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Fight the Virus with Peace of Mind: Psychological Adjustments to the COVID-19 Outbreak

The COVID-19 outbreak has caused much psychological stress in us, resulting from the burst of information related to preventive strategies, the disruption in plans and daily routine due to suspension of public and private services/facilities, as well as the queueing up at stores for face masks, cleaning products, and other household necessities. During such difficult period of time, apart from building up body resistance to the disease, it is also important for us to adjust our mental state in order to fight the virus with peace of mind.

Common Stress Reactions

When facing unexpected events such as an outbreak of a new infectious disease, our body will send us signals in the form of physical, emotional, cognitive, and behavioural reactions, to remind us to take care of ourselves. The followings are some common stress reactions:

  1. PhysicalDifficulty in breathing, tightness in chest, upset stomach, muscle tension, fatigue, headache, sweating, etc.
  2. EmotionNervousness, anxiety, fear, worry, irritability, anger, sadness, depression, loneliness, helplessness, guilt, etc.
  3. CognitiveDifficulty in concentration, poor memory, confusion, difficulty in making decision or solving problems, ruminating about related issues, overly focusing on the negative side, etc.
  4. BehaviourSleep disturbance, poor appetite, avoidance or constant checking of related updates, becoming reserved, lack of energy, impulsivity, being easily startled, restlessness, etc.

These are all common reactions to stressful events and they will gradually subside if we take good care of ourselves.

Tips on Maintaining Peace of Mind

1. LEARN protective measures

  • Acquire accurate information about the disease and protective measures from credible sources such as the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health and the World Health Organization etc.
  • Try your best to do what you can to protect yourself and family, neither overlook nor panic over the protective measures
  • Plan ahead to minimise anxiety and confusion if you have regular medical appointments. For example, you can contact hospitals/clinics or browse their websites ahead of time to learn about the special arrangement for medical follow-up or picking up of medications and the necessary precautions when visiting these places
  • Acquire just enough protective and daily necessities to survive the outbreak. Avoid frequent shopping or hoarding, as this will impose additional mental and financial burden and cause wastage of resources

2. OBTAIN appropriate amount of information

  • Unless deemed necessary, restrain self from constantly checking updates or news related to the outbreak. You can check updates at specific times of the day and limit to only 1-2 times per day. This can help ease worries and anxiety
  • Analyse information from the Internet or friends prudently. Be aware of hearsay. Do not blindly believe what you read or hear. Do not forward unverified information to family and friends
  • No matter what kind of information you read or hear, allow yourself a moment of pause and calm yourself down. Consult with your family or friends if possible. Do not act out impulsively so as to avoid making  wrong decision

3. MAINTAIN a healthy lifestyle

  • Make sure you have a regular schedule, balanced diet, and adequate rest
  • Maintain appropriate level of physical and cognitive activities. For example, you can do simple physical exercises at home (e.g. stretching, Tai Chi, etc.) or engage in mentally stimulating activities (e.g. reading, playing chess or jigsaw puzzle, etc.)
  • Observe sleep hygiene practices. Reduce intake of caffeine and avoid using electronic devices before sleep

4. CALM the unsettling mind

  • Accept all your feelings without suppressing, avoiding, or resisting
  • Understand that fear stems from worries about the future. You can try to bring your attention back to the present moment, especially to things that you can control
  • Learn to slow down your pace and pay attention to things that you have not noticed before, like the scenery outside your window, or the temperature of the water while washing your hands, etc.
  • Arrange activities that you can enjoy at home, such as listening to music, singing, practising calligraphy, and gardening, etc.
  • Practise relaxation exercises such as diaphragmatic breathing and mindful breathing regularly to relax your body and mind
  • Do not use tobacco, alcohol, drugs or other maladaptive ways to manage negative emotions

5. FACE the adversity together

  • Remind yourself that you are not alone. Your family, relatives, friends, and neighbours are in this fight against the disease together
  • Even though you cannot meet up with family or friends at the moment, you can still show your care, chit-chat, share worries, or offer encouragement to one another by calling on the phone or text messaging
  • If you find people in need of assistance and you have adequate resources, you may offer help. For example, you can check on your neighbours, especially elders living alone, by calling them on the phone to see if they need any help

6. RESPOND with a positive attitude

  • Face the outbreak with a positive attitude. Look out for encouraging news, such as recovered people being discharged from hospital, etc.
  • It is usually in difficulty times that you find the greatest support, care, and solidarity in the community. Also, do not underestimate your ability to handle the adversity. Remember to cheer up yourself and people around you from time to time
  • The disease may be intimidating, but we know from past experience that its threat on us will gradually subside and the outbreak will eventually come to an end. We can definitely ride out the storm as long as we protect ourselves and others by adhering to all protective measures

7. SEEK help from professionals

  • If you find yourself experiencing persistent emotional distress for 2 weeks or more and it significantly affects your daily functioning, you should seek help from healthcare professionals promptly

Useful Local Links

Organizations Contents Websites
The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region “Together, we fight the virus” website: Latest updates on the coronavirus disease 2019
Centre for Health Protection, Department of Health
e-Resources on the coronavirus disease 2019
Hospital Authority Special service arrangements of public hospitals/clinics in response to coronavirus disease 2019
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Social Welfare Department Clinical Psychological Service Branch
2020 Psycho-education information Hub for Combatting the Novel Coronavirus