Overcoming Anxiety During A Pandemic: Do's & Don'ts

Michelle Schneeweiss
Published on Apr 28, 2020. Updated on Sep 15, 2020.

People around the world are adapting to new lives in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, medical students included. Osmosis Medical Education Fellow Michelle Schneeweiss has some tips on how to remain calm and process anxiety as you learn about your new normal.

By now we’ve all learned about the ways to protect ourselves physically from COVID-19. These include washing our hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, staying away from those who have symptoms, and in some cases (like my own) staying home from public places including large classes and work. However, taking care of our mental health at this time is equally as important as maintaining physical distance from others, and minimizing the effects of fear and anxiety is critical in a time like this! Here are some tips I’ve gathered to help us all feel a little more calm during this nerve-wracking time.

Tip #1: Be informed

Fear of the unknown is a powerful thing. It can cause us to panic out of proportion to the actual severity of the disease. That’s why getting informed during this time is one of the most important ways to mitigate fears around COVID-19. 

The Osmosis COVID-19 resource page is a great place to keep up with news around the pandemic. It’s updated every day with content and information surrounding the new pandemic. Check it and the Osmosis blog every day for the latest evidence-based news on the novel coronavirus, as well as personal accounts of how people around the world are coping.

Another good source is the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for the latest COVID-19 updates

Staying informed can also help us remind ourselves of some important and positive facts during this time. For instance, even though many people have been infected, the vast majority of them recover fully. In addition, there are already clinical trials underway to help find treatments or vaccines for Coronavirus-19. While neither of these are meant to mitigate the legitimate concern there is for the spread of COVID-19, it helps to focus on the good at a time like this. 

Wherever you choose to get your information, make sure it is coming from a legitimate source. Official government web pages and reports published in peer-reviewed journals are usually a safe bet. Information that is passed from person to person on social media might be legitimate, but should always be examined with a closer look! It's important to get reliable news that is accurate and up to date so we stay on top of this pandemic as a population.  

Osmosis infographic showing how to identify reliable COVID-19 information.

Tip #2: Don’t be too informed

Limiting news intake can actually also be a good thing in a scenario like the one we’re in. Watching the same news over and over is not beneficial and may raise your level of anxiety. Try reading or watching the news at the beginning and at the end of the day, and not looking at it in between. Or consider limiting your news intake to one hour a day. Taking a healthy break from the news and social media can help us focus on the other parts of our lives. On that note…

Tip 3: Stay busy 

Maintaining a regular schedule and routine is a good way to help normalize the situation at hand and keep anxiety levels low. Keeping up a good routine is important and finding ways to maintain your “normal” routines as much as possible is extremely important at this time. 

For students, if your school has suspended classes, do not use this as an opportunity to do nothing all day. Take this time to get caught up in classes that you were behind in, look further into topics that interested you but weren’t discussed thoroughly in a class, or review an old concept before you completely forget about it. 

For those who are now working from home, try to maintain your usual schedule. Whether it was a 9-to-5 or alternative schedule, keeping yourself engaged with work can distract you from some worry while also keeping you productive. It is more difficult for those of us who have been laid off, but there are other ways to stay busy.

For example, add a workout to your daily routine. If you can’t go to your local gym for now, go for a walk or a run outside (while maintaining appropriate distance from others of course!) Free home workout videos on YouTube require no equipment; there are free online yoga, pilates, and HIIT classes, among many others! Osmosis even has some online classes you can check out. 

Finally, is there a project or hobby you’ve been meaning to get to for some time? Now is the perfect moment to finish that craft or home improvement project. While it can seem daunting to get started, break the project up into smaller parts and tackle one at a time.

The bottom line is, whatever your goal is, this is a great time to get it done! 

Tip 4: Keep in contact with loved ones

Yes, it is important to socially distance yourself from people to limit the spread of the virus. Yes, it is not the right time to visit your elderly friends, or those who are immunocompromised and at a higher risk of suffering complications if they contract COVID-19. 

That being said, it is also important to maintain relationships and make use of social supports during this time. Even if you are in self-quarantine, it's a good idea to keep up social interaction in creative ways. Make sure you are still calling, texting, or FaceTiming loved ones. Use this time to reconnect with old friends over social media. Apps and plug-ins like Google Hangouts make it possible to still connect with the people that love and care about you. Physical isolation doesn’t necessarily have to mean social isolation. Remember that this is a time that we all need to be there for each other. 

The bottom line

COVID-19 is becoming more and more serious every day and it’s important not to undermine or downplay its severity. However, this should also be a time where we prioritize our mental health while implementing the important measures to fight the virus. If we can do both those things, we can help to #RaiseTheLine and #FlattenTheCurve while staying mentally healthy!

About Michelle

Michelle Schneeweiss is a first year medical student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. She grew up in Toronto and received her bachelor's degree at Western University. She loves travelling, both outside and inside Canada. Outside of Canada, her favourite place to visit has been Italy (because Italian food is the best food, obviously). She loves to bake, even though she is horrible at it!

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