Tips from mental health experts to survive coronavirus anxiety

There is no doubt the spread of the coronavirus in Australia is creating some anxiety and stress. Mental health experts emphasised it is normal, and potentially even helpful, to feel anxious at this time. As Dr. Kelli Harding, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, said “It’s OK to have that moment of panic because, in a way, if you can move beyond that, you can start making adequate precautions. Anxiety, when it’s at the right level, encourages us to take positive action”.

However, the problem arises when people start feeling the fear. The anxiety is being driven by collective uncertainty over what will happen, even though evidence so far shows the new virus causes mild symptoms in most cases, said Joshua Klapow, a licensed clinical psychologist and associate professor of public health at The University of Alabama at Birmingham.

When a person’s biological alarm system is over-activated, it floods the body with cortisol — a stress hormone that suppresses the immune system, said Sherry Benton, a licensed psychologist in Tampa, Florida, and founder of TAO Connect, which provides online mental health therapy. “What’s dangerous is if your anxiety is really exaggerated,” Benton said. “What’s happening to you emotionally? Are you walking around terrified that this is coming or are you able to prepare and then get on with your life?”. Feeling stressed like this not only feels bad but increases the risk for becoming ill.

Here are some simple steps you can take right now to feel better:

  1. Take a media break

    Don’t immerse yourself in news about the coronavirus 24/7. “You have to stop scouring social media and the internet for the latest twists and turns,” Klapow advised. Stay up to date using trusted sources, like the website of Department of Health then step away.

  2. Wash your hands frequently

    It’s something that will actually lower your risk of getting sick. Learn how to do it properly: for a full 20 seconds using warm water and soap.

  3. Practice good self-care

    Get plenty of nutrients by eating fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly and get enough sleep. “We know that sleep has a direct impact on the immune system. So you can take all the vitamin C you want, but if you’re sleep deprived, your immune system is compromised,” Klapow noted.
    “Although those things seem very benign — they don’t seem as potent as putting on a face mask — they are things all of us can do to stay as healthy and as infection-free as possible.”

  4. Take sensible steps to prepare

    There’s definitely reason to take precaution, so being adequately prepared will provide peace of mind.

  5. Go for a walk outside and try meditating via apps

    Time spent in nature is soothing for the mind and body. Sunlight may lower your blood pressure, research has found. “If you can, get a little sunshine during your day. Take a stroll. Take a deep breath,” Harding suggested. Try free meditation apps that will guide you.

  6. Acknowledge your anxiety

    It’s generally unhelpful to tell a highly anxious person to just stop feeling anxious, Harding said. Instead — whether it’s coronavirus or another panic-provoking situation — it’s useful to just acknowledge the anxiety and work through it. “Name it to tame it” is a mantra in mental health for big emotions, she noted.

  7. Write down your worries

    Seeing the words on paper or on a screen may stop you from spinning yourself into a frenzy.
    “What are you catastrophizing? Write down the things you find yourself thinking and reflect on them. Challenge your own thinking to get it more in balance and reasonable,” Benton said.

  8. Send a little love to people who you care about

    Put together a text message chain or email chain with family on it — that way you can have it set up before it feels like an emergency situation and easily communicate with your loved ones. “We’re definitely not in this alone,” Harding said.

  9. Educate yourself and consider more professional development.

    Self-isolation and social distancing create a great time for us to read more and catch up with our professional developments. Majority of Fitness course providers implementing online education/training or distance education. Here at Physical activity Australia we encourage our members to continue to educate yourself within your scope of practice. This is a great time to do some professional development online and get ahead.