Anxiety is a normal reaction to uncertainty and things that may harm us. For many of us, the coronavirus and the COVID-19 illness make for a very uncertain future. People worry about their own health and the health of their loved ones, both here and abroad. People may also have a lot of concerns around school or work, their finances, their ability to take part in important community and social events and hobbies, and other important parts of their lives. People who already experience a lot of anxiety may find their anxiety worsening.
It's important to be kind to yourself. This is an anxiety-provoking and stressful time for everyone, and it's okay if you feel more anxious than usual. 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 start to cause harm. Feeling stressed and fearful every day takes a toll on health and well-being very quickly. When anxiety and fear lead to panic, people may also take precautions that ultimately 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. When people deny the severity of a situation in order to avoid anxiety, they may do nothing or they may ignore public health orders or recommendations from health authorities.
A better place is somewhere in the middle. Coronavirus and the COVID-19 illness are serious and we should be concerned about the situation, but they are not catastrophic disasters. 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.
What can I do about coronavirus and the COVID-19 illness?
When you feel anxious and uncertain about the future, it's easy to feel hopeless. Coronavirus and the COVID-19 illness may seem out of your control, but that isn't entirely true.
Taking reasonable action can help you take back control and reduce anxiety. Look to trusted organizations and agencies like the BC Centre for Disease Control, Government of Canada, and World Health Organization for information about steps you can take to reduce your risk of getting sick or passing the illness on to others. If you are more vulnerable to the coronavirus or are in contact with others who may be vulnerable, talk to your doctor or care team about any additional measures to take based on your own situation.
The coronavirus and COVID-19 illness situation changes often, so see the following links for up-to-date information on protecting yourself and staying safe:
BC Centre for Disease Control—www.bccdc.ca
Government of Canada—www.canada.ca/coronavirus and the COVID-19 Information Line at 1-833-784-4397
World Health Organization—www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus
Take care of yourself
Eat as well as possible, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and make time for hobbies.
Stay connected with family and friends
Isolating yourself from others, such as staying home from school or working from home for longer periods of time, can affect your mood. Find ways to connect with people you care about in other ways. If you can't see someone in person, you can still reach out by phone, text, or video call.
Help others if you can
People who are more vulnerable to coronavirus and the COVID-19 illness may have to take extra precautions or isolate themselves more than others. Ask friends, family members, or neighbours if they need anything, such as groceries or other household needs. Simply checking in regularly by phone, text, or video call can make a big difference.
Helping others also includes being mindful of the supplies you keep at home. Excessive stockpiling means that your neighbours and other community members no longer have access to those supplies and it increases costs.
Cut back on the amount of time you spend on social media and the news
It's important to be informed, but constantly checking for updates or reading sensationalized stories can really take a toll on your mental health. Stick to trusted, verified news sources and limit yourself if social media or news stories increase your anxiety.
Some people find it helpful to talk through anxiety-provoking situations like coronavirus and the COVID-19 illness, but others may find that conversations make their anxiety worse. If you need to limit conversations, it's okay to tell family, friends, and co-workers that you can't participate. Just make sure you don't ignore all news and important messages—the goal is to take in the information you need and cut down on the excess, not ignore the situation altogether.
Explore self-management strategies
Explore self-management strategies like mindfulness, yoga, meditation, art, exercise, or the MindShift app to manage anxious thoughts. You can find self-management strategies for anxiety from Anxiety Canada at www.anxietycanada.com.
You can also take the Bounce Back Online, a self-directed course from the Canadian Mental Health Association to help people manage low mood, stress, and anxiety. The online version is available for free, no referral needed. Visit online.bouncebackonline.ca.
Have a plan
It's hard to predict exactly what will happen next, but preparing for situations like self-isolation can help reduce some uncertainty about the future. BC residents are advised to keep two weeks of supplies at home in case they have to quarantine themselves. This includes food, household products, prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, and supplements. Don't forget about your mental health: if you practice self-care activities like art, yoga, or exercise, make sure you have supplies or equipment on hand. If you live alone, consider a plan to check in regularly (just not face-to-face) with a friend, family member, or neighbour.
Seek extra help or support when you need it
People feel anxious about the future at the best of times, and many people have never encountered a pandemic like this before. It's okay if you need help.
Here are some signs you might benefit from extra help and support:
You can't think about anything other than coronavirus or the COVID-19 illness
Your anxiety interferes in your daily life—for example, you have a hard time going to work or being in public spaces even when the risk is very low
You isolate yourself from others when it isn't necessary
You feel hopeless or angry about the situation
You have a hard time eating or sleeping well
You experience physical symptoms like frequent headaches or an upset stomach
Consider tele-health or e-health services, online support, and online or app-based self-management tools. You can learn more and find resources at www.heretohelp.bc.ca. Your doctor's office may also offer tele-health or e-health services. If you need more information about local services or you just need someone supportive to talk to, call the BC Mental Health Support Line at 310-6789 (no area code) at any time.
For more information
In addition to the resource above, check out the following:
Visit www.anxietycanada.com for information and self-management strategies for anxiety
Visit www.healthlinkbc.ca or call 8-1-1 any time of day for health information and resources
Visit www.flattenthecurve.com for plain language information on reducing the impact of coronavirus and the COVID-19 illness at home and in your community (this resource uses US examples)
About the author
The Canadian Mental Health Association promotes the mental health of all and supports the resilience and recovery of people experiencing a mental illness through public education, community-based research, advocacy, and direct services. Visit www.cmha.bc.ca.