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Fear and anxiety of a disease, any disease, can have a crippling effect on people. The 2019-20 outbreak of coronavirus infection, known as COVID-19, is likely to be quite a stressful event in the lives of most people across the world. This viral infection, which has spread to over 177 countries and regions, was deemed a pandemic by the World Health Organization on 11 March 2020.

With billions affected and billions more at risk - and the death toll rising every day - it’s quite natural for you to be worried about the well-being of your loved ones as well as yourself. This disease is new, so complete information about it as well as vaccines and cures are not yet available. Plus, the disease is highly contagious and can move through the different stages of transmission pretty quickly if proper measures aren’t taken.

 On the other hand, among the best ways to tackle and stop the spread of COVID-19 are self-isolation and social distancing. The governments of countries that are worst hit - or want to stop the spread of the disease before the worst scenario appears - have also imposed partial and complete lockdowns. This is an eventuality which inevitably leads to more anxiety, and anxiety, in turn, generates panic.

This is the reason why the World Health Organization (WHO), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and many other state health departments have issued advisories for mental health. Here is everything you need to know about dealing with anxiety while living through a pandemic.

  1. Why focus on anxiety management during COVID-19?
  2. What causes anxiety during a pandemic?
  3. What are the symptoms of anxiety during a pandemic?
  4. Tips to deal with anxiety during COVID-19 pandemic
  5. Tips for healthcare workers to deal with anxiety during a pandemic
  6. Doctors for How to deal with the anxiety of living through a pandemic

Everyone reacts to stressful situations differently, and this trend has been observed during the spread of COVID-19 as well. Doctors, healthcare professionals, providers of essential services, etc., who are working on the ground have a very different set of worries regarding COVID-19 than, say, parents of young children, older people, immunocompromised people and people with existing mental health conditions. (Read more: COVID-19 prevention tips for the elderly and the immunocompromised)

Your reaction to a stressful situation like a pandemic and a lockdown following its spread might also depend on your background, location, sense of social and economic security, and emotional factors like physical distance from your loved ones. Whatever its source, varying degrees of anxiety are very natural to experience during a public health emergency like this. 

While accepting this anxiety as normal is very important, you shouldn’t neglect your mental health at this point. Ignoring your anxiety or trying to suppress it won’t just affect your mental health, but slowly impair your daily function and ability to cope - even to the extent of affecting your physical well-being. This is another reason why you should focus on your mental health and learn to manage your anxiety levels while living through a pandemic.

Read more: COVID-19: Tips for parents with young children

The existence and spread of a pandemic like COVID-19 is not an everyday occurrence. In fact, given the highly contagious nature of COVID-19, it’s quite likely that the current crisis can extend over a long period of time or recur at a future date like other seasonal contagions do. All of this creates a situation where anxiety can take over and dominate your thoughts. The following are some reasons why you might feel overly anxious during a pandemic:

  • Fear and worry about your own health or that of loved ones
  • Restriction of movement and confinement at home, which can also lead to cabin fever
  • Limited access to regular services, medical services, food, etc.
  • Lack of information about the pandemic
  • Excess inflow of information about the pandemic
  • Spread of misinformation and myths about the pandemic

Read more: COVID-19 myths and the truth about them

Your anxiety could be owing to a number of reasons, but since everyone reacts to stress differently, it’s quite likely that not everyone will have the same symptoms of anxiety. You might not be visibly anxious all the time, but the very existence of anxious thoughts will affect the way you function. The following symptoms might show up if you have anxiety during a pandemic like COVID-19.

  • Excess worrying or irrational fears about the pandemic
  • Lack or excess of sleep
  • Lack or excess of hunger
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty in concentrating on regular tasks
  • Stiff or tensed muscles, especially on or around the shoulders and neck
  • Panic attacks
  • Avoiding interaction with friends and family, even on the phone
  • Excessive news watching, or being on the internet too much
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs

Feeling anxious is not necessarily something you can avoid completely during a pandemic like COVID-19. However, dealing with anxiety is something you have to choose to do. Living in denial and continuing to worry might make your life worse, and it’s more than likely to affect your family and loved ones too. Here are a few things you can do to deal with anxiety during a pandemic.

  • Recognize your anxiety, its precise sources and accept that it is normal to be worried about a pandemic of this magnitude. 
  • Try to turn your anxiety into a reason to adopt a better lifestyle and an excuse to rigorously maintain all the preventive measures during and well after the pandemic. Use your anxiety for good instead of feeling crippled by it. The pandemic will pass, but you can still learn from it. (Read more: 10 healthful habits everyone should learn from the COVID-19 pandemic)
  • Focus on maintaining a routine for yourself and your family to make sure your health does not suffer in any way. Maintain the same meal, sleep, exercise, work and leisure times every day. Routines can help you maintain a grip on hard facts and give you better control over your own life.
  • Instead of focusing on things you cannot do until the pandemic is over, focus on things you can get done. Make a list of all the things you want to do at home (while maintaining all the preventive measures) and use your time to do them. You could read books, take up a new hobby, learn how to cook from scratch, watch movies, write a journal, and do many other things. 
  • Don’t follow the news all day if it makes you anxious. Find a healthy balance and limit social media and news watching to an hour or two a day at max.
  • Only get your updates from credible health and government sources to minimise panic and anxiety due to misinformation.
  • Maintain a positive perspective and remember that scientists and doctors from around the world are working hard to help improve the situation and end the pandemic at the earliest possible.
  • Don’t overmedicate or medicate yourself without the say-so of a doctor. Instead of boosting your immunity, this can make you fall sick and worsen your anxiety levels.
  • Stay connected to friends, family, colleagues and loved ones through phone calls, video calls, social media, etc. Social distancing does not mean social isolation.
  • Be supportive of others in need of help, especially those who are dependent on you for their economic, emotional and social well-being.

Read more: How to eat healthy during a lockdown

Working through a pandemic is not an everyday activity for most healthcare professionals and workers. These are the people working on the frontlines, because they risk contracting the disease while treating patients who already have it. What’s more, healthcare workers cannot excuse themselves from their services during an emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic, which means they’re likely to be separated from their family and loved ones too.

This is inevitably a source of anxiety for healthcare workers. Here are some tips healthcare workers can use to deal with anxiety during a pandemic.

  • Take care of your basic needs, like food, rest and sleep. Get adequate rest and eat healthy.
  • Stay in touch with your family and loved ones on the phone and video call them regularly. 
  • Avoid using unhelpful coping strategies that can make you sicker, such as using tobacco, alcohol, drugs, etc.
  • Turn to your colleagues, managers and trusted persons if you have any difficulty in coping with the stress levels.
  • Keep yourself and your colleagues protected while treating COVID-19 patients, and maintain all possible preventive measures as well.
  • Try to take time out at least once every day to meditate or engage in an activity you love to de-stress properly.
  • Identify your personal strengths during a crisis and appreciate yourself as well as the role played by your colleagues.
  • If you see any symptoms of COVID-19 in yourself, seek help without delay. Report to your colleagues or managers immediately and ask for help.

Read more: 10-step guide on wearing and removing protective gear for medical professionals

Dr. Ajay Kumar

Dr. Ajay Kumar

Psychiatry
14 Years of Experience

Dr. Saurabh Mehrotra

Dr. Saurabh Mehrotra

Psychiatry
24 Years of Experience

Dr. Om Prakash L

Dr. Om Prakash L

Psychiatry
3 Years of Experience

Dr. Anil Kumar

Dr. Anil Kumar

Psychiatry
12 Years of Experience

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References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Manage Anxiety & Stress
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  3. United Nations Children Fund [Internet] United Nations Organization. New York. United States; How teenagers can protect their mental health during coronavirus (COVID-19)
  4. Mental health Foundation [Internet] London. United Kingdom; Looking after your mental health during the Coronavirus outbreak
  5. Victorian Health Promotion Foundation [Internet] Department of Health and Human Services. Melbourne. Australia; How to look after your mental health during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic outbreak
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