The Coronavirus, Psychological challenges

As we are experiencing now, pandemics affect individuals and society on many levels, they are not just a medical phenomenon. They are going to affect the macro-sphere but also can lead to xenophobia and stigmatization of affected individuals, authority figures, and health care professionals.

At the time of writing this article, Health Canada ( has reported that 736 persons have been infected, 69% of these cases are travellers and another 13% are the persons in close contact with those travellers. At this time, 9 persons have died because of the virus.

Those are the numbers for the physically affected persons, however, the 37,590,000 Canadians and, most likely, everyone on this planet, we have been emotionally and psychologically affected by this global situation and its consequences. This has lead to changes in our daily life.

Pandemics have been linked to panic and stress. As concerns over the perceived threat grow, people start to collect and hoard different items and food. This is often followed by anxiety-related behaviours such as sleep disturbances, hypochondria, psycho-somatizations and intrusive thoughts.

The effects of infectious disease threats manifest with anxiety and panic symptoms: worry about getting an infection, worry about loved ones getting ill, and worry when related symptoms—even minor—are present. The absence of definitive treatment for the coronavirus easily exacerbates anxiety. Contamination obsessions—unwanted, intrusive worry that one is dirty or possibly infected and in need of washing, cleaning, or sterilizing—are very common. There can be complications of excessive cleaning include dry, chapped skin (which can lead to super-imposed infections) and atopic dermatitis. Similarly, overuse of cleaning supplies can lead to inhalational injuries.

One of the main recommendations to fight the spread of the virus is social distancing and to stay at home. However, it is not been said how to live and to cope with this staying at home and isolation. Short periods of isolation can cause increase anxiety or depression within days. If you live on your own, isolation can trigger abuse of alcohol, drugs or self-destructive behaviours. If you live with others, we are not used to be that close for such long periods of time and that can lead to possible frictions and more conflicts in interactions.

Since we need to follow the guidelines and suggestions provided by the authorities, what can be done to alleviate the raising concerns of widespread panic and increasing anxiety in individuals and to face the emotional impact of these challenging times?

Here I propose, based on collecting the information provided by different health agencies around the world, 6 tips on how to take care of our psyche and emotions during this time:

  1. Obtain your information from reliable sources. Follow the guidelines provided by the authorities. Get the facts and stick with the facts to distinguish what it is a real or a perceived threat of the virus.
  2. Engage in healthy distractions such as reading a light-hearted book or watching a funny movie. Also engage in more challenging mental activities such as educating yourself, learning a new language or skill.
  3. Rather than saturating yourself in updates excessively, be mindful of your media and social media exposure and limit it to certain times during the day.
  4. Keep healthy eating and sleeping patterns.
  5. We need to be mindful of how we talk in front of children. Adapt your information to your child’s age. Listen carefully, correct misinformation and open channels of communication. The children have different ways to express their stress and not always they will verbalize it. Pay attention to these behaviours when their children are avoiding responsibilities they used to do; when they have trouble sleeping; they act angry, or they simply feel sad or depressed; develop any disease or pain (mainly in the stomach); they have difficulty separating from you.
  6. Access psychotherapeutic help and support. There is support in-person, using video-conferencing and over the phone. Take advantage of those services provided by many psychotherapists and here it is mine:

We are navigating challenging times, but we need to focus on what it is good and healthy for us, to be kind with ourselves and others and soon this is going to be just another memory.

Pablo Munoz