Tips for managing COVID-19 anxiety

As the number of coronavirus cases rise in Australia and across the globe, it is a time of increasing anxiety and stress for many. Uncertainty about the current situation is no doubt also contributing to this.

We have put together some useful strategies to help you look after your mental wellbeing during these uncertain times.

  1. Limit information overload. It can be tempting to obsessively look at your newsfeed and social media. This might feel reassuring in the short term, but it will actually heighten anxiety. There is a lot of misinformation and lack of clarity in reporting about COVID-19, and constant checking of information will feed into worrying and catastrophising.

    Try limiting your exposure to newsfeed and social media. Switch off news notifications. Choose specific times of the day when you will allow yourself to check these sites and be strict on yourself with enforcing this. Try not look at these sites before going to bed. Obtain your information from reliable sources such as the Australian Government Department of Health or the World Health Organization.
  2. Maintain perspective. When we are stressed and anxious, it is easy to perseverate on the worst-case scenario, to overestimate how bad the consequences will be and to underestimate one’s ability to cope. Rather than focusing on the worst-case scenario, try to put things into perspective by reminding yourself of the facts, by thinking about your strengths, and by acknowledging your ability to cope. Individually and collectively, we are more resilient than we give ourselves credit for.
  3. Take reasonable precautions and be responsible with your health. Follow the evidence-based guidance when changing your behaviour, instead of being guided by fear and panic.

    At present, The World Health Organization is recommending the following protective measures against COVID-19:

     • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly; 
     • Maintain social distancing(e.g., by staying home, avoiding crowds, maintaining 1.5m distance between yourself and others, and not touching one another);
     • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth; 
     • Practise respiratory hygiene by sneezing/coughing into your elbow or a tissue and throwing out the tissue immediately; 
     • Self-isolate if you begin to feel unwell, even if only experiencing mild symptoms; and, 
     • Seek medical advice early if you have a fever, cough or experience breathing difficulties. 

  4. Stay connected. Whether you are working from home or self-isolating, maintaining good social connections is important for your mental health and wellbeing. Make sure you keep in contact with friends and family. Schedule times throughout the day to speak with work colleagues either via phone or video conference. If possible, go for walks outside with a family member. It is okay to speak about your feelings, but try not to talk excessively about COVID-19. It is important that we try to shift our attention away from the things that are causing us anxiety. Give yourself permission to limit or end anxiety provoking conversations, for example by saying, “I’m sorry, I find talking about this doesn’t help me right now, do you mind if we change the topic?”

  5.  Look after yourself. To maintain a positive frame of mind, continue to do things that you enjoy and remember to keep up with the basics: eat three healthy meals per day; get enough sleep; minimise use of alcohol/drugs; and exercise daily. Exercise and staying active is one of the most effective ways of managing stress and improving mental health, sleep and concentration. Practising daily mindfulness or meditation can also be a way of calming your emotions and thoughts. There are some great online exercise, yoga, mindfulness and meditation resources. Get as much fresh air and sunlight as possible. If you are unable to go outside, sit next to a window and have the blinds/curtains open. Ask for help if you need it -people feel good when they are helping others. 

  6. Keep a routine and schedule breaks if working from home. Try to wake up at the same time as if you were heading into the office, and likewise, maintain your usual weekday routine: 

    • Get changed and ready for the day each morning; 
    • Dress appropriately for video conference calls and be mindful of your home-work environment when video conferencing calling; 
    • Be structured with your time by considering your to-do list for the day; 
    • Touch base with your colleagues and ask them how they are; 
    • Schedule breaks and be strict on yourself in terms of allowing time away from devices; 
    • Have meals at your usual time, and not in front of the computer; 
    • Resist the urge to work through meals and late into the night; and, 
    • Maintain boundaries between work and home by switching off work devices and notifications during your downtime. 

  7. Be kind to one another. Check-in with family, friends, neighbours and colleagues to see how they are coping. Be kind and supportive to one another. We are all in this together.

One of the interesting aspects about COVID-19 is that we are all connected in this. More than ever, now is a time to show compassion, patience and care towards one another. As we are being forced to change our lifestyles and adjust to new routines, now is a time to cooperate with one another and to support one another. Let this be a chance to show our strength by staying together as a community and as a profession.

Miriam Wyzenbeek is a Clinical and Forensic Psychologist, and the Law Society of NSW’s Wellbeing Manager.

First published Tuesday 17 March 2020