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Flattening the Coronavirus Anxiety Curve

March 20, 2020

Flattening the Coronavirus Anxiety Curve


Flattening the curve right now when it comes to transmission rates is key to helping us stem some serious impacts of COVID-19 down the track. But it’s important we remember the part that anxiety and panic have to play here too - and that to tackle the health curve, we need to stay on top of the emotional curve too.

We spoke to Dr Kieran Kennedy - Psychiatry Doctor and Mental Health Advocate to get his expert advice on how we can cope during this crisis. Here's what he suggests along with some practical coping strategies... 


A lot of people have been asking why we’re seeing some much panic buying, the spread of misinformation online and people actively choosing to go against recommendations around social distancing or isolation when it comes to Coronavirus.

This is incredibly complex, but anxiety, fear and an old friend Psychology likes to call the Yerkes-Dodson Law might help (at least in part) explain it. There’s an extensive study into just how anxiety and panic levels impact our ability to perform, think and make rational judgments. A little bit, often improves things - but too much and we see our performance levels take a tumble.

As the Yerkes-Dodson Law defines, some form of concern/worry/anxiety is often helpful. It focuses our mind and actions toward what’s needed and improves our performance. As anxiety starts to take over however our ability to think through, respond and make complex judgments falls.

Neurologically, as fear and panic rise key areas of the brain for higher mental processing get turned down. We revert to “fight or flight” mode, make decisions we might not if we were calmer and tend to find it harder to think rationally.

This really matters right now. And mental needs to equal physical. We’ve been told we need to be alert, concerned and prepared - and in terms of this switching on our action around steps to reduce infection risk, that’s important. But it’s key we also take steps to look out for how we’re feeling and reacting to ensure we’re not too far down the curve.

Panic and unchecked anxiety often push us past the point of thinking and acting at our best, and some of what we’ve seen in our supermarkets, streets and newsfeeds lately might link to this. Rather than selfishness or the dark side of human nature - panic and fear might be more the drivers.

To really have a fighting chance of flattening the transmission curve, we need to remember the importance of this other curve as well. Our mental health, fear and anxiety deserve our attention right now too - and to come together and get through, this is incredibly important of our fight against COVID-19.

If you’re feeling the fear, and have seen anxiety levels creeping up, that’s not abnormal - and you’re not alone. What we can do though, is to act to help keep our mental health as protected as our physical.


Here are some strategies that can help:

Take Control of Info Overload

Too much information, unclear information and (most importantly) misinformation can drive feeling anxious and out of control. If fear and anxiety around all this are really starting to rule, some tips here include:
* Limiting information to reputable and evidenced sources (i.e. WHO or the CDC)
* Avoiding constant fact-checking or google wormholes across the day
* Allocate a time or two each day to check for updates and online advice (and in between, leave off checking)
* Taking a short break from media for a day or two
* Clearing up questions or inconsistencies (i.e. national advice line, your doctor)
* Questioning who this person is and what their medical background is (calling out misinformation and fearmongering)

Anxiety Busting Basics

If anxiety is starting to impact your mood, these are some simple steps can often help here too:
* Hone in on health basics like 7-8 hours of sleep, regular meals, exercise and down-time.
* Talk it out with a friend or family member; we’re all feeling it in some way. 
* Try out a daily mindfulness tool like a guided meditation (Calm or Headspace apps).
* Note down anxiety triggers (i.e. confronting news articles or certain TV clips) and limit these if possible.
* For high anxiety and fear, try out some sensory distraction with a cold pack (or bag of peas) pressed to the skin lightly, a shower or listen to some music.
* Seek out professional advice if things are really feeling severe or you’re concerned.






Find out more about, and connect with, Dr Kieran Kennedy visit the links below:



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