Rarely has the threat of disease occupied so much of our thinking. For months every newspaper has stories about the Corona virus pandemic on its front page, radio and TV programs have back-to-back coverage on the latest death tolls and social media platforms are filled with frightening statistics, practical advice or gallows humor.
This constant bombardment can result in heightened anxiety, with immediate effects on our mental health. But the constant feelings of threat may have other more insidious effects on our psyche. Fears of contagion may lead us to become more conformist or tribalistic, our moral judgment may become harsher and our social attitudes more conservative when considering issues such as immigration. Daily reminders of disease may also sway our political affiliations. The reports of xenophobia and racism are the signs and effects of the above mentioned causes.
Anxiety is a normal reaction to uncertainty and this may harm us. For us the COVID19 illness make for a very uncertain future. People worry about their own health as well as the health of their loved ones, we have concerns about school and work, finances, ability to take part in community and social events, hobbies and important activities of our lives. People who are anxiety prone are finding their anxiety to worsen.
It is important to be kind to yourself. This is an anxiety provoking and stressful time for everyone and its okay if you feel more anxious than normal. It is important to take time for yourself to manage your mental health. You are doing the best you can in a time when simply turning on the news can feel overwhelming.
While anxiety is a normal and expected reaction to the pandemic, too much anxiety can cause harm. Feeling stressed and fearful everyday takes a toll on health and well being. When anxiety leads to panic people take such precautions that cause disruptions in their lives like demanding a lot of tests or medical care when it isn’t necessary or stockpiling certain supplies to the point that those supplies aren’t available to people who are sick and need those items.
Anxiety can also cause the opposite reaction, denying or refusing to believe that the situation is serious. Denial is unhelpful as people deny the severity of the situation thus tend to ignore public health orders or recommendations from health authorities.
A better place is somewhere in the middle. COVID19 is serious and we should be concerned about the situation but it is not a catastrophic disaster. You can use that concern to take positive and protective actions – things like practicing good hygiene, staying home when you feel sick and having a plan in case you need to self isolate.
- Take care of yourself, eat as well as possible, exercise regularly, get enough sleep and make time for hobbies.
- Help others if possible – people who are more vulnerable to corona virus may have to take extra precautions or they tend to isolate themselves more than others- ask if they need anything. Simply checking in regularly by phone, text or video call can make a big difference.
- Cut back on the amount of time you spend on social media and the news– stick to trusted verified news sources and limit yourself if social media or news stories increase your anxiety.
- Engage yourself in hobbies and recreational activities to divert mind from stressful thoughts.
- Seek specialized help or support when you feel your thoughts are becoming unmanageable for you and is interfering with your daily activities.
This article was first published the Rational Drug Bulletin Volume 29 No 3 (July–September 2020).