Coronavirus – How we might be affected emotionally

March 13th, 2020

Here is some guidance from HSE Psychological Services on minding our emotional well-being in relation to the coronavirus. While we are aware that some of the exercises in it are not suitable for everyone, we hope you find something of support to you.

With Covid 19 we are all experiencing a new and challenging event. We may find ourselves worried to some extent, some more, some less. Not everybody will experience it in the same way. It is the uncertainty that generates fear and the absence of control.

Our response will be a normal reaction to something we are not used to. This response is likely to be a part in our lives for the next days/weeks.

In time, it will pass.

We may notice some of the following:

  • Feeling on edge more than we are accustomed to
  • Finding ourselves checking for symptoms, both in ourselves and others
  • Becoming irritable more easily.
  • We may feel insecure and it may even be a little difficult to settle ourselves
  • Fearing that normal aches and pains might be the virus
  • Have difficulties sleeping
  • Find it difficult to stop ourselves thinking of the worst.


How to manage our worry

  1. Social media and facts
  • We need to be aware that a lot of what is on social media is opinion, not fact.
  • In social media people may be talking about their worries and beliefs − we don’t need to make them ours. Too much time on social media may only be increasing our worries- we could consider limiting our social media usage and just check the HSE websites for information:
  • A lot of the information we are receiving is coming from a global perspective: it is best for us to refer to what is happening in our own country and locality.
  • When we are worried we can often focus on a worst case scenario: it is best to focus on facts. If we are concerned about something it is best to check it out to see if it is factual.
  • Fear can be as contagious as the Covid-19 virus -so the challenge is to get a balanced perspective.
  1. Managing what is within our control
  • Feeling worried is a normal reaction to something that feels threatening. We are human beings and when we feel under threat our survival instincts kick in so we might spend time thinking about the dangers. The key is to accept these thoughts as a normal response and let them pass.
  • We may find ourselves blaming others for the situation, while this may be natural, it is also unfair and could risk stigmatising people.
  • Facing any risk and keeping it in perspective will be helpful. Each year we face the risks from influenza and other transmissible diseases. For most of us, we have got used to this and carry on as normal.
  • If it becomes necessary, making a plan to prepare for the needs of our families will help us to ‘park’ the worries and get back to what we are doing in the present moment.
  • If advised by the HSE, taking any necessary steps will help us to feel responsible and more in control. We will know that we are doing our best to look after ourselves, our families/friends and our community.
  1. Take a breath
  • Practicing a breathing exercise will help to soothe our body and become more settled. See the breathing exercises at the end of this article.
  1. Staying in the present moment
  • What do you normally do for relaxation? If possible it would be good if we do things that help us relax.
  • If we have experience of Mindfulness, Yoga or Pilates we can also use it help to relax our body. Mindfulness simply means that we focus closely on the present moment.
  1. Keeping our routines and good self-care
  • It’s best if we maintain a normal routine and regular structure in our lives as far as possible and in line with HSE advice.
  • It’s best to talk about our concerns to family and friends.
  • We would be best avoiding excess alcohol, recreational drugs, caffeine and nicotine.
  • We should try to balance activity with rest as best as we can. We will do better if we get enough sleep.
  • We should try to eat regular healthy meals.
  • If possible, it would be good if we find a way to engage in activities that are fun.


Ways of Managing our Worry: Breathing Exercises

Try one of the following breathing exercises and see which one works best for you:

1) Deep, slow breaths: Inhale through the nose fully right down into the bottom of your lungs and exhale through the mouth (repeat 2-3 times and return to our normal breath)

2) ‘Tension Down’ exercise:

  1. Stand or sit with feet firmly on the floor.
  2. Inhale through the nose and as you do notice any tension you have in your body. Imagine that you are ‘picking up this tension’ as you breathe in.
  3. Exhale through your nose and slowly breathe out saying ‘Tension Down’. Imagine the tension flowing down through your body, through your feet and out of the room and far away.
  4. You can repeat the Tension Down exercise once or twice at a time. Then any time you notice yourself becoming tense repeat the sequence.


3) Breathing out for longer

  1. Inhale through the nose to a count of 1,2,3,4
  2. Exhale through the mouth for a count of 1,2,3,4,5 or 6
  3. Repeat above steps for a minute or two, working at whatever pace is comfortable for you. When you are used to the practice you can stop the counting, so long as the out-breath is a little longer than the in-breath.
  4. Return to your own natural breath.


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