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COVID-19: It’s OK to Feel Anxious in a Pandemic World

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What’s a healthy anxiety in times of stress?

Many of us may have been wondering that since novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was declared an international pandemic last week by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Since that announcement the world has changed a lot, especially here in Canada.  People are having to stay home which means they’re losing their social lives, their physical activities, their jobs, even loved ones.

While we know practicing social distancing is being put in place to prevent further spread, our lives have completely changed which is resulting in us experiencing a range of emotions including anxiety.  

Unfortunately, often when people hear the word anxiety it is associated as a negative emotion or as a type of mental illness that we need to combat, which isn’t always true.  Anxiety is an emotion, but it can be a very healthy emotion.  It simply means we feel worried, apprehensive or uneasy during times of stress and or change. 

There have always been times in our lives where we have felt anxious and there will always be times in our lives where we are going to feel anxious, and again most of the time it is healthy.  For example, we should feel worried when we lose a job because that worry will motivate us to work on our resumes, work on job applications in order for us to get a new job.  If we didn’t feel anxiety or worry we might not have the motivation to find employment.  Another example of when we should feel anxiety is when we have a family member struggling with their health.  Feeling anxiety will motivate us to check in on them more, make sure they’re going to doctors appointments, eating healthy, and taking their medications. 

The difference now in this pandemic environment is that we are all feeling this anxiety together.  Similarly, to other life stressors, it is OK to feel worried right now. It is OK to feel some anxiety about this major life change that the whole world is going through.  It is healthy to feel anxious because similar to when someone has lost a job or has an ill family member, this anxiety will motivate us all to do what is necessary to recover as a whole.  Anxiety will motivate each of us to self isolate and stay home when we’re not used to isolating ourselves from our friends and family.  This anxiety will motivate us to keep up with our hygiene more than usual to prevent spreading the virus to our elderly or vulnerable family members and neighbors.  This anxiety will motivate us to check in on our elderly family members and neighbors to ensure they have their needs met. And this anxiety will motivate us all to stay positive and follow the protocols outlined by our governments and expert health officials so that collectively we can recover and continue on with our lives stronger and wiser.

Next time I’ll be discussing when does healthy anxiety become unhealthy in times of stress.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Christine Fuda is the Mental Health First Aid Coordinator at Ontario Shores. During the pandemic, she will be blogging regularly around the impact of COVID-19 from a mental health perspective. Send your suggestions for topics to @email.  

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