Anxiety: The Pandemic That Few People Are Talking About

A grayscale picture of a pair of hands trying to escape from a foggy window. Symbolises fear.

Covid-19 is scary. Our reaction to the novel coronavirus might be even scarier.

It feels like a very scary time. Global travel is all but banned and governments are imposing harsh fines to force people to stay inside their homes. An invisible monster is sweeping the globe and thousands of people have succumbed or even died. This is life with the novel Coronavirus.

In the media, we see shoppers rushing to the stores to buy essential grocery items. Queues of people trail out through the store doors and fights have been recorded breaking out over toilet paper. Some folk have also cleared shelves and are now attempting to profit from the pandemic which is now sweeping the globe, but few people are talking about the second pandemic that follows.

That second pandemic is anxiety.

Right now, nobody knows or understands the new Coronavirus, or Covid-19, to use its proper name. We have heard of the thousands of deaths in China, Italy and Iran, and nobody wants their country to be next. If it can kill people in faraway lands and it’s been discovered in our country, then there is every chance that it could come and kill us, too. It’s understandable, then, that people are scared.

In 2009, another pandemic swept the globe. This time, it was H1N1 swine flu, a virus that killed 284,000 people in a little over a year. Nobody understood the virus, but it had proven fatal in humans and we were without a vaccine for a while. People rushed to the stores for supplies and doctors raced to get sick people treated and at-risk patients immunised. I know, because I worked for the NHS during that time and I remember the immense pressure that we were under. When you work at the front desk and deal with hundreds of poorly patients every day, you simply don’t know who has what, what it might do to them or worse, what it could do to you. My heart is with the medical staff who are on the frontline of this new outbreak during this challenging and scary time.

Right now, a lot of people are focused on the symptoms of Coronavirus. In times like these, people develop a mild case of hypochondria. We read about the symptoms and we look for them in ourselves. The people we love and normally hold dear are now treated with suspicion, their personal belongings cleaned thoroughly and their body temperature checked almost as soon as they get in through the door. If you have anxiety about a virus with a current mortality rate of 3.9%, then it’s pretty understandable why you would react like that. Nobody wants to get sick, nobody wants to die, and nobody wants their loved ones to die, either.

Unfortunately, what few people fail to understand when they’re caught up amid Coronavirus anxiety are the symptoms that anxiety itself can cause. It can make us irritable, it can make us depressed, it can make us stop eating or drinking enough fluids and it can even lead to self-destructive habits or an inability to function. It can also lead to flu-like symptoms which can force us to falsely believe that we have been infected. In worst-case scenarios, anxiety can also lead to panic attacks, depression, a sense of helplessness and even suicide.

Right now, what we all need to exercise is a logical approach. Nobody understands this virus and nobody wants to get it, but we can all play our part by taking good care, following governmental advice and thinking about others. Taking care of our physical health and trying to avoid or spread Coronavirus may be our primary concern, but we also need to make sure we take care of our mental health.

So here are 9 tips to help you cope:

1. Get Outside Everyday

Opening the door and just stepping outside can put things into perspective. You can feel small and scared inside your home, but if you step outside you will soon realise how many other people there are out there, feeling just as scared and confused as you do. Remember, we are all in this together.

For me, I plan to get on top of some gardening. Isolation and social distancing absolutely doesn’t need to feel like a jail term, and if it’s sunny enough then there is no reason why you shouldn’t step outside and soak up some sun if you have a garden. Sunlight contains vitamin D, a natural antidepressant, and fresh air can do wonders for our mood. Step out, smell the flowers and hear the birdsong. It won’t cure your anxiety, but it can help.

2. Sip Some Cold Water

While staying hydrated is generally a good idea, even just a few sips of cold water can be refreshing. Try not to think about the news, think about where you are, right here, right now, just sipping a glass of water. Sipping water can slow down your breathing and help you feel calmer, and the cool feel of water can help to bring you back into the present moment.

3. Take Some Deep Breaths

Just breathe in as far as you can, deep into your stomach, and let it out slowly. Do this two or three times when it all seems too much. How do you feel now? When we’re anxious, we tend to hunch over or hyperventilate. Just taking some deep breaths can help us feel so much calmer.

4. Take A Break From The News

You know, I’m going to be 100% honest with you today. There have been times in my life when I’ve been a bona fide news junkie, but why? Most things come and go without a hitch.

Unfortunately, there won’t be an announcement before teatime that Coronavirus has been cured and it’s back to business as usual. There isn’t a cure right now, nor a vaccine. Following live feeds may feel like it offers some reassurance, but it’s more likely to keep you posted on the latest updates and the death tolls in far-reaching parts of the world. It’s sad to hear that families are being torn apart by the virus, but thousands of people die every day and nobody mentions them on the news. People fall downstairs and break their necks or slip in the shower and suffer a traumatic brain injury, people drop dead of a heart attack, get caught in traffic accidents or shot or blown up in the conflicts dotted all over the globe. Death is a part of life that will come for each and every one of us one day, worrying about it in excess will only get us there sooner.

5. Keep Facts And Figures In Mind

The media is what the media does. The media will tell you all about the thousands of cases found each day or the dozens of deaths in any one country, but they won’t disclose the number of those recovered from the virus, or the ages or health of those who have passed away. For that, I find Worldometers particularly helpful. A majority of the people who are anxious about the novel Coronavirus are children and adults up until about 40 years old. At the same time, the mortality rates of people within these age ranges are just 0.6% combined, compared to 31.7% combined for those 50 years and older who are paradoxically less likely to be anxious about the virus but are also struggling to get hold of much-needed resources to stay safe. It’s fine to be anxious, but we need to keep our anxiety in check and look out for those who need looking after. For most people (more than 90%!), the new Coronavirus may be like a nasty cold or flu, rather than a death sentence. For many, the real struggle will come from the mental drain of two weeks in self-isolation rather than the virus itself. Buy what groceries you realistically need to self-isolate for fourteen days, but please stop panic-buying and please think of the truly vulnerable people who won’t fare as well in the shops as you do.

6. Find Ways To Have Fun At Home

So groups have been banned, sporting events cancelled and clubs and theatres closed down, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t have fun! I really wanted to get a Facebook Portal as it’ll mean that I can call my family and chat, but hey, we have laptops with cameras on them! Mum and I have been having “Tea & Ten Minutes” chats long before Coronavirus was even a problem. We chat, we laugh and we show stuff off on camera. Of course I miss her, but sometimes being together isn’t possible and this may be one of those times. Play Words With Friends, Draw Something or online pool. There are plenty of multiplayer games that you can play online! You can also find recipes to try, go for a walk (as long as you avoid other people) or rent movies to watch. The choice is endless if you think about it! If you’re young at heart, pop over to my dear friend Penny Berry for some more fun ideas!

7. Consider How You Can Contribute

Could you spare some groceries for an elderly neighbour? Call a friend in quarantine or find a way to boost morale in your community? Whatever you can do, think about how you can help other people.

Last night, I thought about the elderly couple across the street from me. If I’m honest, I’m a little bit protective of them. Every day I see them pootling up the street with their shopping trolley and they always wave across to me, so I would just hate for something to happen to them. I wondered about doing a grocery shop for them, but then I remembered that they do have family visit them often, so they are probably well looked after and might consider my offer as more of an intrusion than anything else. I also wondered about doing live stream videos on Facebook with my nano aquarium, some cool blue light and some underwater sounds. It’s not a lot (I don’t have many fish), but if it helps people distract from their current anxiety then I will gladly give it a go!

8. Take (Reasonable) Precautions

Unfortunately, we need a certain amount of nasties in our lives. A certain amount of nasties is how we build immunity (and develop vaccines, to an extent), but we need them to be controlled and we need to limit how many we expose ourselves to, especially if we are vulnerable. Whilst being generally clean can help limit what nasties we pick up, too much cleaning can be equally harmful and puts us at risk of everything from dry skin to chemical pneumonia, which puts us at more risk of exposure to the coronavirus. Stay reasonably clean, but remember that this is about maintaining your home rather than preparing for surgery. Clean your surfaces regularly, tidy up clutter and wash your hands often, but please don’t go overboard with chemicals!

9. Remember The Serenity Prayer

Even if I stopped going to church long, long ago, the Serenity Prayer is something that I have long believed in. I stopped attending my local church after I found out that we had child abusers permitted to remain as high-ranking members in our congregation, but I have always maintained my relationship with God. In times like this, the Serenity Prayer offers some peace in accepting and living with the unknown. It teaches us to accept that we simply don’t know and that somehow, everything will be okay. We can’t fix Coronavirus and we can’t save the world, but if we all do our part, we can all get through this together.

How are you coping with the new restrictions? Why not share your stories in the comments?

Until next time,

Stay safe & have fun,

Helen xx



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