Coronavirus Anxiety: How to Manage Your Mental Health During a Pandemic

Sarah Lempa

Chicago, USA

Anyone else feel like they’re living in some dystopian sci-fi movie lately? Perhaps you’ve felt your stress level rising incrementally or you’re already in full-on disaster prevention mode, surrounding yourself with an arsenal of cleaning products and canned beans. Either end of the spectrum—you’re definitely not alone. If I see one more grocery store sold out of toilet paper, however, I might just lose my damn mind.

Trying to carry on with life during a pandemic is new for all of us. Let’s stay calm. Here’s how to avoid falling down the contagious rabbit hole of panic:

Slow down, both mentally and physically

Racing thoughts and stressful panic-induced actions can contribute to physical illness, turning this ordeal into a never-ending cycle. Stop spitballing what the future might bring. Calm down. Move less; think less; do less. Focus on deep breathing—it lowers the harmful effects of cortisol, the human body’s stress hormone. Easier said than done; I know, but just try it. Just uh…make sure you’re not inhaling anyone else’s cough while you’re at it.

Quick fix: Try a meditation app like Headspace or Calm. If you need a little more support, online therapy services like Talkspace are available 24/7.

Take breaks from the news and social media

I’ve been glued to the news like a doomsday theorist lately, and I know many of you have too. Be strict with yourself and self-govern how much social media you consume per day. Staying informed during such a serious situation is incredibly important—but you’ll feel much better if you’re not tuned in 24/7. Pick up a book. Pet your dog. Try some yoga. Hell, lock your phone in a soundproof box and play a game of charades. It’s hard; I know, but you’ll thank me later.

The bottom line: Get the vital updates but don’t wallow in the trenches of nonstop news headlines. Turn off those notifications while you’re at it.

Stick to the facts and avoid spreading baseless rumors

Incessantly hitting “refresh” on Twitter’s coronavirus hashtag will only leave you susceptible to unverified rumor after rumor. When your old roommate’s aunt’s cousin’s brother is tweeting about corona conspiracy theories, it’s easy to get worked up over the myriad of what if’s circulating social media. Avoid purely speculative reports and stick to reliable health-oriented websites. We can’t completely stop the virus from spreading, but we can put our efforts towards stopping the spread of panic.

Resources for concrete data: The CDC’s dedicated website for coronavirus and the World Health Organization

Stay connected, even if you’re in isolation

Believe it or not, social connection actually strengthens our immune systems and helps quell anxiety. Last week, the World Health Organization issued guidelines for mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, urging everyone to “stay connected and maintain [their] social networks.” If you have to self-quarantine or find yourself social distancing out of precaution, be sure to stay in touch with friends and family daily via text, phone calls, and video chats.

Go above and beyond: Last month in China, quarantined residents took part in virtual dance parties. In a sea of bad news, this anecdote made me smile.

Lastly: humor, and lots of it

The situation itself obviously isn’t funny at all, but laughter is scientifically proven to reduce stress. Consequently, citizens around the world are using it to cope. People are flooding TikTok with memes and dark humor, and I’d be lying if I said they didn’t make me feel at least a tiny bit better. From witty tweets to a fan written, coronavirus-inspired episode of The Office, humor is flooding the Internet alongside all of the doom and gloom headlines. Despite the fact that we’re facing a serious pandemic, I find it heartening that we—as a planet—can connect through shared laughter. Other than washing our hands and hoping for the best, it’s our best option.

To quote High School Musical heartthrob Troy Bolton: we’re all in this together. Stay safe out there everyone; we’ll see you out and about when this all comes to an end.