Effects of the Coronavirus on Mental Health
The news is currently inundated with coverage of the symptoms of the coronavirus and the ways it affects our body. Not as much attention has been given to the impact reactions to COVID-19 might have on the mental health of all members of our society. If you’re experiencing a level of distress that is difficult for you to manage, please use the information below to learn ways to take care of your mental health. Additionally, we highlight the ways that fear of the coronavirus can lead to acts of racism and xenophobia. Given its origin, the fear of contracting disease has activated specifically racist suspicions toward Asians and Asian Americans regardless of their ethnicity.
Recognizing Elevated Distress About the Coronavirus
The following signs may indicate that you are experiencing a level of distress that you need to address:
- Symptoms of anxiety and depression that worsen or do not respond to your typical coping strategies
- Difficulty concentrating
- Decreased academic performance
- Hopelessness and fear about the future
- Changes in personality, especially disruptive behavior or outbursts of irritability/anger
- Difficulty sleeping
- Isolating, withdrawing, or avoiding social situations
- Fear or anxiety about being in public spaces
- Maladaptive coping, such as substance use
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, there are healthier ways to cope.
Techniques to Manage Anxiety
When you feel anxious or distressed about the coronavirus, the following techniques can help you cope:
Recognize that your concern is a valid reaction. Be present and mindful of your emotions to observe when they escalate.
- Maintain your regular routines and social connections to ensure that you’re not isolating yourself.
- Seek accurate information from reliable resources.
- Be aware of the spread of inaccurate or exaggerated information on social media platforms.
- Limit exposure to constant news updates.
- Distinguish possibility from probability.
- For example, it might be possible that you will get infected, but what is the probability? How likely is that to happen?
- Challenge the need for certainty.
- If you are trying to rule out absolutely all possibility of negative outcomes – coming into contact with someone who is sick, touching a surface that a sick person might have touched, determining whether or not someone might be infected – it would be difficult to lead a productive lifestyle. This illness, like all previous viruses will affect some people and not others.
Distinguish between productive and unproductive worry.
Signs of unproductive worry:
- You worry about unanswerable questions.
- You worry about a chain reaction of events.
- You reject a solution because it is not a perfect solution.
- You think you should worry until you feel less anxious.
- You think you should worry until you control everything.
Signs of productive worry:
There is a question that has an answer.
- You are focused on a single event, not a chain reaction.
- You are willing to accept imperfect solutions.
- You do not use your anxiety as a guide.
- You recognize what you can control and what you cannot control.
Practice relaxing rituals, such as meditating, exercising, or engaging in deep breathing exercises.
While concerns about the coronavirus are valid, it is important to remember that anyone can contract and spread it. Recognizing potentially damaging and even dangerous views about the coronavirus is key during this time of increased public health awareness.
Xenophobia and Racism Around the Coronavirus
In a public health crisis, xenophobia can often be disguised as a concern for health and hygiene. Please be aware of the following information regarding xenophobia and racism surrounding the coronavirus:
- Because the coronavirus originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, stereotyping of Asian people has grown as the numbers of cases of the coronavirus rise.
- The outbreak of a contagious disease spreads fear, and when we are afraid, we might not always be our best selves.
- Assess whether your actions to the coronavirus come from a place of prejudice.
- Be aware of engaging in any racist stereotyping, even if it is unintentional. Do not assume that because someone is of Asian descent that they have the coronavirus. Do not make jokes or comments that propagate this stereotype.
- Note when you might be using accusatory language to blame an entire group of people for an epidemic.
- Stigmatizing those who are sick can affect not only their mental health but also their physical health.
- People in scapegoated groups can be more reluctant to seek out medical care when they are symptomatic.
- Be aware of using stigmatizing language, such as referring to people who are not sick as “clean,” which implies that people who are sick are “dirty.”
- Do not let fear and panic guide your actions. No amount of fear can excuse racism.
When you’re mindful of the effects of your actions and views on the coronavirus, you can help stop the spread of harmful stereotypes and other issues of xenophobia and racism.
If you have additional questions or concerns about the coronavirus, the following resources are available: