What’s more highly contagious than coronavirus? Anxiety.
What Does Coronavirus Anxiety Look Like?
Well, governments around the world are responding to the very real threat of COVID-19 by introducing ever-changing measures to manage the spread of coronavirus. Some governments are taking stronger actions than others, but the global population is experiencing this tension as one.
Here in Australia, supermarkets shelves are emptying, businesses are sending people home, cafes won’t fill our eco-friendly keep cups for fear of contagion, and many of us face weeks working from home.
We’ve Seen A Rapid, Huge Shift In Our Daily Lives
Coronavirus is highly transmissible. For some it’s even fatal.
The threat is real – experts say that most of us, or at least a large proportion of our population, are likely to catch the virus over the coming weeks and months.
Hand Hygiene and Social Distancing
So, we have gotten the message.
Most stores have hygiene stations with hand sanitiser at their entrance to help reduce contamination. People are keeping a greater distance from one another when conversing on the streets. Large public gatherings have been banned, and some parents are keeping their kids home from school.
It is heartening to see that as a whole, the general public understands the risks of this illness and are acting in accordance with recommended protocols to keep ourselves and others as safe as possible.
The Social Impact of Coronavirus Anxiety in Australia
But how are we feeling about this once-in-a-generation global health crisis?
I have been describing the feeling “out there” as having a hum of anxiety – similar to, but at a slightly higher level than was present when the eastern parts of Australia experienced bushfires over the 2019–2020 Christmas/New Year period.
There was no break between these two intense crises.
In fact, they overlapped. When our bushfires were at their worst, buried quietly beneath that media frenzy was new information about the novel coronavirus that had emerged in Wuhan, China.
Coronavirus did not reach Australian shores until 25th January 2020, just when most of us were beginning to breathe a sigh of relief that the worst of the fires were over.
What this means for Australia is that we have experienced an extended period of collective anxiety that appears to be ramping up.
Different Responses to Covid-19 Fear and Anxiety
Individually, we all have different levels of tolerance to this collective anxiety.
- are prone to feeling anxious
- are unwell or caring for someone who is immunocompromised or vulnerable
- have other major stressors happening in our lives at present (relationship breakdown, exams, career worries, unemployment, financial concerns, to name a few)
… then it’s likely that coronavirus anxiety will be having a greater impact on us.
Imagine a scale from zero to 100, where 100 is our maxed-out anxiety level, and zero is the Zen state of a Tibetan monk with a belly full of fruit. Each of us will escalate up and down that scale at different rates, dependent on our own anxiety levels and our calming methods.
People’s different responses will become evident now. You may find that you can identify clear signs of anxiety in people you hardly know – signs that they would likely otherwise have kept to themselves, or at least revealed only to those close to them.
The reason is that their anxiety is being exacerbated by the collective anxiety.
Or maybe you are the most anxious person you know? If so, you will be finding these times particularly difficult.
How Do We Deal With Coronavirus Anxiety?
In three main ways: Compassion, compassion, and more compassion.
What we need to show to ourselves and to others is compassion.
I have seen people ridiculing others who are highly anxious about coronavirus and who are being hypervigilant (they may yet prove to be the most level-headed of all!).
I am saddened by the lack of compassion and understanding of another’s crippling anxiety.
Still others are likely feeling anxious, but denying there is a need to prepare for quarantine, and this is a different approach not unlike an ostrich burying its head in the sand in the face of danger.
Hypervigilance And Complacency Are Both Anxiety Reactions
These are two sides of the same anxiety coin. One is vocal and obvious, the other is also vocal but less obvious.
No matter where you or those around you are on the anxiety spectrum, try to muster up some compassion.
What does coronavirus compassion look like in everyday life?
- If someone needs you to wash your hands or stay further away than you feel is necessary, perhaps just do that so that they feel a little less frantic and that they have at least some control over the situation.
- If someone is wearing a mask at the store or in public and you think this is an overreaction, understand that the mask may provide them an added sense of protection (or they may be sick themselves, and protecting you!)
- In instances of aggression or violence such as what we have seen in stores, compassion can look like a small, silent moment recognising their behaviour as the result of fear and stress. This does not mean that this behaviour is acceptable or excusable. What it means is an inward understanding that this wrong action does not necessarily define the person. It’s turning away from judgement and toward compassion, which is a small but powerful decision to make.
If it is you who is feeling a bit “freaked out”, reach for self-compassion:
- Forgive yourself for the feeling and open up to it.
- Remind yourself that we all feel anxious at times and this is a big one for you.
- If you can, do something that makes you feel more calm.
How I Am Personally Dealing With Coronavirus Anxiety
I meditate twice daily, I exercise (and I have plans to take this online at home when required), I eat well (or well enough). I do all of these actions in less frantic times too and they truly help me.
As I feel more anxious presently, I am finding that focusing on helping others soothes me (it is probably a distraction, but I am forgiving myself for that) so I will continue to do that.
I have in-home projects lined up to keep me busy (and loads of books!), and I have even started to imagine a daily routine I may employ when needed in a quarantine period.
This planning helps me feel that I am controlling what I can in these uncertain times.
Therapy Can Be Enormously Helpful For Coronavirus Fear And Anxiety
If you are experiencing anxiety, fear or trauma at this time, please seek help. Having the support of a psychologist or other mental health professional can make a huge difference to your stress levels and mental wellness – for some, therapy is critical.
Social distancing does not mean that you can’t see your therapist, or start having therapy. Many psychologists offer online Skype counselling (other tools are also possible, such as Zoom) so that you can still have face to face therapy via video link.
At The Bondi Psychologist, all our staff members offer Skype counselling. Meet our therapists.
Even better, Skype counselling is now eligible for Medicare rebates if you are:
- 70 or older
- Pregnant or breastfeeding
- Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
- Living with disability.
Regardless of current your current health or vulnerability, we can offer Skype sessions to all existing and new clients. All you need is a computer or smartphone, a good internet connection and a quiet space where you can talk uninterrupted.
Call The Bondi Psychologist today on 02 9290 8520 to book your Skype therapy appointment.
Now Your Turn!
What are you doing to plan for COVID-19 and how are you feeling about it?
What makes you particularly worried at this time?
What can you do differently to help you to feel more calm?
How can you show yourself more self-compassion?
How can you show compassion to others?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.