to hide from the world and people.
Part of my anxiety includes intrusive thoughts, thoughts that I am in danger. Now, with the coronavirus, it is as if my anxiety has the proof that it is dangerous outside, which is making challenging my intrusive thoughts even more difficult.
I am finding it much harder to get myself outside and to be around people, which is dangerous for me because once I start isolating it can be a vicious downward spiral.
My coping mechanisms involve trying to be balanced about how I am challenging the anxiety. There is a genuine reason to be more cautious, so I am allowing myself to do a little more than is suggested by the health advice.
I am also limiting my time online so that I don’t spend time reading the news and worrying myself. I have turned off all my news apps and notifications and am only allowing myself to check the news a couple of times a day and only from reputable sources.
It is so important to talk about the effects that this is having. There is a lot of stigma about mental health, and there can be the feeling of guilt, that there are ‘bigger problems’ in the world, but mental health is as important as physical health.
Reminding myself that how I feel is valid and understandable helps a great deal.
I am a PhD student, so one of the areas in which I have been most affected is that I have had to dismiss opportunities to travel to to conferences abroad, due to a fear of contagion.
Also, I would like to visit my family who live outside of the UK, but at the moment I am avoiding going through busy airports, so I feel kind of stranded here in that sense.
What I do to cope with the anxiety of the virus is first to follow the hygiene guidelines. I also keep my mind busy doing work and hobbies at home, such as watching tv, playing video games and keeping in touch with my loved ones through calls and texts.
It’s such a time of uncertainty and everyone has a different opinion on what to expect, or what we should do.
There generally feels like there is more of a weird and anxious vibe on the tube in London even.
At work, our clients have been anxious too, which obviously affects our team. But our approach is to try to stay as calm as possible.
I have been reading up on genuine, well-sourced, evidenced scientific information. I’m trying to research proper guidance rather than listening to everything that’s floating about online.
At work, we’re able to work remotely really easily, so anyone who is worried can work from home if they want to – and that is a big help.
How to tackle coronavirus anxiety
There are practical steps you can take to keep your anxiety in check in these worrying times.
We asked environmental psychologist Lee Chambers to walk us through some actionable pointers if you’re struggling with your mental health at the moment.
‘Firstly, it helps to get some clarity on how your anxiety works,’ Lee tells Metro.co.uk. ‘Ask yourself, how does my body feel when I get increasingly anxious, how worried am I, what do I fear the most? And then thinking about what helps you handle worries, as this is personal for each of us.’
Lee says that a good way to help with anxiety in this time of pandemic is to start to understand what triggers your feelings, and what helps to calm them, and try to incorporate more calming measures into your daily life.
‘We all have our own preferences and finding out what steadies us is paramount,’ he explains. ‘In times of potential isolation, I recommend that you make sure you are still in strong contact with your friends and family.
‘The strength of human connection can help to allay fears and reaffirms the bond we have with other humans on the planet. We tend to ruminate less when we hear the voices of others.
‘I also advise to be very mindful of your source of information, especially when it comes to health. Stick to credible medical-centric information services, so you can avoid the opinions and misinformation that can fuel anxiety.’
Lee says that despite how quickly information is changing, it’s enough to check for updates with a credible source just twice per day.
‘Continually consuming information is likely to trigger more anxiety and is not beneficial to keeping yourself in an informed and relaxed space,’ says Lee.
‘Safety is a basic need for all of us, and that can cause anxiety. There is a need to make sure we keep our health a priority, and avoid unnecessary travel and crowds, make sure we are washing our hands in-line with guidelines, and avoid touching our faces especially near our bodies entry points.’
Lee says that taking these measures should help us realise we have done the best we can to protect ourselves and others from the virus.
‘Find something you enjoy and do more of that,’ he adds. ‘It might be yoga, cooking, meditation, reading or watching insightful programmes. Eat the things you enjoy and stay in contact with your friends.
‘We are all together in our journey, and the virus like others before it will get worse, and then gradually get better. Public health experts will keep us informed and decisions made to protect us.
‘Taking sensible steps to control your anxiety will help you get through this difficult period by staying as safe as you possibly can.’
We are living through a scary moment in history, so if you are feeling anxious, that’s normal. But it’s important not to let your anxiety become disproportionate or spiral out of control.
Always talk to somebody if you’re finding it hard to cope. It’s likely that many of your friends have similar worries, and knowing that you’re not alone can be a huge source of support.
If things become too much or you feel as though you are in a mental health crisis, always seek support from a medical professional.
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