Coronavirus fear –  How do you manage it? And how can you take care of your mental and emotional wellbeing if you are in isolation or quarantine or have COVID-19?

You may be worried about coronavirus or not (yet). You might be affected by it or not (yet). I say ‘yet’, because the story of the coronavirus seems to change and expand on a daily basis. And so may be the way we feel about it, and the way in which our lives may be impacted by it in very real and practical ways.

As of 2nd March 2020 we are told the worldwide stats are:  89.000 infected, 3000 dead across 68 countries and the numbers are growing rapidly.

You may think there is too much information or too little. Depending on where you live you may think this is a more or less important story affecting other parts of the world or countries. You may have a lot or very little information. You may mis/trust the information you receive. By the time you read it, the coronavirus reality may have changed for the better or for the worse.

Here are some types coronavirus fear you may be experiencing.

Worries for your health or that of others, your income, financial security and survival.

Uncertainty about how to best prepare for something that may happen or not. You may find it difficult to get reliable information, or items such as face masks, hand sanitisers etc.

Wondering how to separate hysteria and panic from reasonable concerns. You may feel under siege and cannot separate fear from anxiety.

These can be challenging times for people with health anxiety or news anxiety. Then again, if this is you, you may feel rightly or wrongly reassured by the anxiety of others.

If you have pre-existing health concerns or conditions, then you may be more vulnerable than most to viruses and how they may affect you.

Fear about being actually or potentially ostracised or attacked because of your racial or  geographic background and more.

If you currently live in self-imposed or state / government imposed isolation or quarantine (on your own or with your family), then you may experience the emotional impact of social isolation and being confined to a potentially small space (away from home) without being able to go outdoors. There may be practical worries and considerations about getting food and essentials or losing income. Missing your daily routine, stimulation, exercise and such can also lead to mental and emotional concerns like loneliness, boredom, anxiety and depression. Physical inactivity can lead to physical health concerns, impacts weight management and can also add to anxiety and depression.

You may experience a sense of loss of control, having to abide by orders and rules set by others (eg governments, hotels, airlines) which you may disagree with and which may make life difficult for you.

You may have the virus and are hospitalised in your own or another country. The worry about what may happen, being isolated, perhaps in a place where you do not speak the language, without the support of loved ones, and the worry for others – all that can add up to a highly stressful situation.

These are just some possible scenarios and experiences of coronavirus fear, which can make for traumatic experiences. If so, then they need to be addressed as they can affect our mental, emotional as well as physical wellbeing.

What is the “right” response to coronavirus – emotionally and practically?

Here are some suggestions you may find of use. Depending on your own circumstances and experiences do feel free to add your advice by commenting at the end of this article.

Please bear in mind it is written based on the information available at that time. 

Managing fear

Whether you have a tendency to be anxious in general or regards health specifically or not, coronavirus fear can heighten your level of anxiety and may even lead to catastrophizing or panic attacks.

Fear can make us feel disempowered and the victim of circumstances we appear to have little control over.

Try and stay rational; use the coping strategies you may have already learnt or seek help with learning such strategies from a counsellor or therapist, mindfulness courses, meditation, breathing techniques and such. It is all about calming your mind and physical body, so you can regain and strengthen your ability to think rationally and keep things in perspective.

Be prepared

None of us knows what may lie ahead. Try and be prepared practically and emotionally. For some future scenario planning can lead to anxiety, for others this can lessen anxiety. Whatever you do, try and make sure you keep a balanced perspective.

I am not advocating panic or panic buying by any means. But think what essentials including  medication, savings etc you (and your family) may need to be comfortable for a period of time. How would you keep yourself meaningfully occupied if you had to stay at home?

What if you find yourself suddenly in quarantine on your holiday or business trip locally or abroad?

You may also want to review any travel plans you have made for holidays or work, or your daily commute. Are adjustments needed – if not now, perhaps at a later stage? Keep monitoring the situation.

Some people like to have an emergency bag packed for unexpected hospital visits etc. If you think this may help you, then think about what you may need, if you are allowed to take things with you.

If you are concerned about pre-existing health conditions, then speak with your medical team about questions you may have.

Talk about coronavirus fear at home to help get used to talking and thinking about it in rational and practical term.

Hygiene measures

Be familiar with and exercise essential and coronavirus specific hygiene measures. If necessary educate your family accordingly and help raise awareness among your friends and at work (as appropriate). The World Health Organisation has put together some useful material here.

The power of your mind

You may have seen and read about people finding themselves in dire circumstances due to the coronavirus or COVID-19. While not trying to minimise the potential and actual severity of any situation, I would like to encourage you to believe:

Your mind is a powerful instruments. Use it wisely.

Feeling frightened, bereft and hopeless can be justified and normal. Yet we also have the power with our minds to adjust our attitude and thereby lessen stress and anxiety. “Easier said than done” you may say. Yes, but we all have to start somewhere.

Familiarize yourself with tools and strategies that can calm your mind and empower you to find positive thoughts during challenging times.

Nelson Mandela once said of his time in prison “I went for a long holiday for 27 years.”

None of us wants to get the coronavirus or be quarantined. However, if you should end up in isolation because of the disease (even if you do not have it), then you need to be able to use your mind to your advantage.

Also read A short introduction to mindfulness, especially if you think it’s not for you and How to turn feeling hopelessness into hope.

Every situation has a beginning and an end. Remind yourself of that, even if you find yourself suddenly and unexpectedly in isolation, whether away from home or not, forced to abide by rules, and not knowing what to expect.

If you are in isolation

As I have already explained, coronavirus fear can heighten our anxiety and lead to depression. Being in quarantine and / or receiving treatment can make us feel emotionally isolated and lonely, and (apart from the virus and its treatment) can also have a range of implications for our physical health.

“I found solitary confinement the most forbidding aspect of prison life. There was no end and no beginning; there is only one’s own mind, which can begin to play tricks.” (Nelson Mandela)

Try and design a daily routine that helps give you a supportive and meaningful structure. Days spent watching TV, online gaming, chatting, eating, drinking etc can lead to stress, anxiety, depression, lethargy and emptiness.

A balanced routine of:

  • set times for getting up, going to bed and meals
  • keeping wherever you are staying in order
  • personal hygiene
  • getting dressed
  • exercise
  • communicating with others
  • setting and working towards achieving goals (like completing a task or learning a new skill)

These are all essential in order to retain emotional and mental energy.

For some spiritual energy will be important. Regular moments of prayer or non-denominational affirmations or chanting can be an important source of strength.  Music and creativity can be equally meaningful.

Keeping in touch with others is essential which you can do online. If you should be without access, then writing a diary or letters for sharing lateron will have to do.

Being in isolation without human touch or being spoken or listened to can be challenging.

Remember – you are not alone. You may be one of few or one of many, but you are not alone.

Whether we have the virus or not, we all have our part to play in taking care, being prepared, and having a helpful mind set in place. @KarinSieger (Click to Tweet!)

I hope these suggestions are of some value to you, and help start you thinking and perhaps debating with others in a way that is useful and empowering.

If you are struggling with the emotional and mental impact of the coronavirus crisis, then find out about my coronavirus online support talk here.

Article first published on

Karin Sieger is a psychotherapist, writer and podcast host. She offers support globally with motivation, personal transitions, grief, making peace and the emotional impact of cancer, with which Karin has been diagnosed twice. She does her writing and recording on her orange houseboat in London. You can sign up for her free newsletter, and listen to her podcasts ‘Soul Cravings’ and ‘Cancer and You’. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube Channel.

Image courtesy of Andrew Tanglao.