Coronavirus is stressful. Here are some ways to cope with the anxiety

Some people may be more susceptible to coronavirus than others, but none of us are immune to the pervading sense of anxiety the virus has caused.

person having a panic attack in the middle of a street

Louise Stone, Australian National University and Katrina McLean, Bond University

One of our patients was recently talking about her anxiety around the coronavirus epidemic. This woman’s stress was understandable. She had survived a serious infection with swine flu, but only with a prolonged stay in intensive care.

I guess we all walk on the edge of a cliff […] anything can happen to anyone at any time. We are never really safe. But people like me? Now we know the edge of the cliff is right there, and we can’t help looking down.

Read more: 7 science-based strategies to cope with coronavirus anxiety

While some people may be more susceptible to becoming seriously ill with the coronavirus than others, none of us are immune to the pervading sense of anxiety that has taken hold around the world.

For Australians in particular, this crisis has come immediately after a horror summer of bushfires, which took their own toll on our collective mental health.

But there are some things we can keep in mind, and some practical steps we can take, to keep coronavirus-related anxiety under control.

A tangible threat versus an invisible enemy
It hasn’t been an easy start to the decade. In the face of the summer’s bushfires, many of us contended with threats to our health, our homes and even our lives.

Even those not directly affected were faced with constant images of charred bushland, injured wildlife, and homes burnt to the ground.

The bushfires put a strain on our collective mental health, and it’s very likely some people are still struggling.

Natural disasters, though, are visible and tangible. There are things we can do to avoid the threat, manage the danger or mitigate the risk. We can see the smoke, check the app, buy an air purifier, prepare our homes. And despite the vivid images of floods, fires and cyclones, we know the storm will pass.

Epidemics are different. A novel epidemic is unknown, evolving and a global risk.

We are faced with a variety of information (and misinformation) online. Guidelines contradict each other, different states have different approaches, and experts disagree.

Meanwhile, infection rates climb as economies fall. We know we may contract the virus, and as yet we know there’s no vaccine to prevent it.

Read more: You're not the only one feeling helpless. Eco-anxiety can reach far beyond bushfire communities

While the bushfires united us, coronavirus seems to divide us
There’s an ugly side to ways we can deal with the stress of an unknown enemy like the coronavirus.

Some people blame potential carriers for their own illnesses, scapegoating people they see as high-risk. This is not helpful.

We also seek to manage our anxiety by trying to prepare ourselves and our families for the possibility of isolation or quarantine.

While this is reasonable to a degree, practices like stockpiling toilet paper and other goods can feed, rather than relieve, anxiety. Empty supermarket shelves can create panic, and further disadvantage people who might be living from week to week.

Epidemics isolate us from each other physically too, and this will only happen more and more.

So how can we put things into perspective?
We can take heart in knowing many people will develop only mild disease from the coronavirus.

There are of course vulnerable members of our community: those with compromised immune systems due to illness or age. We need to protect these people as a community by creating safe spaces for them to live, work and access health care, rather than fostering panic.

Read more: 'The doctor will Skype you now': telehealth may limit coronavirus spread, but there's more we can do to protect health workers

Our greatest asset lies in our own bodies. We may not understand how to best protect ourselves, but our bodies are experienced managers of novel immune challenges, and they will manage the risk as effectively as they can.

Ultimately, our best chance at surviving this virus relies on nurturing our bodies: avoiding exposure through hand-washing and isolation where appropriate, eating well, exercising, managing chronic illnesses, and getting enough sleep.

The anxiety a pandemic generates is inevitable. At the end of the day, we all need to learn to live with a degree of risk we can’t avoid.

Practical strategies to keep anxiety at bay
The World Health Organisation has developed some practical tips for dealing the stress of this outbreak. Here are a few of them:

- accept that it’s normal to feel sad, stressed, confused, scared or angry during an outbreak

- find ways to talk about how you feel with others, especially if you are in quarantine

- remember to keep an eye out for your children during this time, and for loved ones who already have mental illness. They may need help dealing with this added anxiety

- if you feel overwhelmed, seek support from a health professional

- don’t use smoking, alcohol or other drugs to deal with your emotions. Keep your body as healthy as possible by eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep

- limit worry by limiting media exposure to a few trusted sources

- draw on skills you have used in the past that have helped you to get through difficult times.

Read more: 8 tips on what to tell your kids about coronavirus

If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Dr Wendy Burton, a GP in Brisbane, contributed to this article.The Conversation

Louise Stone, General practitioner; Clinical Associate Professor, ANU Medical School, Australian National University and Katrina McLean, Assistant Professor, Medicine, Bond University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How are you managing coronavirus anxiety?

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    Horace Cope
    17th Mar 2020
    "How are you managing coronavirus anxiety?"

    We're handling the current emergency OK. The Chief Medical Officer and his panel of medical experts is advising the government which is implementing the recommendations. Our only concern is those armchair experts with little or no medical training who choose to make suggestions that are unhelpful or the media which seems to be all doom and gloom with projected figures of how many will die. My suggestion (and I have no medical training to back it up) is to listen to the experts and ignore those who have no proof to back up their statements. Can the media please start being positive?
    17th Mar 2020
    Just like the bush fries the media are completely mishandling the situation.
    17th Mar 2020
    Great response Horace Cope. We're trying stay positive and offer constructive information. Any feedback is much appreciated! Please feel free to email us at
    17th Mar 2020
    This government has said that it expects 10,000 to die no wonder everyone is panicking
    18th Mar 2020
    ollie, 40,000 people die in Australia every year from heart disease. No one is panicking over that!
    19th Mar 2020
    KSS add to that domestic violence killings, suicide, pharmaceutical drug overdosing, other drug overdosing, ice addicts killing people on roads, and the list goes on. But still the Government does not give enough funding to prevent these things.
    24th Mar 2020
    The problem with the media is that they make money from clickbait, which includes lies and slander, NOT THE TRUTH. There's no money in the truth.

    I suggest you watch the ABC for your News because the ABC isn't beholden to financial survival by having to use misleading at best, false at worse, sensational headlines. AND IT"S FREE!

    If you want real News, get off the internet.

    17th Mar 2020
    Nothing is stressful other than all the needless panic. People need to take chill pill and calm down.

    I'm more worried about getting struck by lightning myself.
    17th Mar 2020
    My main concern is the rate at which my superannuation is going up in smoke. I have no fears about the virus at all.
    17th Mar 2020
    It is concerning. I'm too afraid to look at mine, although I'm obviously in a different boat. Did you read Kirby Rappell's advice today?
    Hope it helps
    17th Mar 2020
    Prayer to, and faith in, God and Jesus Christ is helpful. Trust in God (and exercise common sense)!
    19th Mar 2020
    So it's His / Her fault?
    Israel Folau was right.
    17th Mar 2020
    I feel general community anxiety about the disease is seriously compounded by understandable fear of being unable to access survival essentials during necessary isolation, for weeks on end. Absolutely nothing is being done about the unavailability of necessary foods and hygiene goods in supermarkets. The government needs to quickly appoint someone such as Jim Molan to direct and control the national supply of survival essentials. Supermarkets are not equipped to manage/control the fair distribution of these goods. We only have to visit a supermarket to know that removal of the supply anxiety would be a calming step, and engender confidence in the government's ability to co-ordinate all aspects of the crisis.
    17th Mar 2020
    Yes, Brissiegirl, that is a concern.
    17th Mar 2020
    So true. Maybe everyone can let everyone else know where they've found ample supplies and share this info among our members? This is begging for a Meeting Place post! We'll start it now!
    17th Mar 2020
    Here you go!
    17th Mar 2020
    You'll start a rush, Leon. People are like lemmings when you disturb their peace of mind.

    I can see ration cards on the horizon.... if the government can ever move off its asset.
    18th Mar 2020
    Brissiegirl, you are so wrong saying nothing is being done.

    The TP/tissue manufacturers (yes its made in Australia) went to 24/7 production weeks ago. There is NO shortage of anything people are panic buying. The issue is more a supply chain delivery issue. There are only so many trucks and drivers. They are working at full capacity already.

    Coles are already advertising for 5000 workers to help with the shelf stocking issues and also for more home delivery drivers. But supermarkets only have so much local warehouse space to hold stock. Supermarkets and their staff are taking so much abuse from the ignorant and its got to stop!

    If people were to go about their normal routine shopping, you wouldn't even notice anything different. Its the stupidity and selfishness of individuals that is creating the real issue and means that others are left out.

    How differently people are behaving now compared to just a few weeks ago during the bushfires!
    19th Mar 2020
    I agree KSS the media is fueling the panic buying, but I also wonder if people are stocking up to resell at a higher price to make a quick buck. Sad we had so much co-operation during the bushfires and now this selfish behavior.
    19th Mar 2020
    I totally agree Brissiegirl. The media of all political persuasions are driving this hysteria. That and the Daigou buyers of loo rolls!
    17th Mar 2020
    I keep reminding myself that if the media tells me that 6% of Coronavirus victims don't make it then 94% of of Coronavirus victims come through safely.
    17th Mar 2020
    It seems those who don't make it are already not too well, often with compromised immune systems from chemo or radio or such for cancer, or are just plain old and more vulnerable to random diseases. Wonder how those with established immune deficiency syndromes will go?
    18th Mar 2020
    Yes well Triss, the media has a lot to answer for.

    That 6% may well be far too high. Much is based on the initial data from China. However, over time the mortality rate actually decreased over time. Those first cases were largely in older men, life long smokers with other underlying chronic conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure etc. Also people were being identified late in the infection and then the medics didn't know what it was or how to treat it.

    Now it is believed that many more people are infected but have no or very mild symptoms, are probably not being tested and need no treatment. These are not being included in current figures.

    Karen, anyone with an underlying health condition will be at a higher risk and that incluses those with impaired immunity. But also keep in mind that no-one has immunity to COVID-19 which is why it speads more quickly than say flu (about twice the rate of transmission).
    19th Mar 2020
    I thought it was 3% leaving 97% recovered. The media needs to start telling us the more positive sides which will stop the panic, anguish and anxiety. I fear suicide rates will go up. I read on SBS news website where doctors were talking about natural immunity happening in time way before a vaccine will be ready, but then there were a few doctors saying the opposite.
    17th Mar 2020
    17th Mar 2020
    Hope the pray that the clinical trials all go well so this vaccine is available as soon as possible. See above post for link to Utube.
    17th Mar 2020
    Stay healthy and forget the vaccine.
    17th Mar 2020
    It's hardly surprising that there is so much anxiety and panic when the government and the so-called health authorities provide no information about the coronavirus. They just repeat ad nauseum the mantra to wash your hands and stay one metre away from others. Apart from who created this virus, what else have we been told? How is it transmitted? Is it only by body fluid to body fluid, or can it be transmitted aerially, i.e by breathing in the direction of another person? Can the virus exist outside a host body? If so, for how long? Can it exist by itself on an inanimate surface, and for how long? Are we to believe that those who developed this virus, and spread it into the community, have not developed a vaccine or antidote? (Not that such an antidote would be available to the masses). As in any war, truth is the first casualty. And so it is with the coronavirus. Given that it is mainly oldies who are being killed off, maybe it should be re-designated CoronaVAD-19.
    17th Mar 2020
    The Soylent Green Bug..
    18th Mar 2020
    BillF2 Are you seriously saying you really believe this is a man-made virus?

    For your information:

    We are surrounded by viruses most of which we live alongside with no bad effects. Viruses are a natural part of all life. Coronaviruses are well known (the common cold is one so are the flu varients). COVID-19 is a new virus from the same family of coronaviruses but with different elements.

    COVID-19 cannot replicate by itself. It must use a host cell which it invades, then releases the RNA, replicates and migrates to new cells where the same cycle repeats. It is a DNA/RNA virus with a protective protein lipid covering. If you destroy the envelope, the virus will die. It cannot live by itself. As the envelope is essentially fat, detergent - even washing up liquid - will kill it. Which is why the advice is to wash surfaces with soap and water. Wipes and the like are useless unless the surface has alreadys been washed! And most are antibacterial wipes also useless against a virus!

    It is spread in droplets in the air (hence the advice to socially isolate i.e. stay 1.5 mtrs apart and cover nose and mouth if sneezing or coughing) which can land on surfaces. Touching those surfaces then transfering virus to eyes, nose or mouth is the main transmission route. Keep hands away from face! Note the advice is to cough into a tissue then immediately dispose of the tissue i.e. don't stick it up the sleeve or in a pocket.

    It is not yet clear how long the virus can live outside the body on surfaces because it depends on so many factors e.g. ambient temperature, humidity, material of surface, cleanliness of the surface etc. And frankly this is unimportant. Follow the advice to keep hands away from face and wash them frequently in soap and water and you are likely to be fine.

    And above all stop with the ridiculous conspiracy theories!
    19th Mar 2020
    If a virus needs a host and is spread via moist droplets then how can it survive on surfaces? I thought that would be bacteria that can survive on surfaces.
    They have known about coronavirus since 1968 so I still wonder how did they know that this was a different strain?
    17th Mar 2020
    The (above) World Health Organisation's tips are utterly laughable. Not one of those tips addresses the fear (and probable reality) of house-bound humans suffering nutrition deprivation due to inadequate supply/availability of food, medicines and hygiene products. Not one of the high profile personnel doing the daily news rounds has even raised this problem, let alone anyone managing the outbreak coming up with some sort of plan. Easy to say stay at home - harder to say how to survive for 3 months without a guaranteed food supply. Utterly pathetic, unconscionable and enough to bring a government down.
    17th Mar 2020
    A bloke told me that if you sell your motor you it's impossible to catch the Carownervirus
    18th Mar 2020
    Cambodians are told that 7 pepppercorns on the tongue will prevent the virus too!
    On the Ball
    18th Mar 2020
    Only if its a Toyota...
    Oh, you can only catch it from certain brands of beer...
    17th Mar 2020
    Not overly concerned, I am in good health and like to stay home! But I do have a few questions that I have not seen answered...
    1 if we all stay home and nobody gets infected, will it just stop existing? Or what will happen when we start sharing our spit again?
    2. Are they assuming that we will all get it, and just flattening the curve with the isolation thing?.
    3. Once you have had it are you immune?
    4. Will they allow food shops to stay open? I am thinking long term and while we could last a week or so without shopping we will at some stage run out of a few things...
    18th Mar 2020
    Bundabergian to answer some of your questions:

    1. No it will still exist. It has always existed in some animals, it is just new to humans.
    2. There is a school of thought that we should allow it to go through the population to gain herd immunity. The UK started out with that approach, but have since changed to containment to protect those most vulnerable. That is what Australia iss doing. The flattening the curve is to allow health services to keep up with demand. Too high a curve would result in people not beiong able to access health services. Flattening the curve helps with access but may prolong the 'crisis'.
    3. Recovering from the infection does offer immunity to the same virus. There have been cases of people being declared free of the disease only to represent a couple of weeks later. They don't believe that this represents a new infection but rather that the virus was not detectable in the nose/throat but had residual contamination in the lungs (which is where it attacks) and then resurged.
    4. In countries where there is total lockdown food shops remained open e.g. Italy- even in Wuhan food shops were open. There is no reason to think Australia will be any different. In any case, we would likely be encouraged to shop online and Coles are even now increasing deliver staff to help with the increased demand.
    18th Mar 2020
    Thanks KSS.
    My main worry is having to do shopping, because of the stupid panic buying that everyone seems to be encouraging. I would not enjoy going from shop to shop to find essentials, then standing in queues. But I stocked up well with decent coffee which is important, and it is probably time I emptied the larder/lost some weight anyway!
    My only other worry is for my 93 year old (interstate) mother in law who though still at home has a carer go in every day, but nothing I can do about that.
    17th Mar 2020
    I'm reasonably stressed as we have an adult daughter with a compromised respiratory system who has been told not to go out in public where she is around people. We may soon become her full time carers. While my Super has also suffered, what upsets me more are the selfish people who still don't care about anyone but themselves.I overheard a couple of old jocks laughing about Corona, making light of it and how they're not worried, the other day and wondered if when they or someone they care about succumbs, they will still think it is so hilarious.
    18th Mar 2020
    Caz. When we have a PM who frequently puts himself first ahead of the people he chose to serve, what do you expect of the general public. This is what leadership is all about.
    17th Mar 2020
    I must be immune to it... I consider the whole thing of people going off the deep end to be nonsense and just a sheep-like response to media hype. The whole thing is blown up out of all proportion to me.
    18th Mar 2020
    Stress will lower your immunity so keep calm people. What the media is doing is what is stressing people out more and making them panic more, turn off the TV, live life as normal as possible and eat healthy. Not one person on TV has mentioned to eat healthy and boost your immunity with vitamin d, c and zinc or even olive leaf extract, garlic, echinacea, elderberry and numerous other things that nature provides. Feed your gut bacteria with good fiber, fruit and veggies, 70% of your immune system lives in the gut.
    I am over all the fear pushing, I have been hearing some people are suffering from a lot of anguish and anxiety and this is so cruel, we need to be reassured more that like Triss said 94% will survive the virus, most will only have mild symptoms and those that do die usually have underlying health issues. Media are making a lot of money from spreading the fear and so is big pharma too. No point waiting for a vaccine we just have to build up natural immunity like we do with all viruses.
    18th Mar 2020
    I have no anxiety over COVID -19 at all.
    My only issue is with the ridiculous and sensationalist social and mainstream media reporting of every irresponsible thought bubble. The language used is highly inflamatory and comes replete with unsubstantiated claims and counter claims. YLC is also guilty of this particularly with its usual click-bait headlines.

    As a result, the panic levels rise and we now have violence in supermarkets, empty shelves of products of which there is NO shortage. People need to get a grip, take a bex and a lie down. Stay calm, this will pass and the with vast majority unscathed. Those that do contract the virus and develop serious illness will be taken care of. Yes some will die, BUT so do 40,000 Australian every year with heart disease and no-one is panicking over that!
    18th Mar 2020
    Totally agree KSS.
    Also, rather than having the 7- 8am opening for us "oldies" surely the supermarkets could institute something akin to the odds and evens during the fuel crisis. But, rather than odds and evens, use the alphabet, say A-I one dayJ-R the next day and S-Z on the third day. Keep the next two days and the weekend for everyone.
    Just until everyone comes back to their senses!
    18th Mar 2020
    We have various contributors here complaining about conflicting and inaccurate virus information and then making their own contributions and claims of 'fact'. Can I suggest that any such claims are backed up by including the posters medical qualifications so that we can discern fact from fiction?
    18th Mar 2020
    Hi all,
    We need more positive articles like the one above. There is always hope but the focus currently in the media seems to be on the negativity and things that tend to make one feel helpless. I take comfort in the statistics that indicate only few people of the many millions in all countries will be affected and of these only a very few unfortunate people will suffer serious consequences. This is much like any other unfortunate event that affects people generally. I try to keep an uplifted positive attitude, (admittedly very difficult to do), look after myself physically and emotionally and keep in touch with people who I care about and who care about me. This is in addition to taking practical steps and ensuring I obtain correct and current information to minimise my anxiety to a manageable level. Also taking a break from the doom and gloom news. Seems to work for me.
    19th Mar 2020
    Good advice, and turn the TV off sometimes too.
    18th Mar 2020
    This article completely missed the obvious and most important anxiety around the coronavirus. That is for those workers who are casual etc and will not have any income to survive the period this goes on for !!
    19th Mar 2020
    One way the government could reduce stress and confusion is just for once to be honest and straightforward with the people. For example, schools are to remain open to allow emergency workers to continue working. Okay so far. However, it doesn't want grandparents caring for their grandkids because the children may pass on the virus to the most vulnerable. That seems sensible until we are told that teachers, many who are in their senior years are not at risk because children are not infectious with the virus. We are told don't worry about the shortage of masks because masks are not effective in preventing the spread of the virus but the government is desperately looking for masks all over the world, why if they are not effective? This is yet again the government fittings its narrative to suit its unpreparedness and lack of strategy.
    19th Mar 2020
    Stupid article....just perpetuating the panic in society. Perhaps the media should step back totally and just let the government deal with all announcements.
    23rd Mar 2020
    LeonYLC Thanks I did read that article. Made me feel a little better. I'm too scared to look at my Income Stream with HESTA. I just put an after tax contribution of around $100,000 so it feels like I've lost my money (yes I know, only on paper...) If it was just money from my employers over the years I wouldn't feel so bad!!! Plus 2 years ago I put another $80,000 after tax contribution (downsized house). Thought it would help and give me a better income - bugger now it's probably back to where I started :(
    3rd Apr 2020
    Is lockdown more dangerous than the virus? Is lockdown even legal?

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