Dealing with Anxiety Around COVID-19

Download a PDF copy here.

Dealing with the anxiety around COVID-19

Written by Amanda Curran, AAPi Vice President and Director of Family
Matters Psychology. Originally posted at https:// 17 March 2020

Turn on the TV and it is all you see and hear about, when you leave the house no doubt you will talk to someone about it, walk into a grocery store and you may be alarmed by the spare space on the shelves. Events are being cancelled, schools are cancelling assemblies and excursions and travellers are required to self-isolate for 2 weeks after their return to Australia or face detention as of midnight last night. It would be easy to panic, feel your heart race when someone sneezes or coughs around you, but is this helpful? For the majority of people COVOD-19 will not enter your home and if it does you will feel unwell for a week or so (or may not even know you have it) and then recover fully, able to re-enter your life fully after all symptoms have subsided. Some however will get very ill, very quickly and will need medical attention. According to the World Health Organisation those that are more at risk are those that are elderly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People and those that have pre- existing chronic medical conditions such as respiratory illness, heart disease and who are immunocompromised due to illness such as cancer. For these reasons they have advised to reduce visiting to Aged Care Facilities and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities. At this stage it is not known whether very young children and babies are more at risk but there has been a low rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases in children compared to the general population.

What can help to lower anxiety about COVID-19
1. Know the facts about how you can reduce your exposure. It can help to deal with the intrusive thoughts that go with anxiety if you know you have reduced your risk. At the current time covering your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue, disposing of tissues properly, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, avoid touching your face as much as possible, social distancing (staying 1.5m away from others), reducing kissing and touching with people who are unwell, if you are sick then avoid contact with others and good hygiene is recommended with washing hands regularly with soap and water or hand sanitiser if you do not have access to soap and water. My children’s school taught the kids to wash their hands for as long as it takes to sing happy birthday twice. For those that do not know the song, singing it twice will take you about 20-30 seconds.
2. Be realistic about your chances of getting COVID-19. Currently, Australia does not have widespread transmission of COVID-19. Just because there is a low chance doesn’t mean you should ignore it though. If you are doing all the right things to reduce your risk you can rest assured it is unlikely you will contract the virus or become seriously ill if you do become infected. In time this rate will rise but right now we need to be cautious but not alarmed.
3. Get the flu shot when it is released soon if this is what your GP recommends. There is currently a vaccine in development for COVID-19 but it will not be available for some time.
4. TURN OFF THE TELEVISION AND NEWSFEED ON YOUR PHONE! In times of crisis people tend to try to source as much information as they can and watch or read as much news about it as possible. All this does is increase anxiety as very little will change day to day. If you must look, look once a day and turn it off.
trauma, their children’s health emergencies or from abuse in their past. This type of diagnosis has the pattern of making people more hypervigilant and concerned about safety and well-being. If you have this diagnosis or are experiencing this then it is important to seek some support (whether that is from your informal supports or from a professional is up to you). This type of traumatic experience can also make us more concerned about our loved ones and especially our children’s safety.
6. Be as calm as possible around your children. They are little thermometers that will react if the atmosphere in the family is getting a bit hot. My children were very surprised at our families self-

6. Be as calm as possible around your children. They are little thermometers that will react if the atmosphere in the family is getting a bit hot. My children were very surprised at our families self- isolation this weekend as we are usually very active in the community on weekends. The sudden change really shocked them and we got a lot of questions. We made the mistake of being a little bit too real and not age appropriate in the way we explained things and inadvertently caused some anxiety for our youngest who is 5. So watch your language around your kids. Explaining what is going on in simple language such as there a lot of yucky sicknesses around at the moment and we are making sure we keep our hands extra clean and not going around places where people are sick, is much easier for children to cope with than telling them people are dying (which in reality is pretty rare in Australia). There is a great little book here that explains COVID-19 in child friendly terms here - 64c685_319c5acf38d34604b537ac9fae37fc80.pdf

7. My main concern is how to balance working from home with children who may not be able to go to school if schools close. Anyone relate?? What I have found helpful and what some other bloggers are doing is breaking the day down into chunks of time with activities rotating throughout the day. It doesn’t need to be a strict schedule but it does need to stimulate kids and engage them so that you don’t get the side effect of challenging behaviours. Children’s brains are growing rapidly and we need to feed them with variety and with engaging activities. Some examples from our self-isolation weekend are; we started off chilling with some TV for an hour or so (probably more lol) and rotated through going outside and doing some gardening, jumping on the trampoline and playing on the swings, clearing out the sandpit and playing with mixing water into the sand and doing experiments, meals together, some time on Ipad or computer doing learning activities such as Homer Reading (for the 5 year old) or Maths games (for the 8 year old twins), building a blanket fort (everything is more fun in a blanket fort – seriously), origami (in the blanket fort), silent reading for the big kids and reading to the young one and cooking. It was a busy weekend but we all had a bit of fun and there were no real arguments or challenges.
8. Even if we go into lockdown we will still be able to purchase groceries. You do not need to stockpile. Getting what you need is important but going out and buying excessive amounts of food is going to increase your financial stress and mean that others may not be able to access the food they need. Be sensible with your shopping.
9. Life has to go on. You can’t sit around at home locking the world out for months on end -

loneliness will be a real challenge for people if they start isolating completely without having the need to do so. If you can't go out still try to get some sunlight and fresh air and make phone or text contact with people throughout the day.
10. Some funding bodies allow for you to use telehealth to get your treatment with a mental health professional. Talk to your provider about whether this option is allowed for you if you have concerns about going to your providers office or your provider coming to your home. It is important that you continue to seek treatment for your mental health if you are experiencing difficulties.
11. If you have concerns about your mental health in this crisis you can also access a mental health care plan from your GP. These sessions can even be provided by telehealth (phone or via a teleconferencing app like facetime, zoom, skype, etc) if you meet the following criteria;
(a) the person has been diagnosed with COVID-19 virus but who is not a patient of a hospital; or (b) the person has been required to isolate themselves in quarantine in accordance with home isolation guidance issued by Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC); or
(c) the person is considered more susceptible to the COVID-19 virus being a person who is: 

(i) at least 70 years old; or
(ii) at least 50 years old and is of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent; or
(iii) is pregnant; or
(iv) is a parent of a child under 12 months; or (v)isalreadyundertreatmentforchronichealthconditionsorisimmunecompromised; or

(d) the person meets the current national triage protocol criteria for suspected COVID-19 infection.

Who is AAPi?

The AAPi is a not-for-profit peak body for psychologists that aims to
preserve the rich diversity of psychological practice in Australia. Formed in 2010 by a group of passionate grassroots psychologists, the AAPi’s primary goal is to address funding inequality in the profession and represent all psychologists and their clients equally to government and funding bodies. AAPi’s core values are democracy, diversity and unity.

What is AAPi’s mission?

AAPi’s primary mission is to lobby for fair access to professional psychological services funded under the current Medicare Better Access Scheme. Under the current 'two-tiered’ system, services provided by clinical psychologists (tier one) attract a higher rebate than those provided by registered psychologists (tier two). This means that Medicare differentiates the services provided by psychologists from those provided by clinical psychologists.

AAPi sees the two-tier system as fundamentally divisive. It has resulted in a now-commonly held misconception that the small group who make up only 24% of all psychologists hold greater qualifications, expertise and competency than the remaining 76% of their colleagues. This simply isn’t true. The AAPi wants to set the story straight and restore psychology to a diverse and unified profession.

What about COVID-19?

As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads around the world, AAPi is working hard to keep its members and their patients informed of all developments as they relate to the profession. This includes information about the latest announcements regarding telehealth sessions, including sessions conducted by video-conference or over the telephone.

Outbreaks such as COVID-19 and the intense media reporting surrounding it can significantly and negatively impact the mental health of individuals and our communities, especially those already experiencing mental illness. It’s important to remember at this time that health is not just the absence of disease and not just physical health, but also includes mental wellbeing. AAPi is committed to supporting its members and their clients up to date on the latest developments through these challenging times.