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How to stay calm during the coronoavirus outbreak

The new strain of the coronavirus is now causing heightened anxiety worldwide. Here, Psychotherapist Liz Ritchie shares some advice on how to stay calm during a public health emergency.

"Social media channels and worldwide news are providing daily updates about the latest outbreaks and mortality rates. As a result, many people are fearful and worried, and it would seem that the anxiety is spreading more rapidly that the virus itself, causing unnecessary fear and panic. During times like this, it is of course normal to feel worried or nervous about catching a potentially deadly virus, but for some the fear, anxiety and worry can also become abnormal. In this situation it is important to understand why many people may have an alarmist response.

This is a very dynamic and uncertain situation and as such, many may feel that they have no control. This in itself can cause fear and alarm. As humans, knowing what we can control and what we cannot is intrinsic to our wellbeing and mental health. So what can we best do to keep calm, safe and allay catastrophic feelings of doom? 

Have a realistic perspective; yes the virus is a real threat, but panicking can only serve to fuel unhelpful thoughts and feelings. Try and limit time on social media. It is important to remain informed, but try and achieve a healthy balance by sticking to factual data, e.g. World Health Organisation (WHO), rather than some of the emotionally driven websites. Don’t jump to conclusions or be fatalistic; work with facts! Look at the information available. Avoid scaremongering language like 'plague', 'pandemic', 'death toll' etc that only serve to feed anxiety. It is a fact that some have sadly died as a result of the coronavirus, however the present reality is that it is exceptionally rare.

Try and accept that nothing is certain. However, console yourself with the fact that although the coronavirus is still unknown, scientific work is continually being done to learn more and stay ahead of the virus.

Reduce your feelings of helplessness; Focus on what you can do rather than what you cannot to keep safe. This is your responsibility - this is what you can control! Minimise the risk of infection within your own environment. Be mindful of good sanitation and avoid international travel if advised to do so. Taking charge of your physical and psychological environment will enable to keep perspective whilst still acknowledging the serious concerns about the coronavirus in a healthier non catastrophic way."