Managing Fears and Anxiety Around Coronavirus

By: Gerard Florio, Ph.D., Clinical Health Psychologist,
C.R. Wood Cancer Center at Glens Falls Hospital

The outbreak of the coronavirus disease has been stressful for adults and children. During these extraordinarily uncertain times, it is hard to know what is to come, and all of us are experiencing some degree of anxiety and stress.  We are worried about our families. Will our elderly or ill parents and relatives be ok? Will our kids stay well and adapt to all the changes they are experiencing? We worry about ourselves. How can I keep from getting ill? How do I work and take care of my kids? How will I pay my bills if I cannot earn money? We are worried about our community. Will things get worse before they get better? How many people will get sick? Will grocery stores run out of essential items?

Although it is normal to feel stressed and anxious, it is important that we do all that we can to prevent worry about the virus from controlling our lives. There are many simple and effective ways to manage fears and anxieties, and many of them are essential ingredients for living a healthy lifestyle and navigating all types of changes and challenges.

Things you can do to help yourself

  1. Get the facts
    • Gathering accurate information about the health situation and response is helpful, it dispels misinformation and helps us feel empowered. However, hearing about too much information can be upsetting.
    • Limit your news consumption to two or three credible sources for 30 minutes or less per day.
    • Monitor the impact that information is having on your mood and thoughts. If the information is taking your mood and thoughts to places of fear and panic, take a break from watching, reading, or listening to news stories.
    • Avoid the watching the news right before bed.
  2. Avoid the “what ifs”
    • We are in uncharted territory, and very few people know what to expect. At times like this, it is best to keep our minds anchored in the present moment rather than what could happen.
    • Focus on things that you can control rather than the things that are beyond your control.
    • Remind yourself that our worries about the “what ifs” are often unreliable and worse than most of the things that happen.
  3. Practice good self-care
    • Get plenty of sleep; eat well-balanced meals; exercise; stretch; do yoga; avoid alcohol and drugs.
  4. Practice good stress management
    • Engage in positive emotions and activities. When stress and challenge surround us, it is helpful to switch gears and remind ourselves of the positive things.
      • When you wake up in the morning, call to mind 3 things you are grateful for.
      • Do a random or conscious act of kindness. Reaching out to help others is often an effective way of helping ourselves.
      • Throughout the day, take time to still your body and your mind. Do deep breathing exercise; pray; practice meditation; make time for quiet and stillness. There are many free and helpful apps and YouTube videos for deep breathing, guided imagery, progressive relaxation, meditation, mindfulness meditation, and nature sounds.
      • Before bed, call to mind one positive thing that happened during the day.
    • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy. Listen to music, read literature or poetry, do puzzles, play games, watch comedies, engage in your hobbies.
    • Connect with others: Stay in contact with your support system through phone, internet, and social media. If you are not quarantined, spend some time with a trusted friend who is also well. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
  5.  Shift toward seeing the best.
    • Notice your inner and outer speech and try to see things more positively.
      • Are you “stuck at home” with your kids, or do you have an opportunity to connect with family and keep the community safe while you work from home?
      • Are you “stuck at work,” or are you helping to keep the community running by staffing hospitals, grocery stores and other important functions despite the risks?
      • Are selfish people hoarding things, or are frightened people trying to make sure their families have enough?
      • Are government officials doing too much/not enough, or are they doing the best they can with constantly changing information about an unexpected, unprecedented threat?
      • Should those people know better than to go out, or are there millions of individuals who are helping each other by staying home to slow the spread of the virus?
    • It’s easy to get caught up in what’s going wrong. Instead, try to consciously shift toward helpfulness.

Warning signs for that adults may be experiencing too much fear and anxiety:

  • Are you preoccupied with thoughts of the virus for most of the day?
  • Are you unable to concentrate on other things?
  • Are you losing interest in things that used to be important or pleasurable?
  • Are you have difficulty sleeping and/or eating?
  • Are you isolating yourself from others when isolation is not required of you?
  • Are you using drugs or alcohol to soothe your mind or mood?

If you or anyone you care about shows any of signs of distress listed above for several days or weeks, you can get help by contacting your primary care doctor and asking for a referral to a mental health provider.

Things you can do to support your child or teen

  • Take time to talk with your child or teen about the coronavirus outbreak.
    • Stick to the facts, keep it brief, and allow them to ask questions.
    • Give accurate, age-appropriate information that your child or teen can understand.
  • Be calm when talking to your children and teens about the virus. You are a role model for them, if they see you panicking, their anxiety will go up.
  • Limit your family’s exposure to news coverage of the event, including social media. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand.
  • Let your child or teen know it is OK if they feel upset but reassure them that they are safe.
  • Explain things that children and teens can do to reduce their risk of exposure to the virus.
    • Discuss social distancing, and how properly washing their hands and eating and sleeping well can help keep them healthy.
    • This can increase their sense of control over the situation.
  • Share with your children the effective things that you do to manage your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.
  • Try to keep up with regular routines. If schools are closed, create a schedule for learning activities and relaxing or fun activities.
  • Encourage children to have fun in different ways.


Some warning signs that your child or teen may be experiencing excessive anxiety or fear about coronavirus:

  • Excessive crying or clinging in younger children
  • Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (for example, toileting accidents or bedwetting)
  • Excessive worry or sadness
  • Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits
  • Irritability and “acting out” behaviors in teens
  • Difficulty with attention and concentration
  • Poor academic performance or avoiding schoolwork
  • Avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past
  • Unexplained headaches, body pains or physical symptoms
  • Use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

If your child or teen shows any of signs of distress listed above for several days or weeks, you can get help by contacting your pediatrician and asking for a referral to a mental health provider.


Relaxation & Meditation Resources

In these anxious times, daily meditation/relaxation practice can be a valuable resource for cultivating calm in the midst of chaos. Try to set aside 15-20 minutes a day to turn inward for a sense of peace and calm. Here are some helpful resources:

Nature Sounds & Relaxing Music:


Reliable Sources of Accurate Information

It is important to get information from credible sources that are relying on the latest research. Consider seeking your information from places like the:

For additional information about managing stress and anxiety related to the coronavirus, please see the CDC’s website: