Anxiety in the time of Corona

As stress, fear and uncertainty take their toll, supporting our mental health is just as important as caring for our physical health, reports Lorna Hutchinson.
Photo credit: Adobe Stock

By Lorna Hutchinson

Lorna Hutchinson is Deputy Editor of The Parliament Magazine

06 Apr 2020

With Europe now the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic, many EU Member States are in lockdown and social isolation measures have changed our way of life for the foreseeable future.

Children can no longer attend school, most workers must find ways to work remotely and social contact has been all but severed.

As police patrol the streets enforcing the new Coronavirus rules, queues snake around supermarkets operating on a one-in-one-out basis and toilet paper becomes a sought-after commodity. It’s hard to conceive what may come next.


Our reality seems to bear more resemblance to a zombie apocalypse movie than the predictable day-to-day routine that keeps us on an even keel.

Little wonder then that our mental health suffers during such an unprecedented crisis, as we try to process what is happening in our world and how to cope with it.

“Constant monitoring of news updates and social media feeds about COVID-19 can intensify feelings of worry and distress”

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that as Coronavirus rapidly sweeps across the world, it is inducing a considerable degree of fear, worry and concern, in particular among certain groups such as older adults, care providers and people with underlying health conditions.

“In public mental health terms, the main psychological impact to date is elevated rates of stress or anxiety. But as new measures and impacts are introduced - especially quarantine and its effects on many people’s usual activities, routines or livelihoods - levels of loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol and drug use, and self-harm or suicidal behaviour are also expected to rise.”

Mental Health Europe, the Brussels-based NGO that advocates to improve mental healthcare and promote the rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities, says that good mental health and positive wellbeing can help us cope better with the COVID-19 threat and the uncertainty it is creating.

The organisation has given a number of tips for people to help them regain a sense of control and to ease Coronavirus anxiety.

It suggests that we should only seek information from legitimate sources, such as the European Commission or reliable national sources such as government websites.

“The main psychological impact to date is elevated rates of stress or anxiety. But levels of loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol and drug use, and self-harm or suicidal behaviour are also expected to rise”

“These credible sources of information are key to avoiding the fear and panic that misinformation may cause,” it says, adding, “Try to avoid excessive exposure to media coverage. Constant monitoring of news updates and social media feeds about COVID-19 can intensify feelings of worry and distress. Consider turning off automatic notifications and taking a break from the news.”

“Setting boundaries to how much news you read, watch or listen will allow you to focus on your life and actions over which you have control, as opposed to wondering ‘what if?’”

Mental Health Europe also advocates self-care during these exceptional times and suggests establishing a daily routine that prioritises positive mental health. “Where possible, maintain your daily routine and normal activities: eating healthy meals, getting enough sleep and doing things that you enjoy.”

It is normal to feel overwhelmed, stressed, anxious or upset, among a wide range of other emotional reactions, in the current situation, says the organisation. “Allow yourself time to notice and express what you’re feeling. This could be by writing them down in a journal, talking to others, doing something creative, or practising meditation.”

UK-based mental health charity Mind highlights the positive effect of staying active on mental health, as it can help relieve anxiety and boost wellbeing, but acknowledges that being unable to leave our homes can make staying active feel like a challenge.

Mind suggests sitting less and trying to get up and move around a bit every hour. “Try exercises or stretches or you could try an exercise DVD. There are lots of free, online exercise regimes designed for you to try at home, including everything from chair-based exercises to yoga, and workouts that let you choose your own level.”

The charity also suggests doing active household chores like hoovering, tidying or DIY as well as running up the stairs instead of walking, or doing some gentle stretching while watching television.

The WHO says that being supportive to others is also a positive step that will help boost your own mental health. “Assisting others in their time of need can benefit the person receiving support as well as the helper. For example, check in by phone on neighbours or people in your community who may need some extra assistance. Working together as one community can help to create solidarity in addressing COVID-19 together.”

Staying connected with our loved ones and maintaining social networks is important, it says.

“If health authorities have recommended limiting your physical social contact to contain the outbreak, you can stay connected via email, social media, video conference and telephone.”

Despite the enforced distance from each other, we are all in this together. We human beings are social animals and it is a normal response to feel more anxious, angry, agitated and withdrawn when we are deprived of this much-needed human contact.

But the human spirit is indomitable and we must try to remind ourselves amid these bleak days that this too shall pass.

During her speech at the European Parliament’s extraordinary plenary session last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, “If there is one thing that is more contagious than this virus, it is love and compassion. And in the face of adversity the people of Europe are showing how strong that can be.”

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