Managing anxiety during the Coronavirus outbreak

By Dr. Larissa Applegate

Stress and anxiety with the Coronavirus (COVID 19) makes sense, right? YES!

  • Schools, workplaces, stores, activities are all shut down due to the Coronavirus, who doesn’t feel anxiety?
  • So much has changed in such a short amount of time. This time is unpredictable, and out of everyone’s control.
  • Now is the time to accept that sometimes life is about getting through hard things, we all need to accept the stress, anxiety and various emotions that each one of us in our family is experiencing. 
  • Toddlers are acting out, school aged kids just want their friends, so do your teenagers and they certainly don’t want to be at home stuck with you (wink, wink). You too miss being able to go out to dinner, go see your friends, browse the aisles at Target, or hike that 14er with your buddies. 
  • Calming anxiety doesn’t mean ignoring problems. It helps us find our way and guide us through times of uncertainty.
  • Anxiety is a normal emotion and serves as a signal to pay attention so we can protect ourselves. Anxiety alerts us. It prompts us to adapt. However, when we’re overwhelmed by anxiety, it sometimes can do more harm than good. 

Where to Start in Managing Stress and Anxiety

Step 1. Acknowledge your emotions. First, humans have emotions, so be a human, and feel it and label it. When you feel the anxiety, say to yourself or out loud “this is my anxiety.” In addition, if you see it in your child, guide them into recognizing the emotion. 

Example: “Tommy, I think you are feeling anxious because you cannot see your friends.” 

Don’t ignore, fight, or reject your feelings because those emotions will overwhelm you and you will then feel “numb.” When our brains get into this emotional state it is a hard place to be.

Step 2. Stick to the facts. COVID19 is a virus that is spread from human to human contact with droplets from our nose and mouth that we spread to our hands. If we stay at home, wash our hands frequently, and keep a safe distance from others, we will avoid the spread of this virus. 

Step 3. Know that your or your child’s anxiety doesn’t have to run the show. Acknowledge other emotions, think about at least one thing that has happened today or yesterday, and feel that happiness again. Guide yourself through the anxiety during the Coronavirus outbreak with a breathing exercise, guided imagery, muscle relaxation, meditation and exercise!

Step 4. Reach out to others. Connect with friends or family via all of the cool techy things on the internet. 

Step 5. Stick to a routine. If you have an erratic sleep and eating schedule, your brain will be confused and not sleep well, not feel good, and anxiety feelings can build up. 

Breathing exercises

If you are feeling anxiety during this Coronavirus outbreak, learn how to belly breathe – doing this 5-10x in a row can help you calm yourself, relax for sleep etc.

This video will guide you on how to do it:

Or try this breathing technique to energize yourself:

  1. Sit on your knees.
  2. Keep your chest lifted and your shoulder blades descending down the back.
  3. Tuck your chin in slightly and let your lower jaw relax.
  4. Get your nose ready for breathing by twitching it like a bunny.
  5. Take 4 to 6, short, quick breaths in through your nose.
  6. Breathe out through your mouth with a long, smooth sigh,
  7. Increase the number of inhalations and double the length of your exhalation as your breathing power grows stronger and stronger with time and practice.

Guided imagery

Another technique to try to relieve anxiety during the Coronavirus outbreak is guided imagery. It is a focused practice that involves each of the five senses to ignite positive healing messages throughout the mind and body. The practice is often interchanged with visualization, self-hypnosis and guided meditation.

I recommend checking out the Head Space app to lead you through guided imagery.

Progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is a deep relaxation technique that has been effectively used to control stress and anxiety, relieve insomnia, and reduce symptoms of certain types of chronic pain. This relaxation technique is based upon the simple practice of tensing, or tightening, one muscle group at a time followed by a relaxation phase with release of the tension.

Don’t tense muscles other than the specific group at each step. Don’t hold your breath, grit your teeth, or squint! Breath slowly and evenly and think only about the tension-relaxation contrast. Each tensing is for 10 seconds; each relaxing is for 10 or 15 seconds. Count “1,000 2,000…”

1. Hands. The fists are tensed; relaxed. The fingers are extended; relaxed. 

2. Biceps and triceps. The biceps are tensed (make a muscle–but shake your hands to make sure not tensing them into a fist); relaxed (drop your arm to the chair–really drop them). The triceps are tensed (try to bend your arms the wrong way); relaxed (drop them). 

3. Shoulders. Pull them back (careful with this one); relax them. Push the shoulders forward (hunch); relax. 

4. Neck (lateral). With the shoulders straight and relaxed, the head is turned slowly to the right, as far as you can; relax. Turn to the left; relax. 

5. Neck (forward). Dig your chin into your chest; relax. (bringing the head back is not recommended– you could break your neck). 

6. Mouth. The mouth is opened as far as possible; relaxed. The lips are brought together or pursed as tightly as possible; relaxed. 

7. Tongue (extended and retracted). With mouth open, extend the tongue as far as possible; relax (let it sit in the bottom of your mouth). Bring it back in your throat as far as possible; relax. 

8. Tongue (roof and floor). Dig your tongue into the roof of your mouth; relax. Dig it into the bottom of your mouth; relax. 

9. Eyes. Open them as wide as possible (furrow your brow); relax. Close your eyes tightly (squint); relax. Make sure you completely relax the eyes, forehead, and nose after each of the tensings–this is actually a toughy. 

10. Breathing. Take as deep a breath as possible–and then take a little more; let it out and breathe normally for 15 seconds. Let all the breath in your lungs out–and then a little more; inhale and breathe normally for 15 seconds. 

11. Back. With shoulders resting on the back of the chair, push your body forward so that your back is arched; relax. Be very careful with this one, or don’t do it at all. 

12. Butt. Tense the butt tightly and raise pelvis slightly off chair; relax. Dig buttocks into chair; relax. 

13. Thighs. Extend legs and raise them about 6″ off the floor or the foot rest–but don’t tense the stomach’ relax. Dig your feet (heels) into the floor or foot rest; relax. 

14. Stomach. Pull in the stomach as far as possible; relax completely. Push out the stomach or tense it as if you were preparing for a punch in the gut; relax. 

15. Calves and feet. Point the toes (without raising the legs); relax. Point the feet up as far as possible (beware of cramps-if you get them or feel them coming on, shake them loose); relax. 16. Toes. With legs relaxed, dig your toes into the floor; relax. Bend the toes up as far as possible; relax. 

17. Now just relax for a while.

Sleep and sleep meditation

If your anxiety during the Coronavirus outbreak is interrupting your sleep, set up a sleep routine. First, set a bed time and wake up time. Avoid napping during the day, avoid caffeine – no caffeine for 6-8 hours prior to your intended bedtime. 

Exercise, but don’t exercise within 2 hours of your intended time to sleep. 

Listen to a sleep meditation such as this as you are settling for bed:

Set your phone to silence or do not disturb. Have no TVs in the bedroom. 

If you wake up in the middle of the night and cannot get back to sleep within 15–20 minutes, then do not remain in the bed “trying hard” to sleep. Get out of bed. Leave the bedroom. Do a set of breathing exercises – belly breathing for example – and you will generally find that you can get back to sleep 20 minutes or so later. Do not perform challenging or engaging activity such as office work, housework, etc. Do not watch television.


Pick something reasonable and something you like.  Knowing that something’s good for you doesn’t make it easier to actually do it. Think about when in your day you will be able to do this for yourself and is it 10 minutes or 30 minutes? Your plan should represent you and your abilities rather than trying to meet idealistic guidelines that could just add to your pressure.  There are handfuls of exercise videos on YouTube that require no equipment and no fancy work-out clothes. Have a 20 minute dance party! Have fun. 


This meditation guide is perfectly suited for parents:

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