PEI

How to prevent and cope with anxiety surrounding coronavirus

As Canadians are being advised against non-essential travel and encouraged to practice social distancing at public gatherings in response to the coronavirus — you might be feeling stressed. But you're far from alone.

'What we need to do in this crisis is look out for each other'

While the urge to panic can be strong — especially while scrolling through social media — there are ways to cope. (Shutterstock / panitanphoto)

As Canadians are being advised against non-essential travel and encouraged to practice social distancing at public gatherings in response to the coronavirus — you might be feeling stressed.

But you're far from alone. 

The national CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association says the organization is receiving calls from across the country about anxiety over the coronavirus. 

"There is a real sense of uncertainty in the air," said Margaret Eaton. "There is really anxiety about what will happen next and someone said to me today, 'I just want it over with.' 

"So, I think there are definitely levels of distress across the country."

'Don't cut yourself off'

While feelings of anxiety can be strong — especially while scrolling through social media — Eaton said there are ways to cope. 

'We really encourage people to use their phones to call, to FaceTime and to make sure you create social opportunities for each other when you feel like you might be stuck in the house,' says Margaret Eaton, national CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)

So far, Eaton said one of the particular points of concern is feeling cut off from family and friends during periods of social distancing or self-isolation. 

"One of the things that we're really recommending that people do is, even though you're social distancing physically, don't cut yourself off from other people," she said.

It's important, she said, for people to hear and see one another, instead of just reading messages. 

"We really encourage people to use their phones to call, to FaceTime and to make sure you create social opportunities for each other." 

Think maybe more carefully about what you're choosing to read.— Margaret Eaton, Canadian Mental Health Association

Eaton also noted that it's important for people who are feeling anxious or stressed to acknowledge their feelings in order to address them. 

"Accept that it's OK to feel anxious, but it's also good to challenge your thoughts and ask if your response is reasonable," she said.

"It probably isn't an apocalypse — that's probably, you know, too strong language. We need to remember that while it's very serious, most people are going to recover. So at this time it's really important to take care of yourself, to practice self-care," she said. 

Getting enough sleep, healthy eating, exercising and doing things that you enjoy should be a focus, Eaton said.

'Real self-care'

"I think especially in this case, because it's a physical and a mental concern, real self-care is ensuring that your immune system is in good shape."  

Another means of self-care is ensuring you're getting information from reliable sources like public health offices and local government. 

Shoppers looking for cleaning supplies to help them deal with the coronavirus may face anxiety when they can't find them in the local grocery store. (Tracy Lightfoot/CBC)

If you're feeling particularly anxious, however, it's important to limit the number of times you're checking on the latest news. That also means limiting your time on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, she said. 

"Awareness is the first step, and then control of how we view, as opposed to letting the news just wash over us. Think maybe more carefully about what you're choosing to read," she said.

"It's focusing on what's in your control." 

'Check in on each other'

While it's critical to make sure you're checking in with your own emotional state regularly, Eaton reminds people to reach out to those around them as well. 

Hear how kids are feeling and then doing your best to reassure them based on what you know.— Margaret Eaton, Canadian Mental Health Association

"The other piece I think, is social connection because we know social connection is so important for mental health," she said.

"Making sure that you reach out to neighbours, check in on each other and take care of each other because I also think that is part of what we need to do in this crisis, is look out for each other and look after each other now."

For parents, Eaton said it can be difficult to have conversations with children about what is going on with COVID-19, but there are key ways to make sure those discussions are productive.

'Hear how kids are feeling and then doing your best to reassure them based on what you know,' says Eaton. (Brian A. Jackson/Shutterstock)

Acknowledging that children may be experiencing anxiety and are able to talk about it is a good place to start. 

It's a good idea to begin these conversations by asking children how they're feeling, she said, and taking time to listen and acknowledge those feelings. 

"Hear how kids are feeling and then doing your best to reassure them based on what you know," she said.

"Those reassuring points are: the fact that most people will recover and that everyone around them is doing everything they can to ensure that they're safe." 

CMHA open and available

Eaton noted that the 75 CMHA branches across the country still remain open and continue to be available for people experiencing distress.

Canadians are being encouraged to check the CMHA's website for a list of locations and to ensure they are up-to-date as the situation progresses, she said. 

"If you are already suffering from anxiety or depression unrelated to this situation you may be feeling additional or worsening symptoms. And if you're experiencing significant distress we really encourage you to reach out for formal mental-health support from a health-care professional," Eaton said.

"Pick up the phone and make a call."

Anyone needing emotional support, crisis intervention or help with problem solving in P.E.I. can contact The Island Helpline at 1-800-218-2885, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

For more information about mental health services on P.E.I., find resources from Health PEI here, or from the Canadian Mental Health Association P.E.I. Division here.

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call your local public health authority. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Be aware of evolving travel advisories to different regions.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More P.E.I. news

About the Author

Sam Juric

Web Writer

Sam Juric is a journalist with CBC P.E.I. and can be reached at samantha.juric@cbc.ca.

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