The Psychological Impacts of the Coronavirus and How to Manage

Written at Walt Whitman High School

By Alicia Lamkin, Becca Marr



The lack of knowledge from researchers, misinformation from the media, and the disruption of daily life has resulted in heightened stress and anxiety levels during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. Government officials across the country are taking precautionary steps in attempt to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus: closing schools, movie theaters, bars, gyms, and limiting services provided by restaurants.. Although these measures were taken in the best interest of the general public, hearing of such extensive measures induced feelings of uneasiness and fear for many.


Researchers have recently suggested that COVID-19 originated from a live animal market in Wuhan, China, the capital of the Hubei Province. The first diagnosed case of coronavirus was on November 17, 2019. The disease stayed relatively contained in Wuhan until early January, when South Korea announced its first possible case on January 8, 2020. Over two months later, the World Health Organization has confirmed 198,229 cases.


People across the world continue to feel anxious as the uncertainty of the situation grows. An infographic released by the University of California Berkeley entitled “Managing Fears and Anxiety around Coronavirus” cites that feelings of “anxiety, worry, panic, helplessness, anger, and hypervigilance to your health and body” are common reactions to this global pandemic. Pandemics are not just a physical phenomenon, they affect people mentally in a plethora of ways. Across the U.S., grocery stores have run out of supplies such as toilet paper and water which has only set people into more of a panic. Many people are participating in “panic buying” in an effort to regain some sense of control.


With so much unknown, it is crucial to take the time to focus on the things you can control. In times like these, it is easy to feel helpless and hopeless. The CDC acknowledges the stress and anxiety produced by the recent outbreak and even proposes numerous tips for managing this stress and anxiety. One tip provided is to take occasional breaks from the media, as the CDC recognizes that “hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting”. It is easy to get wrapped up in headlines and fixate on alarming numbers. Therese J. Borchard, an associate editor with Psych Central, provides detailed instructions on various breathing exercises like coherent breathing, resistance breathing, and breath movement. Breathing exercises can help refocus attention away from negative worries.


Another strategy for managing anxiety during the coronavirus is to embrace the free time. The absence of obligations and a rigid schedule provides time for self-care. Barbara Markway provides countless ways to prioritize one’s self. A few examples that Markway proposes are: taking a hot shower, completing crossword puzzles, journaling, writing down feelings, practicing self-compassion, trying yoga, and face-timing a friend. Other health professionals recommend exercise to keep the body moving, as well as meditation to ease the mind during these difficult times.


It’s easy to lose perspective when there is a global pandemic going on. Of course, this should be taken extremely seriously, however, perspective will help ease anxious minds. Prepare, prepare, prepare, but not too much. The CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) suggest washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water. This is the most effective way to combat the virus. As previously stated, hoarding supplies like toilet paper and water bottles only takes away from the people who actually need said items. Additionally, the increase in demand for masks despite the fact that masks have no scientific backing in regards to their effectiveness in warding off disease, further proves that the public oftentimes blows things out of proportion.


Events that shake the entire world, much like this global pandemic, are rare to come across. For decades psychologists have studied the impact of traumatic events on local communities. Generally speaking, natural disasters unify and foster empathy among communities. In Seville, Spain, a city greatly impacted by COVID-19, residents were filmed working out together from their balconies. Along similar positive lines, an example of a natural disaster fostering empathy was demonstrated in China’s Sichuan province when in 2008, a major earthquake devastated hundreds of thousands. Psychological scientists who were already working in the area when the earthquake hit seized the opportunity to “explore what happens to our noblest impulses under severe environmental insult” (Association of Psychological Sciences). The psychological scientists were amazed when they discovered that 9-year-olds (through a series of tests) appeared significantly more generous after the earthquake than before. The psychological scientists were astonished “that these children could muster any measure of empathy and altruism while still living in the rubble of such a disruptive life experience” (Association of Psychological Sciences). Even under moments of intense stress people have demonstrated throughout history the ability to support others.


It is completely normal to feel anxious, especially during this global event with so much uncertainty. However, make sure to take care of yourself both physically and mentally. We are all in this together!


With love,

Alicia and Becca



If you have felt like the news has been nothing but bad recently, here are some things that will brighten your day!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eb0qWVmpY9U

Italians, Under Coronavirus Lockdown, Keep Their Spirits Up With Singing and Cooking

Compassion in the age of COVID-19

Ten Good News Stories You Need to Read Right Now

Feel-Good Movies

How to Cope During Quarantine: The Arts

39 Best Albums to Listen to While Self-Isolating


Recommended Readings

"There Is Good News About the Coronavirus" from Psychology Today

"10 Healthy Activities to Take Your Mind Off Coronavirus" from Psychology Today

"40 Self-Care Ideas For People Who Aren't Really Into Sheet Masks And Baths" from Buzzfeed

"Taking Good Care Of Yourself" from Mental Health America


References

Borchard, T. (2018). 3 Deep Breathing Exercises to Reduce Anxiety. Psych Central. Retrieved March 17, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/reduce-your-anxiety-this-minute-3-different-types-of-deep-breathing/

Hassan, J. (2020, March 16). During quarantine, balconies worldwide set the stage for DJ sets, squats and singing. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/03/16/under-quarantine-balconies-around-world-set-stage-dj-sets-squats-singing/

Managing Fears and Anxiety around Coronavirus. (2020, March 14). Retrieved March 17, 2020, from University of California Berkley: University Health Services website: https://uhs.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/Fearsanxiety-coronavirus.pdf

Markway, B., & Markway, G. (2014, March 16). Seven Types of Self-Care Activities for Coping with Stress. Retrieved March 17, 2020, from Psychology Today website: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shyness-is-nice/201403/seven-types-self-care-activities-coping-stress

Mental Health and Coping COVID-19. (n.d.). Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention database.

Moukaddam, N., & Shah, A. (2020). Psychiatrists Beware! The Impact of COVID-19 and Pandemics on Mental Health. Psychiatric Times, 37(3). Retrieved from https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/psychiatrists-beware-impact-coronavirus-pandemics-mental-health

Unshakable Humanity: Altruism and Disaster. (2013). Association for Psychological Sciences.