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Understanding Coronavirus Anxiety

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28 April 2020
By Ronit Joel – Psychologist

Many of us are experiencing an increase in stress and anxiety in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. This is completely understandable and to be expected given the nature of the current situation.

Social distancing and increased isolation is also making it difficult for many of us to do the things we usually do to keep ourselves physically and emotionally healthy.  

The changes to normal daily life can invoke a type of grief and loss experience for many of us - adjusting to loss of connection, routine and for some the loss of jobs, income and financial security.   

There may also be a level of anticipatory grief: the sense that more loss is still to come. This can contribute to further anxiety and depression as negative thoughts and worries escalate, causing significant distress.

It can be helpful to recognise and understand the range of emotions and feelings that might arise under these circumstances:

Feeling on edge
You may be feeling a sense of dread that something bad is about to happen. You may experience symptoms of hypervigilance including scanning for possible threats, being on guard, or particularly sensitive to sudden sounds or movements.  

Feeling angry
You might find yourself feeling more irritable and easily frustrated, or struggling to cope with small obstacles and inconveniences. This can be understood as ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’. Many find it helpful to recognise that it may be the build-up of many changes, losses and obstacles, both big and small, that are contributing to these feelings of anger and irritability.

Feeling hopeless
You may be thinking through and preparing for the worst-case scenario, or ruminating over losses and disappointments. This is completely understandable, especially given the loss of control coupled with uncertainty about when and how the current situation will resolve.

Fatigue or exhaustion
When anxiety is heightened, our body experiences an increase in the “fight-or-flight” response: the physiological process that gets our body ready to react to a perceived threat. The over-activation of this response system can lead to adrenal fatigue and feelings of exhaustion. Even if we are getting plenty of sleep, we might not feel rested, and may experience symptoms such as fatigue, difficulty concentrating and a lack of motivation.

It’s important to understand and recognise these signs and symptoms for what they are: an understandable reaction to an external event, not a weakness of character.

All too often, we have a tendency to blame ourselves for our psychological injuries, which only serves to exacerbate our distress.  

We will all respond to this situation differently, due to a range of factors including our personal and external resources, background factors and other risk factors. Some people will experience a greater level of distress or have fewer resources available during this difficult time.

We all have our own individual coping styles, and some of the strategies we typically use may not be currently available. For some people, professional support and treatment may assist with increased understanding and awareness of the signs and symptoms of anxiety, and the development of individually tailored coping strategies.

Your GP can assess your eligibility for a Mental Health Treatment Plan and refer you to a Psychologist for up to 10 Medicare-rebated counselling sessions. Psychologists are still able to see people face to face (with appropriate social distancing measures) and are also now widely available via Telehealth. Jewish Care’s Individual and Family Services team can also assist individuals to connect to appropriate low-cost mental health supports.

While it is clear that the current situation presents many significant challenges, it can also provide an opportunity to pause and reflect on what is most meaningful to us as individuals. Finding this meaning and purpose can help us to cope and buffer us from stress. It can also help us thrive once the pandemic is over – many of us may well find some important learnings about health and wellbeing that we can carry with us when we begin to return to our everyday lives.

Jewish Care gratefully acknowledges the support of the professionals in our community who contribute to our pro-bono psychology offering.