Anxiety, Fear and Coronavirus

It is easy to succumb to fear in the face of uncertainty and unpredictability. Yet, despite panic-inducing supermarket pictures and the world seemingly spinning out of our control there is still much we can do.  There is time to change the course of Covid-19, but it is hard to remember this when we’re hand washing, stockpiling and practicing social distancing.

Know the facts

Go for the facts — even difficult ones — because anxiety escalates and fantasies flourish in the absence of information. But don’t overdo it, as too much information can aggravate stress. If you are a news junkie regulate how much you watch or listen to, pick a time in each day to catch up, only that one time and stick to it.

Put the pandemic in perspective

The current crisis is not the only stressor most of us are dealing with. If your dog just died, your TV has exploded, your PC has given up the ghost and your partner has left you; well, the current world crisis will obviously hit you harder than if everything in your life was otherwise moving along swimmingly. It is normal to feel overwhelmed but what we can avoid is labeling ourselves as “weak”, ‘comparison is the thief of joy’ it diminishes us and seeing each new happening as a ‘catastrophe’ will serve only to heighten anxiety. Everyone is confronting challenges they may not fully recognize or understand, therefore we should try to keep a sense of perspective.

Balancing what we should and should not do is not easy. Therefore, be vigilant rather than under reactive. Erring on the side of being overly cautious is challenging because it goes against our deep human need for physical connection. Do not rationalize your wish to have that one friend over or to see that one client in your office, because this means you are still in denial of the crisis. Uncertainty and second-guessing are part of the human condition. While the anxiety they engender “feels dreadful, unlike denial and being under reactive, you will not die from it.”

Identify the source(s) of your anxiety

We are hard-wired for a fight-or-flight response. The greater the simmering anxiety, the more you will see individuals stuck in fighting and blaming on the one hand, or distancing and cutting off on the other. This is normal but if we can identify our anxiety-driven reactivity, we can get some distance from it, rather than being propelled into action before we have calmed down enough to do our best thinking.

Refrain from shaming and blaming

When survival anxiety is high and goods feel scarce, it’s easy to blame or scapegoat others, forgetting that we are all in this together. Our target may be a particular group or an individual, like the woman who sneezes in line in front of us. While we can’t fully eradicate our fears, we can work to understand how anxiety operates and how it affects us — for better and for worse. Anxiety can be useful when it drives us to unite to solve problems, it can bring us together. This is a better perspective than name, blame and shame.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Now is the time to turn toward each other. We are here to help each other out, avoid being a do-it-yourselfer when you’re not qualified. Grab some other clear-thinking person to ask what she thinks or what he would do about stockpiling food, or taking that plane trip, or talking to little Billy about what’s going on with grandma in the hospital and his school being closed. You may choose not to follow the advice you seek, but it’s essential to have other perspectives. Contact is vital for a healthy human condition.

Don’t procrastinate about preparing for the worst

Anxiety can make us under or overreact: “So we either engage in compulsive hand washing or we do the opposite and act like the germ theory doesn’t apply to us.” And this anxiety, will mount if we postpone or ignore expert counsel: “Passivity and inaction will make fear grow.” So, instead of giving up and saying, “I can’t keep my hands off my face,” trust your capacity to make the necessary changes, ( sit on your hands, fold your arms and refuse to unfold them, get a stress ball, wrap a larger tissue round each hand, be creative), take common sense, precautionary measures now. If you haven’t done your best to get a couple of extra weeks’ supply of food or medication, and  you feel panic stricken, ask a buddy to help you to act and help you make wise decisions about how much you need of what.

Connect, connect, connect

Social distancing and mandates to stay at home may require us to self-isolate. But it’s essential to stay in communication with family, friends, neighbours and other resources and find ways to keep calm. Use the phone, text, email — all means possible — to stay connected to friends, neighbours, your adult children, anyone who matters to you. Especially those who induce a sense of calm rather than chaos. People need to hear your voice and vice versa.”

Practice self-compassion

This moment calls on us to not only care for others but to also be gentle with ourselves. “Anxiety and fear,” are physiological processes that cavort and careen through our bodies and make us miserable. They will subside, only to return again; they will arrive uninvited for as long as we live. Don’t be hard on yourself when you can’t shut yourself off from fear and pain — your own and the world’s. Fear isn’t fun, but it signals that we are fully human. A good policy is to accept you have anxiety, acknowledge it.

Don’t skip the self-care

Everything that goes under the umbrella of ‘self-care’ is essential right now. Slow down, engage in healthy practices and try to sustain regular routines that bring comfort and stability. Therapy, conversation, exercise, yoga, meditation and religious and spiritual practices are good starting points, but so too is making art, singing, journaling and being useful to others. We can all learn ways to calm ourselves down and find a little peace of mind. Action is powerful, even if we start with just one thing like fixing a time every day to go for walk if you are allowed.

Don’t let fear and anxiety become pandemics, too.

In these stressful times, it’s important to try to manage our own anxiety and do our best not to pass it on to others. But most important we should not let fear lead us into isolation or stop us from acting with clarity, compassion and courage. Terrible things happen, but it is still possible to move forward with love and hope.

It is going to take an entire community response to defeat Covid 19.

Here is a summary of things to help:-

  • Always get up get dressed, self-care is vital for self-esteem.

    Maintain a routine for each day and tick items off.

  • Use distraction, perhaps have a boogie around the kitchen - music will be important sing the words out loud and happy endorphins will flow.

  • Try reading
  • Do something that brings you joy this will keep things in perspective
  • Keep exercising, go for a walk, run or bike ride (just keep a 2-metre distance from people)
  • Journal and process your feelings, take selfies and pictures on your phone to send to others.
  • Stay connected (make a schedule for phone calls, write a letter, do Skype and a video chat),
  • Know the facts, but do not become a news junkie, be brave and turn off those devices and allow yourself just to breathe quietly for a while.
  • Once you are out of self-isolation, use social media to pass on any wisdom.


Dr Harriet Learner, psychologist and author.

Peter Bundell Wateringbury Surgery Counsellor