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Coronavirus: dealing with the anxiety of self-isolation amid a pandemic

Last Updated Mar 20, 2020 at 12:02 pm EST

Ukrainians wearing face masks look at the latest news on a phone in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

As countries hunker down to battle the dreaded novel coronavirus, schools are closed, events have been cancelled and restaurants and recreational activities have been shut down.

The prospect of prolonged self-isolation and widespread closures have caused Canadians to panic buy everything from canned good to toilet paper, leaving shelves at many stores bare. Sanitizer and face masks have also become a rare and precious commodity.

But as we practice social distancing, there’s little doubt we’re still together in our collective sense of anxiety and dread.

Anxiety is normal

Most of us have never seen anything quite like this before and feeling uneasy and stressed is a given.

“It’s definitely a normal response to this kind of a situation”, says Alison Thompson, University of Toronto Professor of Public Health Sciences.

Being held hostage at home restricts daily life activities. Taking time to rest and find hobbies to engage within the house can help with anxiety.

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) says the first step to getting over the anxiety is being aware of the virus and what it is. It is important to understand the basics of the virus, what it is, the symptoms and preventive measures for it.

CMHA recommends information on this page to learn more on COVID-19.

Social media is both a blessing and a curse

At this time of the pandemic, checking social media can do more harm than good. “The social media piece in all of this is a big contributor to people feeling overwhelmed,” said Thompson.

“We have different messages coming at us from so many different platforms.”

Thompson recommends limiting the amount of usage and rather than checking every 15 minutes, she recommends checking once in the morning and once in the evening.

The Canadian Mental Health Association also recommends refraining from setting COVID-related push notifications on your device, it can lessen the sense of danger.

Social distancing doesn’t mean losing connection with friends and family. With the blessing of social media, stay connected. Use Skype and FaceTime to talk to friends and family.

Through Netflix, now you can have watch parties with friends and family.


It’s easy to fall into the rabbit hole of panicking and get more anxious, “the more stressed out you are, the bigger an impact it has on your immune system,” said Thompson.

It’s crucial for self-care at this point so eating a balanced meal, getting enough sleep and implementing light exercise is the best way to stay healthy.

Engaging in activities like painting, knitting, downloading a game from the array of apps, watching movies and shows on your Netflix list and anything that keeps your mental health in check is key. Thompson says that chronic stress can negatively impact your immune system.

CMHA recommends staying away from alcohol, smoking and caffeine as they can worsen anxiety and panic.

Create a schedule

Work and schools have oriented us to follow a schedule and without one, it can cause unnecessary anxiety. Creating a schedule for yourself as well as for your family can create a structure around your day.

Implementing a routine for yourself around the house can involve taking some time to rest as well.

Thompson recommends having a schedule for kids, especially so they know what’s to come.