How to Manage Anxiety During Coronavirus Outbreak

Easing Anxiety During a Pandemic

In a time of crisis, it’s easy to fall victim to feelings of helplessness, anxiety and despair. If you or anyone you care about is having trouble coping with stress during this difficult time, Mercy can help. Mercy's behavioral health specialists have put together this selection of coping mechanisms and methods to help you and your loved ones get through the pressures of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.


Regulating your breathing and managing your oxygen levels can have a positive effect on your mindset. Short, rapid breaths can make you feel more anxious; slow, deep, regular breathing can restore a sense of calm. Slowly exhaling tricks the brain into relaxing the body and produces a calming effect. Repeat the following exercise as often as needed to restore calm. If you’re experiencing feelings of anxiety, try this simple exercise:

  1. Breathe in deeply for five seconds. 
  2. Hold for one second
  3. Exhale for ten seconds. 

Progressive Relaxation

Syncing your muscles with your breathing extends the calming effect to the rest of your body. If you’re feeling anxious, try this exercise: 

  1. Inhale deeply. As you breathe in, tense or flex a certain muscle group, such as your neck, back, arms, abdomen or legs.
  2. Relax your muscles as you breathe out slowly.

Once you’ve gotten the feel of the exercise, do it progressively with your muscle groups from the top of your body to the bottom. Start with the muscles in your neck and repeat the exercise with your arms and shoulders, core, thighs, calves and feet. Repeat the process as often as you need to.  

5 Senses Activity (Grounding)

Sometimes our anxieties become overwhelming and we experience a sensation known as a panic attack. A panic attack can feel like you’re losing control. Physical symptoms of a panic attack can include rapid heart rate, sweating, shaking or trembling, nausea, physical weakness or chest pain. If you feel like you’re experiencing a panic attack, try this exercise, known as “grounding.” By concentrating on your 5 senses, you can make the effects of the panic attack subside and restore calm.

  • Notice 5 things you can feel.
  • Notice 5 things you can hear.
  • Notice 5 things you can smell.
  • Notice 5 things you can taste.

Do Something Productive

During a time of crisis, thinking too much about what’s giving us anxiety isn’t good for us, and can even feel paralyzing. If you’re anxious or nervous, give yourself a distraction, and force yourself to perform an activity that gives you satisfaction – and that’ll take your mind off the news. Finding things to do that are productive can give you a sense of accomplishment, and make you feel more in control of your circumstances. Try the following:

  • Cleaning or organizing a room or closet
  • Getting rid of unwanted or unused items to donate
  • Making a list of people like friends or family to call, text or check in with
  • Walking your dog
  • Working outside (gardening, weeding or raking)
  • Learning a new craft of hobby

Maintain a Schedule

When it feels as though the entire world has been turned upside down, structure and routine become important. Setting a schedule and sticking to it can make us feel more in control of the situation. Make yourself a daily schedule, and include these four categories of activities:  

  • Solitary activities - reading, crafting, baking, self-care, learning
  • Social activities - calling friends and family, checking in on social media
  • Necessary activities - cleaning, laundry
  • Physical activities - exercise – walking, either on your own or with a pet or family member, is GREAT exercise

Control What is Yours to Control

It’s easy to let feelings of hopelessness overwhelm us, especially when it feels like everything’s out of control. While we should keep ourselves informed, spending too much time on social media or news sites can reinforce this feeling of helplessness. Remember: Don’t obsess on what isn’t yours to control. Instead, remind yourself daily of what you’re doing to combat COVID-19 and help contain the spread: 

  • I’m staying home.
  • I’m washing my hands.
  • I’m keeping an appropriate distance from others.
  • I’m not putting myself or those around me in danger.
  • I am trusting the experts to do their jobs.

Everyone wants the danger to be eradicated soon. By doing these simple things, you’re doing your part and helping to end the outbreak. Mercy can support you during the COVID-19 outbreak – and in regular times too – learn more about our behavioral health services

Mental Health Services

We Can Help

If you or anyone you know is experiencing suicidal feelings, call or text the National Suicide Hotline:

Suicide: 800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line: Text CONNECT to 741741