What to do if news of the coronavirus outbreak is causing your anxiety to spiral

Listening to the news can be a stressful experience.

coronavirus anxiety
(Image credit: Getty Images)

In our always-on world, a constant stream of notifications, pings, dings, and news alerts already had many of us feeling stressed out.

But with news of the coronavirus pandemic now rolling out on a minute-by-minute basis, our anxiety has only intensified.

Non-stop notifications about the rising death tolls, breaking news about seemingly endless event cancellations and school/workplace closures, and incessant tweets and articles about self-isolation can be truly overwhelming.

And it may be even more difficult to handle if you already struggle with anxiety anyway.

Various studies over the last few years have already proven the ill-effects of being so addicted to our screens, and the constant stream of information they provide.

MORE:Working from home during the coronavirus outbreak? Here's how to make sure you're still productive

Last year, the University of Glasgow found that heavy social media use was linked to poor sleep in teenagers, while other research has found that browsing the web increases our stress levels.So it's no surprise that the relentless updates on the coronavirus and its spread may be proving to be too much for your already frazzled mind.

After all, while it's important to be informed, safe, and sensible, for the health of others as well as ourselves, seeing constant reminders of the situation is understandably stressful.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Natasha Bijlani, said, "Our Government has an absolute duty to keep the public informed about such an important matter - but not all of us can handle a 24/7 barrage of information on television, radio, and especially social media with equanimity."

What are the best things to do to help your own mental health then, if news of the coronavirus is sparking a spiral in your anxiety?

Coronavirus anxiety: how to tackle it

Don't be afraid to curate your news and social media feeds

The World Health Organisation (WHO) advises avoiding watching or reading any news that you feel could cause you stress, and it's great advice.

Just because the entire world seems to be Tweeting, Facebooking, or writing about the coronavirus, it doesn't mean you need to position yourself within the narrative. If you find that reading the latest updates on the situation are negatively impacting your mental health, switch over from the six o'clock news, turn off your phone, and turn on Friends instead. It really is okay, and you don't need permission from anyone else to do what is best for your mental health.

However, if you're not 100% sure you can cut yourself off from social media altogether, there are ways around it. On Twitter for example, you can mute words that you find cause a spike in your anxiety, by going to Settings, then Content Preferences, and adding in the words you'd like to mute.

Limit your news intake to just one or two times a day

If you find yourself getting stressed out by one news notification, followed by another 10 minutes later, and another half an hour after, updating you on the latest statistics, it's time to withdraw.

While it's important to know how to prepare yourself for self-isolation, and how to stay hygienic, there's no practical need for you to get an hourly update on the latest death toll, for example, if it's sending your anxiety levels through the roof.

WHO recommends allocating news checking to just once or twice a day. Dr Natasha advised, "If you are especially sensitive and fearful, perhaps ask a relative or trusted friend to only provide you with filtered down updates on any practical guidance that is issued and avoid news channels. You don’t need to keep hearing about the details of spread or number of deaths."

Remember that worry and panic does nothing to help the situation - it only harms you

While anxiety is there to protect us, worrying over the odds isn't helpful. Dr Natasha told w&h, "Anxiety can be a helpful and protective emotion, and is a response to threat or danger, but it can become counterproductive and damaging if it is excessive or prolonged."

It's been proven that anxiety and stress can cause headaches, disturbed sleep, and can even lower your immune system, so doing what you can to relax and reduce your anxiety is one of the best things you can actually do for your health.

Practice relaxation and meditation techniques

Similarly, during the coronavirus outbreak Dr Natasha suggests that general techniques for dealing with anxiety during times of national panic could prove beneficial.

She said, “Learn and practice active relaxation techniques such as deep breathing if you experience physical tension. Distract yourself with pleasurable activities such as reading, art, music etc.

MORE:What is anxiety? Anxiety symptoms, treatment and how to get rid of it for good

"Eat well, hydrate yourself and get adequate sleep and exercise. Keep to your usual routine and occupation as much as possible, depending on updated guidance from the Government."

Try and reason with the reality of the situation

Don't let alarmist headlines suck you in. Although the coronavirus is a global health crisis, and should of course be taken seriously, it might be helpful to remind yourself of the realities.

Dr Natasha reminds us, “Remember that we are all in this situation together. Try not to ‘catastrophise’ and imagine the worst-case scenario for yourself. While news broadcasts seem to be regularly reporting the numbers affected and actual fatalities, vastly more people survive the infection than not. So even if you are infected, you are more likely to survive the infection that not."

She suggested that it could also help to refocus on those who may really be struggling.

“Consider offering appropriate help and support to elderly or unwell neighbours or friends," she suggested. "Shifting perspective from concern for yourself to aiding others can act as an effective way of diluting your own anxiety and is very good for your own mental health."

While self-isolation measures may prevent you from visiting, perhaps order an online food shop for an older relative or neighbour, or offer to chat with them regularly on the phone to make self-isolation less lonely for them.

If youhave to self-isolate here are 5 handy tips on how to do it with minimum stress....

Coronavirus anxiety: How to self-isolate without stress

If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, it's natural to have anxiety about it. But it's important to self-isolate for at least seven days, according to NHS. And if you live with other people, they'll need to do it too to avoid the potential infection spreading outside the home.

But there's a way to do it so your daily life won't be too affected:

  • Follow NHS guidelines

The best way to stay safe during the pandemic is to follow the guidelines issued by the NHS. They are clear and accurate facts, without the frenzy of the news. By following the advice offered, you're likely to feel calmer and more relaxed - knowing you're doing all you can.

  • Order a delivery

If you're worried about not being able to access basic essentials, try ordering an online delivery. Services such as Tesco, Ocado and Asda all deliver within certain time slots and you can just ask them to leave your shopping outside your door.

  • Drink plenty of water and eat enough food

If you are suffering from symptoms - whether they be coronavirus related or just an unfortunate common cold - it's important to hydrate and eat full meals.

  • Stay in contact via the internet

Even though you're not allowed to go out to see friends or have them come to you, that doesn't mean that your relationships with will suffer. Jump on a phone call to chat about your day, or if you've got an iPhone you can FaceTime your friends and family to speak to them face-to-face over the phone.

  • Distract yourself with things you enjoy

Making time in your day to do things that you enjoy is a good way to distract yourself from the news cycle. Why not turn off the TV and dig out those books you've been wanting to read? Or you could even do an online course, on a subject you've always been interested in.

Amy Hunt

Amy Hunt is an experienced digital journalist specialising in homes, interiors and hobbies. She began her career working as the features assistant at woman&home magazine, before moving over to the digital side of the brand where she eventually became the Lifestyle Editor up until January 2022. Amy won the Digital Journalist of the Year award at the AOP Awards in 2019 for her work on womanandhome.com.