Coping with Stress During the 2019-nCoV Outbreak (COVID-19)


Author Muhammad Qusyairi, Director of Academic Research & Advocacy.

The outbreak of covid-19 has the potential to cause stress and anxiety to the people all over the world, especially after the World Health Organization (WHO) has labelled coronavirus a pandemic. Due to the uncertainty about the outbreak of the virus, there is no vaccine exists for the virus yet. However, these signs of stress are reasonable as long as we sufficiently monitor our own physical and mental health. Therefore, the public needs to cope with stress during the Covid-19 outbreak.

4 Ways to cope with stress during the 2019-nCoV outbreak :

1. Stay informed

The outbreak of covid-19 has become a global issue; it is vital to stay informed and up to date with the news. The reason being is that people can accurately determine the risk so that they can take precautionary steps to prevent from being infected and slowing the spread of the virus. Failure to obtain such information may result in several problems such as :

  • Fail to comply with the government’s instruction.
  • Do not know reasonable precautions to be done.
  • May cause fear and anxiety.

However, in obtaining pieces of information of the outbreak, it is vital to make sure that that information is credible and reliable. This medium is because there is so many fake news about the outbreak circulating especially on social media. That news would mislead the public and worsen the situation, which can cause unnecessary panic and distress to the public. To prevent this from happening, the public should stop from sharing any information in which the authenticity is still uncertain, so then only credible and reliable information from trustworthy sources are circulating on social media. With credible and reliable information, the public can now determine the risk and can take a reasonable precaution for their safety. According to the American Addiction Centres Resource, feeling safe is the ultimate goal of psychotherapy. It anticipates feeling safe can help the public to reduce stress during the Covid-19 outbreak.

2. Limit or take breaks from watching, reading and listening to the news

Of course, many people feel it is essential to stay informed and always update with the news. However, watching, reading and listening about the outbreak  repeatedly and consistently can be upsetting and intimidating. According to the American Psychological Association, “news consumption has a downside”. Graham Davey, a professor emeritus of psychology at Sussex University in the United Kingdom in his research, found that negative media coverage is a significant mood-changer and the moods it tends to produce are sadness and anxiety. Additionally, based on Leonard Calabrese, Clinical Immunologist, anxiety, stress, and so forth would give a negative impact on our immune system and putting us at risk of getting sick. It signifies that these and other mental health afflictions can also fuel physical ailments. Therefore, the WHO suggests the public limit or take breaks from watching, reading and listening to media coverage and social media feed whenever we start feeling overwhelmed. The limit is different for everyone, so it is quite essential to pay attention to how we are feeling and take reasonable action accordingly. 

As recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), The public should do enjoyable activities with family and friends, especially during the lockdown and social distancing. These include :

  • Cooking together
  • Playing the indoor game, e.g. board game
  • Do house chores together

For the individual, now is the best time to :

  • Complete the work that is pending
  • Catch up with study
  • Home workout
  • Netflix and chill

By doing all these activities, it would help to distract ourselves from continually watching, reading and listening to the news of the outbreak. Indirectly, it also helps us to reduce our stress, and it makes us more productive.

3. Stay Connected

Due to the outbreak of Covid-19, many of countries around the world resort to lockdown and practising social distancing as it is pretty much the only intervention available to make sure the public stay healthy and to break the chain of transmission. However, psychologically speaking, all these may cause the public to be bored and lonely. Dr Patrick Tang, when being interviewed by Al Jazeera, advised the public to maintain their mental health by maintaining the social contact, especially if someone who can easily be depressed or anxious. While in-person visits are limited, the public should be more flexible and creative by using social media such as Skype, WhatsApp etc as a mode communication to connect with family and friends. It is suggested by the HelpGuide not to let Covid-19 topic dominate every conversation as it may cause distress to each other. It is essential to take breaks from stressful thoughts about the Covid-19 outbreak to enjoy each other’s company. Do not hesitate to mute people who are exacerbating their anxiety. Furthermore, the public needs to stay connected with experts such as psychologist, counsellor etc. It is because, in a clinical setting, they help people to alleviate anxiety, depression etc. With the countries that are on lockdown, it is quite challenging to reach with the experts. However, by using social media, it enables the public to stay connected with the experts and get advice from them. 

4. Focus on controllable things

Instead of focusing on questions with unknowable answers and situation which is outside of our control, it is better to pay attention to things that we can control. These include :

(a) Increase a sense of safety 

In order to reduce anxiety, the public can take healthy actions to make them feel safer. The WHO and the CDC suggest the following good hygiene habits to limit the risk of infection:

Wash hand with soap for at least 20 seconds and use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Properly dispose of used tissues.
  • Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, arm, or elbow if you do not have a tissue.
  • Clean your hands after coughing or sneezing.
  • Stay at home if you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with those who are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect objects or surfaces that may have come into contact with germs.

(b) Use practical ways to relax

According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the public must know how to relieve stress, especially during the outbreak of an infectious disease such as Covid-19.

Therefore, they recommended several ways to relax our mind and body. 

These includes :

  • Relax your body often by doing things that work for you—take deep breaths, stretch, meditate, wash your face and hands, or engage in pleasurable hobbies.
  • Pace yourself between stressful activities, and do a fun thing after a hard task.
  •  Use time off to relax—eat a good meal, read, listen to music, take a bath, or talk to the family.
  • Talk about your feelings to loved ones and friends often

By practicing all these, it makes us feel safer than before, and it would also help us from feeling drained, anxious and overwhelmed. According to The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, the feelings of trust, safety and comfort can help in lowering the body’s stress-related responses.