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How To Cope With Anxiety In The Face Of COVID-19

A clinical psychologist's advice

Besides the obvious physical health threats COVID-19 presents, the virus has also had a knock-on effect across many areas of our lives. As a result, we are now facing a mental health pandemic.

Many will grapple with the virus themselves, support a family member or friend through it, or – heaven forbid – may grieve the loss of a loved one due to the disease. Meanwhile, industries that have traditionally been stable have begun to crumble and as a result, unemployment rates surge. 

And, that’s not all. The self-isolation measures required to combat the spread of COVID-19 can also cause issues in themselves. For victims of domestic violence, being in the home is not safe ordinarily. But self-isolation places victims at the hands of their abusers for sustained periods of time, putting these already-vulnerable persons at a dangerously increased risk of abuse.

Self-isolation can also cause many to feel lonely and cut off from their support networks especially those who may live alone or those who either don’t have access to technology to stay in touch or aren’t well versed in it.

RELATED: How Coronavirus Quarantining Could Lead To An Increase In Domestic Violence

Any of these factors alone could contribute to heightened feelings of anxiety and stress as well as extreme strain on one’s mental health. But, due to COVID-19, we’re seeing many of these events take place simultaneously, battering individuals with blows from all directions. This is further compounded by the fact many Australians are still reeling from the consequences of last summer’s devastating bushfires and February’s flash floods.

During these unprecedented times, it is more important than ever to make your mental health a priority.

marie claire spoke to clinical psychologist and Activist Practitioner Magazine Editor, Ruth Nelson, about how to manage anxiety and stress during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. 


Ruth emphasises anyone experiencing anxiety at this time should know they are not alone and that these feelings are a completely normal response to such catastrophic events.

“Living in a pandemic is terrifying. It is unimaginable what the future will look like and so much has been revealed that wasn’t in view before. The systems for pooling our resources to catch us in an emergency are inadequate. You’re facing choices like health versus livelihood. The need for connection versus the need for health. There’s a shattering of assumptions that the world is safe, that the authorities have ‘got this,’ that the government is looking after you. COVID-19 is revealing that the structures of capitalism are not designed to take care of us, they’re designed to try and take care of the economy,” says Ruth.

Ruth also says COVID-19 has hit at a time where many of us haven’t yet processed previous traumatic events.

“We are so busy that we do not stop to grieve. A First Nations’ person recently pointed out to me that she believes Westerners don’t know how to grieve. We don’t know how to stop, we don’t pause, and we don’t rest. We have had the climate crisis revealed, through the bushfires and the floods and now there’s a pandemic. Each layer of those is a trauma – not yet digested – on top of whatever other traumas and difficulties you face in your lives and this is all in less than a year.”

“It has been predicted that in our ever-increasing encroachment on and destruction of the wild world, we’re going to encounter more pandemics, more viruses and illnesses than before. Maybe there’s a link with the pandemic to the climate crisis.”


Ruth says indicators of anxiety can present mentally as thoughts and emotions as well as physical symptoms.

Emotional Indicators Of Anxiety

“You might have thoughts like: ‘How much worse will it get? Will structural change come in time? How do I stay sane? What if I get sick? What if my job is gone.’ You may also feel sadness, grief and loss or acute pangs of pain that overwhelm you. Perhaps unexpectedly, you just notice the absence of planes in the sky,” says Ruth.

Physical Indicators Of Anxiety

“In your body, you might notice nausea, headache, jaw ache, shoulder and neck pain, itchiness, shortness of breath, hot flushes cold sweat, tingling, or jumping at sirens. Lots of these can be symptoms of illness, which can make you feel even more stressed and anxious,” says Ruth.


Ask For Help

If you feel that you may be suffering from anxiety, Ruth recommends asking for help. As the process for getting a referral is rapidly changing day-by-day at present, she suggests phoning a psychologist and asking what the possibilities and mechanisms for seeing them are.

Practise Mindfulness

Ruth suggests using mindfulness, a term that means bringing yourself to be fully present in the moment, to reduce symptoms of anxiety.

“You can’t take those feelings away but you can take the edge off them. You can do things to help make it more manageable, to get a break from them. Try gentle, compassionate movement that’s tricky enough to fill up your concentration such as drawing with your non-dominant hand, drawing with both hands at once, throwing a ball from one hand to the other or an online yoga class.”

Smiling Mind is an excellent free Australian app that will help you understand the basics of practising mindfulness.

Use Technology To Connect

Although you may not be able to connect in person while physically distancing yourself from others, technology is a great way to stay in touch. Ruth recommends calling, texting and video-chatting your family and friends, saying that video-chatting is best (where possible) as seeing the faces of who you’re speaking with makes you feel even more connected.

“Feel your need for connection – this is a really important way of coping right now. It’s a really basic need that’s tied to feeling safe and secure in this world. Have online meals, coffees, playdates, storytime. Just have Skype going in the background so you can chat while you’re doing things.”

“This is where modern technology really comes into its own. Share the emotional burden right now, as much as you can. It’s amazing that we can see and talk to other human beings without leaving home. We can keep ourselves protected and keep other people protected from coronavirus and still be emotionally connected right now.

Ruth also suggests using technology to connect with the wider world by embracing virtual museum tours, concerts, and art classes.

RELATED: How To Socialise At Home Using Technology

Help Someone Else

Reaching out to others to provide assistance during this time will not only help them get through the COVID-19 crisis, but it will also help your mental health by making you feel connected to your community and society at large.

“Help someone else, join a mutual aid group online and send notes to your neighbours through their letterboxes. Use the skills that you’ve got to help other people get through because this will help you get through as well. It’s in connection that we survive and grow, and you need to feel a freedom of movement – even when you’re stuck at home.”


Getting some exercise into the day is one of the best ways to get all those feel-good endorphins flowing and Ruth recommends moving your body as much as you can and are able.

Not feeling up to it? “If you’re slumped in despair on the couch, just move your arms or whatever you can,” Ruth says.

If you’re looking for ideas, check out some of the marie claire team’s favourite at-home workout programs.

Share Positive News

These days, we live in a 24/7 news cycle and are constantly bombarded by the latest COVID-19 case numbers and measures being taken to prevent the spread of the virus. Due to the enormity of these events, unfortunately, not a lot of the news we’re consuming at present is positive. To counter this, Ruth recommends sharing and highlighting the positive stories by visiting or Facebook groups like The Kindness Pandemic.

RELATED: The Facebook Group Creating A “Kindness Pandemic” Amid COVID-19


  • Beyond Blue provides mental health information and support for all Australians. 
  • Headspace is a free online and telephone service that supports young people aged between 12 and 25 and their families going through a tough time. Phone 1800 650 890.
  • MindSpot Clinic is an online and telephone clinic providing free assessment and treatment services for Australian adults with anxiety or depression. Phone 1800 61 44 34.
  • Kids Helpline provides a free, private and confidential, telephone and online counselling service for young people between the ages of 5 and 25. Phone 1800 55 1800.
  • Open Arms is a government service providing free mental health and wellbeing support for current and ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel and their families. Phone 1800 011 046.
  • Lifeline is a national charity providing all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention services. Phone: 13 11 14 (24 hours/7 days) or text 0477 131 114 (6pm – midnight AEDT, 7 nights).
  • This Way Up delivers online courses to equip you with the skills to navigate a variety of mental health concerns. This Way Up is providing free courses until 30 April due to COVID-19.
  • If you need emergency assistance, please phone 000.


Ruth says the most important thing to do during the COVID-19 crisis is to continuously remember to reach out and connect.

“Don’t be afraid right now of reaching out to other people because they need you, and you need them. We’re only going to get through this by being together. Support others as though they cannot live without you. Ask them: ‘Can I help? Can I shop for you? Are you coping? How are you?’ Tell them: ‘I care about you. I love you. We will see each other when this is over.’”

Ruth also suggests doing things online that you might usually do in person such as having a coffee, morning tea or cheese plate together.

RELATED: Self-Isolation Is The Perfect Time For Extra Self-Care

Besides the obvious physical health threats COVID-19 presents, the virus has also had a knock-on effect across many areas of our lives. As a result, we are now facing a mental health pandemic.

Besides the obvious physical health threats COVID-19 presents, the virus has also had a knock-on effect across many areas of our lives. As a result, we are now facing a mental health pandemic.

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