Mar 13, 2020 How to Manage Stress and Anxiety from Coronavirus (COVID-19)

As COVID-19 continues to spread, stress and anxiety surrounding the situation also continue to rise. While fear and anxiety are natural and completely normal emotions to experience, there’s no reason that fear over the coronavirus should completely consume your life.

Overcoming the Fear of the Unknown

We are programmed to plan and feel much more comfortable even with the illusion of control. Fear of the unknown is what makes people anxious and this is especially true in today’s climate with concerns about coronavirus growing.

The unknown makes people uneasy because they feel like they cannot plan accordingly and, in an effort to take control of a situation, people may start to overreact. This can cause people to go overboard, like in cases where we’re seeing hoarding of food, toilet paper, cleaning supplies and water. These actions are simply anxieties fueled by fear and misinformation and unfortunately, the unknowns around coronavirus are not something we can change right now, but we are continuing to learn more each day.

However, there are things you can do to alleviate your fears and anxieties surrounding the virus. First and foremost, arm yourself with facts. Staying tuned in to accurate and the essential fact-driven information from reliable sources, rather than tuning in to the fears or rumors, can help your mental health tremendously at this time. Information that comes via word of mouth can get exaggerated and can be misleading, causing increased experiences of fear and anxiety for many. Find trusted and vetted sources from whom to get your information and updates. The best sources for accurate, trusted information are:

Self-Care & Stress Management

While it’s important to check trusted sources for information and updates, there’s no need to be tuned into the news all day. Ongoing news reports can contribute to increased anxiety and stress. Set a limit on how much time you spend checking the news. Check in with the news once in the morning and once in the evening and maybe again in the middle of the day if you’re traveling.

Other ways you can manage your stress during this time include:

  • Adequate sleep – ensure you’re getting 6-8 hours of sleep a night
  • Up your vitamin C intake – citrus fruits are the best way to boost your immune system
  • Meditation – even three minutes of meditation a day can have positive effects on your health
  • Light exercise – take a walk around the neighborhood; fresh air and sunlight are great for your immune system and can increase your mood and decrease your anxiety levels
  • Socialize – even if we are being encouraged to embrace social isolation, you don’t have to cut yourself off from everyone. Use alternative methods to socialize and check in with friends via FaceTime or give them a call
  • At-home hobbies – adult coloring, puzzles or just catching up on that great TV show you’ve been promising yourself you’d watch are great stress relievers

Talking to Your Kids About Coronavirus

To help alleviate the panic and anxiety your children feel surrounding coronavirus, use matter-of-fact language when communicating. Stick with simple, yet age-appropriate language and educate them about ways to prevent catching the virus.

A good way to put children and teens at ease is to give them concrete safety tasks and precautions that they can take to feel more in control. For example, calmly explain to them we are going to be washing our hands more often and when we can’t wash our hands, we will be using hand sanitizer. These are simple and non-scary actions that they can take to protect themselves.

If schools are closed, try to utilize the time at home effectively and efficiently. Ensure that all take-home assignments are completed and keep the structure going. Kids without structure can get more anxious, nervous and hyperactive, so put your own daily structure in place at home. Establish a schoolwork time, free-time, lunch time, etc. just like in school.

For more information about what you should know about the coronavirus please visit:

Lina Shihabuddin

Lina Shihabuddin, MD, Psychiatrist and Chief Medical Officer, Primary Care,
RWJBarnabas Health medical group