Last updated March 24, 2020 at 3:25 pm
Lots of people are experiencing intense feelings of stress and anxiety as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic – it’s important to remember we’ll get through this together.
Why This Matters: “The sky is falling! A piece of it just hit you on the head! Now be calm. Don’t get panicky.” 🐣
As the worst pandemic in more than 100 years unfolds around the world, many people are feeling a range of emotions that are also unprecedented in their lifetime.
Top of the list, says Nicholas Procter and Miriam Posselt from the University of South Australia, are confusion and fear, and while they are a normal response to the situation, the feelings can be quite intense.
“Just like Henny Penny, people can feel intensely anxious, panicked, frightened and overwhelmed and that is all in the range of a ‘normal’ response to this unfolding pandemic and the way it is changing how we live,” Procter says.
Stress can impact us all in different ways
“It is also part of the human condition that we re-run what we see and hear over and over in our minds and that contributes to feeling uncertain about what the future may hold.
“We need to be really aware that, while these feelings are normal and adaptive, people we work with, family and friends, may all have moments of real vulnerability as the months of living with COVID-19 roll on.”
Procter says when the nervous system is overwhelmed by stress, it sets off a range of powerful thoughts and emotions, and they can often come and go in waves.
According to Posselt, people who have already lived through traumatic circumstances like war, family violence, detention or other forms of restriction of movement may also be affected by the current pandemic, triggering a “re-experiencing of past traumas”.
“Stress is a funny beast,” Procter says, “it can trigger all kinds of emotions from fear and helplessness, to anger, guilt and shame and moods can swing from edgy and cross to detached and numb – so we need to be self-aware and prepared to find these responses in ourselves, and in others.
“One of the most important things is to be aware of what you are feeling and don’t be afraid to discuss that with friends and family – often just naming your anxieties can help reduce them.”
The clearer the facts, the better you can manage anxieties
One of the key ways to manage stress or anxiety is to make sure you stay well-informed.
“On the one hand in times like these you need accurate and timely information. However, a constant diet of Coronavirus news coverage will only exacerbate your fears – so calibrate your media exposure,” says Procter.
“Follow the government’s public health messages and a reputable media information touchpoint. Don’t buy into hour by hour reports.”
However, he also highlights that it is important to take breaks to avoid overwhelming yourself.
“Take breaks from social media and talk to friends and family, read a novel, do something for your mental health and wellbeing, do some gardening and if you are in a situation where you have had to self-isolate, keep active communications up with friends and people you trust by phone, Facetime, Skype or email,” he says.
Another helpful way to manage stress is to try and maintain routine and structure, especially when the world feels chaotic.
“Try to maintain some routine or structure in your day, particularly if you are in self-isolation,” Posselt says.“Maintaining physical exercise and a healthy diet is also essential.”
It’s important to remember we’re in this together
Procter says there are several online resources that provide good information about how to self-care and maintain a healthy headspace.
“Reaching out to others is a useful way to share insights and common concerns and online forums can also be helpful in making sense of what is happening,” he says.
“The important thing to remember is that together we will get through this. You are not alone in finding the situation challenging and a little scary, but by understanding yourself and asking for help and support when you need it, it will be easier to meet the challenges of this pandemic.”