How to keep calm during the coronavirus outbreak

The coronavirus pandemic isn’t only affecting physical health, it’s having an impact on mental health, too. Experts share their top tips for lowering COVID-19 anxiety.

Amid warnings of the COVID-19 pandemic, panic buying has seen supermarket shelves stripped bare and people stockpiling pasta and toilet rolls.

Sporting clashes are being played in empty stadiums – if at all – and restaurants face closures as diners stay away.

As the situation changes daily, many people are anxiously struggling with the uncertainty of how the coronavirus may affect them and their loved ones.

“Infectious disease outbreaks bring fear and uncertainty that is driven not only by the actual risk, but the perception of the level of risk,” says clinical psychologist Nicole Sadler, of the Phoenix Australia Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health at the University of Melbourne.

Anxiety levels rising amid coronavirus outbreak

“There is fear and anxiety because people feel they don’t have control over what is happening,” says Nicole.

“Coronavirus is a novel virus and we don’t know enough about it yet, so we’re seeing the normal range of stress reactions like people having trouble sleeping, feeling less safe, drinking and smoking more and socially isolating themselves.”

With the pandemic predicted to get worse before it gets better, how can you ease anxiety about the impacts of coronavirus?

Trust the experts

“As humans, we are hardwired to be afraid of the unknown and of something that appears random and uncontrollable,” said Australian Psychological Society president Ros Knight.

“If you find yourself becoming anxious about coronavirus, try to remember that medical and scientific experts are following strict protocols to contain the virus and treat those affected.”

Be alert, but realistic

“The indications are that for the majority of people, the risk is very low and if you were to get sick your symptoms would be mild,” says Nicole. “Be cautious, but don’t panic.”

Keep updated, but not immersed

Stay up to date with reputable sources of information, such as government health departments.

But don’t overwhelm yourself with coronavirus stories.

“Exposing yourself to a constant stream of negative information takes a huge psychological toll,” says Ros.

“Avoid reading social media posts that warn of an apocalypse and don’t get drawn into doomsday discussions.

“Sticking to the facts and relying on scientific sources for your information is the best way to maintain perspective and manage your feelings positively.”

Focus on what you can control

“Maintain good hygiene, wash your hands properly, stick to a healthy diet, keep exercising and create routines that bring security,” says Nicole.

Make the most of social distancing

“If you need to self-isolate, reframe it. Use that time to do things you’ve wanted to do for a while, like catch up on a good book or favourite TV shows,” she adds.

Where to get reliable coronavirus information

If you are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, call the 24/7 hotline on 1800 675 398. You can also use the Healthdirect symptom checker.

Instant Consult offers on-the-spot online GP consultations and can issue medical certificates, prescriptions, radiology and pathology requests and specialist referrals.

Written by Sarah Marinos.