Psychologist’s plan to separate yourself from pandemic anxiety

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus is making everyone anxious, so we asked psychologists to share how to stay calm, care for your mental health and cope during a state of fear. 

The world is in a state of panic.

As the number of Covid-19 cases continues to increase daily, people are frantically stocking up on supplies to prepare for the worst.

First it was surgical face masks and hand sanitiser that were in demand, and now, Australia is currently suffering a toilet paper shortage.

Social media hashtags #toiletpapergate and #toiletpapercrisis are trending alongside images of bare shelves and shots of people who have stocked their trolley with bulk packs of the rolls.

People are freaking out to the point that a panic-buyer even pulled out a knife on another customer in Woolworths during an argument over loo roll. In Tamworth, police had to taser a man down after a fight over toilet paper broke out in Big W.

In London, people are going to extreme lengths to protect themselves against the virus. Pictures of public transport users wearing plastic bags, boxes and gas masks are going viral on social media.

Globally, trade and travel restrictions have been enforced, impacting tourism and disrupting manufacturing. Restaurants and small business are being forced to close due to lack of business, schools have shut down, and the stock market continues to plunge.

It’s causing worry, fear and anxiety. Turn on the TV and it’s news about the virus, open up social media and your feed is flooded with coronavirus-related posts, go out to dinner with family and friends and it’s the topic of conversation. There’s simply no escaping it.

With all this hysteria caused by the global Covid-19 outbreak – which is only being exacerbated by the media – it’s hard not to be mentally affected by it.

But you shouldn’t let your mental health take a hit because ultimately, an uneasy mentality will slowly start to affect all aspects of your life.

“I think it’s important to be rational about the way we are receiving information being fed to us through the media,” Lysn psychologist Nancy Sokarno says.

“Just as any other virus or illness, we need to protect ourselves with precautionary measures but keep our logic in check.” That means washing your hands regularly, wiping down commonly used surfaces and resting at home if you feel unwell. But beyond that, there should be no need to panic.

“Ensure we think about how our actions are affecting other people who may have pre-existing phobias regarding germs, health and fatality, and be cautious to spread awareness and knowledge instead of panic,” Sokarno stresses.

In order to stay calm and anxiety-free, follow psychologist and founder of the TARA Clinic, Tara Hurster’s 3-step plan.

Tip 1: Understand the difference between preparation and panic

Being prepared helps to manage feelings of stress and distress and is a positive coping strategy. Whereas panic is when the fight or flight part of our brain switches on, which turns off our ability to engage in logical thinking.

The problem with panic is that as humans are essentially herd animals, it’s very easy for panic to spread quickly because that’s what keeps us safe. Just like if one animal starts running, the rest do, too, ‘just in case’ something is chasing them so that they don’t end up as lunch.

Tip 2: Reset your brain

To reduce feelings of panic, we essentially want to reset our brain. There are two ways to reset the brain: moving your body helps to tell your brain that you’ve moved away from the teeth and the danger is no longer a threat, and mindfulness helps to teach you how to separate your thoughts from fact and therefore make educated decisions.

Tip 3: Educate yourself with credible sources

Ensure you are educated by the people who actually provide the direct information to the public, such as the World Health Organisation. Just as The Simpsons demonstrated with the “purple monkey dishwasher” scene… information can be manipulated or misinterpreted as it gets past on.