As the number of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) cases rise internationally and across Australia, levels of stress and anxiety are on the increase. These events, for obvious reasons can impact our wellbeing and trigger complex and overwhelming emotions in individuals, groups, and the community. Feelings of anxiety and worry can be expected following stressful or abnormal events, such as the declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic and the associated impacts of this. It is important to understand and learn strategies to manage our feelings and reactions during this time. This article outlines some important information, strategies and resources which can be used to support ourselves and others.

While it’s important to keep up to date with information about risk factors and how to stay safe, constant media coverage about COVID-19 can keep us in a heightened state of worry, which is unpleasant and unhelpful.

If you are feeling distressed by the media, try to limit related media exposure (including social media) and instead access factual information from reliable sources such as the Australian Government’s Health Alert or trusted organisations such as the World Health Organisation (see section “More Information” below).

Understand Common Reactions & Responses to Stressful Events

It’s normal to experience a range of physical and psychological reactions during stressful and abnormal events. For some individuals, reactions can even be a re-experiencing of trauma, stirring up feelings and emotions from previous difficult events or periods of time in your life. It is very important not to compare your reaction to anyone else’s during uncertain, stressful times. We’re all different. Eventually, most people will find their own way of coping, but it can be helpful to understand some of the common reactions and responses – so you know what to look out for in yourself and others.

Here are some very typical reactions to stressful and abnormal events:

Physical – headaches, upset stomach, sleeplessness, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, weight gain or loss, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, muscle tension or pain.

Behavioural – restlessness, apathy, isolating oneself unnecessarily, easily irritated, feeling detached, loss of interest in activities, increased use of alcohol and other drugs, low motivation, poor concentration, avoidance or obsession with media, losing one’s temper, overreacting.

Thinking – significant health anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, being overly focused on the event, difficulty making decisions, poor judgement, feeling a lack of control, unable to understand one’s emotions, thinking you are going crazy, desire to run away or escape.

Emotional – sadness, loss, shock, disbelief, anxiety, fear, anger, panic, frustration, depression, guilt, helplessness, vulnerability, numbness, withdrawal, disorientation, paranoia.

 

How to Practice Self-Care

It’s important to acknowledge – rather than deny – strong emotions. This can make a huge difference to how we cope. Seek support from others and talk about your feelings with those who understand or share a similar experience. In this case, the whole community is impacted in some way, but looking after yourself is important and a priority. This is critical if you are to also care for others such as children, family members, clients, colleagues, etc.

Some strategies for self-care are as follows:

Ultimately though, give yourself permission to feel unsettled. Our reactions can be wildly different but they’re all normal. Be wary of labelling yourself as “abnormal” and remember this is temporary our emotions can change in a day or a week. You might like to journal or keep a diary to help process your emotions along the way.

How to Help Others

In times of stress and uncertainty, it’s important to listen to the needs of others and reassure each other that you are safe. Offer your support, so your friends and loved ones know it is available when they need it. Try to offer empathy rather than advice. Instead of saying ‘stop over-reacting’ or ‘things could be worse’; take time to listen and validate their concerns, then offer suggestions on how they might be able to manage their anxiety and keep things in perspective at this time. The value in leaning on those around us, during times of crisis, cannot be underestimated.

Sharing the facts about COVID-19 and understanding the actual risk to yourself and the people you care about can make an outbreak less stressful for others. Ensure that if you decide to share information with others, you only share accurate information from official sources about COVID-19. In doing so you can help make people feel less stressed and allow you to connect with them. Be very mindful of not making people feel worse by fear mongering or spreading information that may not be true.

 

Keep Things in Perspective

When we are feeling overwhelmed, it is easy to experience things as more severe than they really are. Instead of imagining the worst-case scenario and having repetitive anxious thoughts, it might be helpful to stop for a moment and consider the following:

Remember to focus on the things you can control (e.g., practicing good hygiene), while trying to move your focus away from the things you cannot control. Spending time worrying and thinking about things that you cannot control will only increase your anxiety and stress.

Need Support?

It is important to remember you are not alone. Medicare rebated mental health support for individuals, families and communities is available. Recently, the Australian Federal Government announced funding of a new Medicare service for people in home isolation or quarantine, as a result of coronavirus, to receive bulk-billed telehealth consultations and services. It is anticipated that ‘telehealth attendance’ can include either videoconferencing or phone attendance.

Help is also available through:

Online Psychological Resources

BeyondBlue

BACP – British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

CDC – Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

The University of Melbourne – Counselling & Psychological Services:

APS – Australian Psychological Society

Psychology Today

APA – American Psychological Association

 

More Information (General Health Advice)

Please refer to the official sources listed below for reliable and accurate up-to-date information.

Department of Health advice for health practitioners and the public

This alert is updated daily with the latest medical advice and official reports.

https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert?utm_source=health.gov.au&utm_medium=redirect&utm_campaign=digital_transformation&utm_content=health-topics/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov

Australian Government Department of Health

The Department of Health has developed a collection of resources for the general public, health professionals and industry about coronavirus (COVID-19), including translated resources.

https://bit.ly/38OOwHe

Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention provides reliable information about the coronavirus such as its symptoms, steps you can take to protect yourself, and what to do if you are affected.

https://bit.ly/39MEmI8

World Health Organisation

The World Health Organization provides information and guidance regarding the current outbreak of coronavirus disease.

https://bit.ly/3cQUwCw

Coronavirus Health Information Line

Call this line if you are seeking information on the Coronavirus (COVID-19). The line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Contact 1800 020 080.

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