By Vinay Saranga, M.D.
March 9, 2020
With so much talk about the Coronavirus, mental health experts warn that the focus on the virus can take a toll on our mental health and well-being, as well as bother young children that do not fully understand what is going on. However, there are ways that can allow people to best deal with the attention around the Coronavirus while not letting it impact them emotionally.
- Get your information from reliable sources. The Coronavirus is definitely something to stay informed about, but it is important for people to make sure that they are getting accurate information from trusted sources. What neighbors and social media are saying, while perhaps well-intentioned, may not always be correct. Follow the advice and listen to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and physicians.
- Put it in perspective. Without minimizing the Coronavirus in the world right now, it is still important for individuals to put things in perspective in order to reduce anxiety. For example, people in the US have a much greater chance of catching the flu or being injured in a car accident than they do of contracting the Coronavirus. People should familiarize themselves with facts and statistics, which can help them better understand the risks and the bigger picture.
- Being prepared minimizes worry. Just like with the flu or common cold, there’s nothing people can do to 100 percent guarantee they won’t become sick, but they can take steps to stay healthy, protect themselves and minimize worry. To stay healthy, people should wash their hands with soap and hot water throughout the day, limit contact with anyone who is currently sick, avoid putting their hands in their mouths and touching their faces, get plenty of rest, and eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water.
- Focus more on the things around you. Everyone should stay informed and know the latest events with the Coronavirus, but perhaps one of the best things people can do for their own mental health and well-being is to stay more focused on the world around them. Sitting in front of the TV to track where the virus is and how many people are currently infected isn’t doing anyone any good and will lead to excess worry. People should stay involved in their work, their family and friends, and their personal hobbies and interests.
- Keep young children calm. It’s easy for young kids to get easily frightened if they catch news about the Coronavirus. If this happens, it is important to not lie about it and say that it’s nothing because (1) parents should maintain their kid’s trust and (2) kids will more than likely continue to hear about it at school or from friends. Let them know it is a real thing, but always keep the conversation positive in tone and reinforce that they are generally very safe.
- Reduce your anxiety. Lowering anxiety levels is always important. If individuals find themselves feeling more stressed or anxious than usual and suspect this is due to worry over the Coronavirus, it’s even more important that they take steps to relax and calm down. One effective way to calm down is to take some deep breaths in through the nose, hold for a few seconds, and slowly breathe out through the mouth. Another method is muscle relaxation exercises, which is where a person tenses each muscle group for a few seconds and then releases the tension. Finally, another method is to focus on one’s internal dialogue and remind oneself that, while it’s important to stay informed, there’s no need to cross the line to constant worry and panic.
- Get professional help if you need it. If it seems like you have been constantly thinking about the Coronavirus and are having a difficult time with everyday tasks like eating, sleeping and working, or if you notice that you have been withdrawing from situations and isolating yourself, you would benefit greatly from seeking professional help. A mental health professional can help you take control of your anxiety. There is nothing to be embarrassed about in seeking help.
Vinay Saranga, M.D. is a child and adult psychiatrist who is founder of Saranga Comprehensive Psychiatry (www.sarangapsychiatry.com).