Managing Stress, Anxiety, and Fear Connected to Coronavirus (COVID-19)

While the outbreak of COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus) has created a great physical health concern, it has also created a large mental health concern as a result of the increased fear and anxiety connected with it.  It is important that along with taking preventative and precautionary steps to protect ourselves from the infection, that we take steps to protect out mental health as well.

We have included information and tips for the following groups:

  • General Population
  • Individuals Receiving Mental Health Services
  • Parents and Caregivers of Children and Caregivers of Elderly Individuals
  • Mental Health Providers and First Responders

General Population:

Anxiety and fear are normal reactions to stress and danger, but during a pandemic the levels can spiral out of control.  It is important to ensure that you monitor these levels and track increasing levels of anxiety and fear. 

  1. Normal stress reactions are to be expected with the increasing worry connected to COVID-19. Some normal stress reactions are the following:
    1. Change in activity levels.
    2. Decreased efficiency and effectiveness.
    3. Difficulty communicating.
    4. Increased sense of humor/gallows humor.
    5. Irritability, outbursts of anger, frequent arguments.
    6. Inability to rest, relax, or let down.
    7. Change in eating habits.
    8. Change in sleep patterns.
    9. Increased focus on cleanliness or infection.

When stress and fear interfere with your ability to do daily tasks and normal reactions become extreme or prolonged, this should be addressed with outside support and professional help.

  • There are several daily items which can serve to reduce anxiety and fear during the COVID-19 Pandemic and the Shelter in Place Order.
    • Washing hands, using hand sanitizer, carrying hand sanitizer with you, and social distancing to reduce worry of infection.
    • Setting up options for working remotely.
    • Setting schedules and prepare for the next 7 days, but being flexible and willing to change plans as needed will help with a sense of normalcy.
    • Reference and research information you read on social media to prevent increased worry.
    • Practice self-care and include items such as: exercise, healthy eating, time with family, connecting with friends virtually, focusing on the positive moments.
  • Avoid increased alcohol or substance use to avoid anxiety and stress or to assist with difficulties sleeping.
  • If the anxiety and fear become overwhelmingly strong and prolonged, you feel hopeless, or have thoughts of self-injury or suicide, seek help immediately by calling the Mental Health Resources, Inc. Crisis Hotline at 1-800-432-2159 or the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Practicing grounding, mindfulness exercises, meditation, and relaxation techniques can be helpful.

Individuals Receiving Mental Health Services

It is important to contact your mental health provider and schedule a time to speak with them as soon as possible. 

  1. Identify coping skills and mindfulness exercises which will assist you with reducing anxiety and managing your stress or fear during difficult times.
    1. Identify a therapeutic plan to ensure that you are able to continue mental health services during the crisis.  (Referral to a different provider, phone or tele-video sessions, health home/care coordination services.)
    1. Request refills of medication to ensure that if there is a service interruption, medication refills are on hand with your pharmacy.
    1. Identify additional support systems.  Connecting with support groups, friends, and family who can provide non-judgmental support can be key in anxiety provoking times.
    1. Mental Health Resources, Inc. will be providing services during all levels of the CODVID-19 crisis via telephone or tele-video for therapeutic and psychiatric appointments, and crisis services through the MHR Crisis Line, 1-800-432-2159.

Parents and Caregivers of Children and Caregivers of Elderly Individuals

Parents and Caregivers will face a special challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic.  It is important to acknowledge that there are two major types of challenges you will likely face; addressing your own feelings, and challenges addressing the crisis with those you care for (elderly, child, mentally disabled)

  1. Gauge the need and level of information to share and how to best discuss the changes and events that are occurring.  Almost all children as young as grade school have heard the term Coronavirus or COVID-19 and have heard individuals talk about the crisis and what is happening in our nation.  Children respond more to how a parent shares information that what is shared and as such making sure that you are prepared, understanding, and confident when discussing the topic with them is key. 
    1. Use words and terms that are age appropriate and share the level of information that they need to hear and providing information that is beyond what is asked for by the children.  Don’t give blind reassurance or dismiss the negative, but avoid oversharing. 
    1. Younger children will be less likely to understand what is going on or why the changes have occurred.  Older children will be more aware how the world works and be more inclined to seek their own information in the absence of information provided by caregivers and parents.  For the elderly and/or mentally disabled, assessment of what level of information will be understood will be a case by case item.
  2. Set boundaries related to access of information that is viewed.  Unfortunately, in the age of 24-hour news and social media there is a lot of wrong information online and this can cause undue anxiety and fear.  Additionally, there is also the need to guard against information overload and constant updates.  Limiting the amount of time spent online and watching news while being more available and discussing what any concerns.
  3. With elderly or mentally handicapped, they may have a difficult time understanding what is explained.  Focus on helping them understand the changes, not focus on the causes, if mental capacity is an issue, but this is a case by case issue to be assessed.
  4. Those in long-term care facilities may feel isolated, especially if they are used to daily visits from loved ones.  Understand that the absence will most likely increase anxiety and feelings of loneliness, so make accommodations that can support the mental health of those individuals. Find ways which you can interact and visit with them by phone or virtually. 
  5. Young children may feel overwhelmed and overly anxious when expected to not attend school, see friends, play sports, etc. Remember to remain calm in interactions and not let the stress of the situation to impact how you react.
  6. Connected to anxiety, watch for signs of depression and/or hopelessness. Make sure children and adults you care for know you are available to talk, and if needed, seek professional help by contacting the MHR Crisis Line, 1-800-432-2159, or an outpatient provider.
  7. Make sure you take time for you.  As the caregiver you can only help reduce anxiety of those you care for by addressing your own anxiety and stress.  (See General Population Section.)

Mental Health Providers and First Responders

As professionals used to high stress jobs and situations we often forget or pretend that we are not impacted by events such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.  Make sure that you assess and address your own stress, anxiety, and fear around events.

  1. Prepare yourself for the impact that dealing with the anxiety and stress of those you encounter as part of your professional role will have on you.  Prepare yourself for what you will see, hear, and experience and have plans for how to share and address these items.
  2. Make self-care a priority, this includes:
    1. Physical health: adequate sleep and rest, health diet and not skipping meals, exercise, and assessment of physical impact for your body.
    1. Mental health: making sure to take time away, maintaining social connections, separating work and home life, peer supports and peer interactions.
  3. Work with coworkers, superiors, and supporting agencies to assist with contingency plans as needed and possible.  Options to consider are items such as working virtually, employing crisis management services, working rotating shifts, and coordination of support to family members as needed.
  4. Remember you are human and to seek professional help if you become overwhelmed by what you experience or vicarious traumatization.  It is crucial that you protect your own mental health and address your own anxiety, fear, and stress.