As the number of cases of COVID-19 increase, so does the associated anxiety. For the general public, the mental health effects of COVID-19 are as important to address as are the physical health effects. And for the one in five who already have mental health conditions – or the one in two who are at risk of developing them – we need to take personal, professional, and policy measures now to address them.
1. Seek accurate information from legitimate sources
Limit yourself to reading information only from official sources like the World Health Organisation (WHO), or reliable national sources. These credible sources of information are key to avoid the fear and panic that misinformation may cause.
2. Set limits around news on COVID-19
Try to avoid excessive exposure to media coverage. Constant monitoring of news updates and social media feeds about COVID-19 can intensify feelings of worry and distress. Consider turning off automatic notifications and taking a break from the news. Setting boundaries to how much news you read, watch or listen will allow you to focus on your life and actions over which you have control, as opposed to wondering ‘what if?’. WHO advises seeking factual information mainly to take practical steps to prepare your plans and protect yourself and loved ones.
3. Look after yourself
Self-care in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak includes focusing on things you can control (like having good hygiene) instead of those you cannot (stopping the virus). Where possible, maintain your daily routine and normal activities: eating healthy meals, getting enough sleep and doing things that you enjoy. Consider creating a daily routine that priorities your well-being and positive mental health. Activities, like taking a walk, meditating or exercising, can help you to relax and will have a positive impact on your thoughts and feelings. The Mental Health Foundation, for example, recommends that you see it as an opportunity that might have benefits like finally catching up on sleep.
It is particularly important for health care workers to take care of their basic needs and ensure good rest between shifts due to overtime hours or work overload in the time of crisis.
4. Reach out to others and support people around you
Keeping in touch with your friends and family may ease the stress caused by COVID-19. Talking through your concerns and feelings may help you find ways of dealing with challenges. Receiving support and care from others can bring a sense of comfort and stability. Assisting other people in their time of need and reaching out to someone who may be feeling alone or concerned can benefit both the person receiving support as well as the helper.
Many people may also wonder what to do if they are put under quarantine. Although the idea of self-isolation may seem daunting, keep in mind that this is only temporary and that there are still many ways to regularly connect with others digitally.
5. Maintain a sense of hope and positive thinking
Try and focus on things that are positive in your life. WHO recommends to find opportunities to amplify the voices, positive stories and positive images of local people who have experienced the novel coronavirus and have recovered or who have supported a loved one through recovery and are willing to share their experience.
6. Acknowledge your feelings
It is normal to feel overwhelmed, stressed, anxious or upset, among a wide range of other emotional reactions, in the current situation. Allow yourself time to notice and express what you’re feeling. This could be by writing them down in a journal, talking to others, doing something creative, or practicing meditation.
7. Take time to talk with your children about the COVID-19 outbreak
It is equally important to help children cope with stress and protect them from any coronavirus hysteria. Answer their questions and share facts about COVID-19 in a way that children can understand. Respond to your child’s reactions in a supportive way, listen to their concerns and give them extra care, attention and support. Reassure your children that they are safe. Let them know it is OK if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope with you.
8. Ask for professional support
Follow protection and prevention recommendations provided by qualified health professionals. If all of this does not help, consider reaching out for support by a professional counsellor or peers. Peer support is usually organised on a local or national basis so it is best to start your search with those in your local area so that you can actually talk with someone who knows what is available. Using terms such as ‘peer support for mental ill health’ or ‘mental health service user organisations’ and your locality into your internet search engine may well be helpful.
There is a wide range of measures to tackle coronavirus anxiety and protect your mental health and that of your loved ones. Keep in mind that this pandemic will pass and that there is always help available. Taking proactive measures can help manage your mental health during these times of uncertainty.