Strategies for coping with unease about COVID-19

It is fair to say we are all feeling quite worried and uneasy about the impact of COVID-19 on our world. There is much uncertainty in our communities. However, one thing is certain, this unprecedented event is temporary, it will end.

In Australia the number of cases is low compared to other countries; as is the number of people in ICU, and the number of deaths. Most people in Australia diagnosed with COVID-19 are experiencing mild symptoms and will recover without needing hospital treatment.

For some peace of mind, seek out the facts from reliable sources, the Australian Government, World Health Organisation and Centre of Disease Control and Prevention. Limit related media exposure as it keeps us in a heightened state of anxiety; we can become obsessed with wanting to find out the latest (e.g., the number of people infected, the number of deaths). Limit checking social media to once or twice a day, as it seems that’s all people are talking about. Suggest to your family and friends to talk about something else; or not watch the news every night.

It is also important to keep things in perspective. When we are stressed, we immediately think ‘worse case scenario’. At these times ask the question ‘Am I getting ahead of myself?’. Usually if we are confronted with something that is frightening, worrying and/or overwhelming, we often underestimate our ability to cope. Take some time to think about how you would cope; this can help put things in perspective. Be kind to yourself, take one day at a time, and remember it’s OK to have a bad day now and then.

We have heard many times over recent weeks the importance of good hygiene practice: Wash your hands frequently (to your favourite song); avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth; keep 1.5 metres physical distance between yourself and others; stay home if you feel unwell; and seek medical advice if you have a fever OR cough OR breathing difficulties.  It is so important that you continue to adhere to this advice.

To be able to look after others in your life, it is important to look after yourself. Maintain good social connections, communicating with your family, friends and colleagues. There are many social media options. As well as having routine in your day, make time for enjoyable activities and hobbies. Eat well, exercise regularly and get good sleep. Avoid ‘consuming to cope’ with stress (too much food and alcohol). Practice relaxation, meditation, mindfulness to give your body a chance to settle and readjust to a calm state. There are numerous meditation and sleep apps online for you to choose from to achieve a calm state. It is important to find the right one for you.

It may be for some the anxiety has already become quite heightened. The anxiety could be twofold; anxiety about COVID-19 and anxiety as a result of social isolation. If the anxiety is impacting you, or someone you know (family, friends, colleagues), and the fear is overwhelming to the extent they are not able to cope with day-to-day functioning (e.g., not being able to get out of bed; not eating, not wanting to participate in activities) then it is important for that person to seek help from a Psychologist. An appointment with a Psychologist can be organised by getting a referral from a GP. In the current climate many Psychologists are providing Telehealth services under Medicare.

Talking children and adolescents

Be mindful that both children and young people pick up on our concerns by listening and observing adults. They know when you’re anxious.

Model a sense of calm, as they look to you for cues on how to manage anxiety; speak to them about their concerns. More than likely they are already aware of the impact of the virus from media and talking to their friends. It is important to answer their questions in age appropriate language.

Children and adolescents are also feeling stressed and some will be highly anxious. The best thing you can do is to validate their feelings and talk to them. Don’t overwhelm them with information and let them know that COVID-19 is less common in children and adolescents compared to adults. It is also important to limit children and adolescent’s exposure to media reports as their level of anxiety will increase. Be with them when they are listening or reading the news.

When we feel that our world is out of control, it can be helpful to feel you have some control over something in your life (e.g., explain to your children what they can do to stay safe).

Over the last couple of weeks talking to students about the virus, the people they are most concerned about are their grandparents or elderly relatives. Regular contact with them by phone or some form of social media will reassure them that these important people in their lives are OK.

If you have any questions, or clarification of any of this information please do not hesitate to contact me via email bzjones@mgs.vic.edu.au

Barbara Jones

Head of Counselling and Psychological Services