Worrying about catching an infectious disease, the coronavirus or otherwise, while taking care of your family and continuing to work, either at home or on site, can be a very stressful time. It can be hard to stay calm when there is fear and unease in the media, stories of self-quarantines, and shortages of sanitizing products. Many people are feeling anxious, even if they rarely experience anxiety.
According to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 45 percent of adults (53% of women and 37% of men) say the pandemic has affected their mental health, and 19 percent say it has had a “major impact.” The rates are slightly higher among women, Hispanic adults and black adults.
With nearly a third of the world’s population on some form of coronavirus lockdown, lengthy periods of isolation and “social distancing” are leading to increased feelings of anxiety, depression and stress. For some people, the anxiety comes from a fear of getting sick or having their loved ones become ill. For others, it’s the economic downturn and fear of unemployment. For many, it’s the uncertainty of how long this unusual, isolated lifestyle will continue.
Anxiety related to the coronavirus is to be expected. For many people, the uncertainty surrounding coronavirus is the hardest thing to handle. We don’t know how exactly we’ll be impacted or how bad things might get. And that makes it all too easy to catastrophize and spiral out into overwhelming dread and panic. The poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the key worries related to the coronavirus pandemic were:
- You or someone in your family will get sick
- Your investments, such as retirement or college savings, will be negatively impacted
- You will lose income due to a workplace closure or reduced hours
- You will not be able to afford testing or treatment if you need it
- You will put yourself at risk of exposure to the virus because you can’t afford to stay home and miss work
Capsized travel plans, indefinite isolation, panic over scarce re-sources and information overload could be a recipe for unchecked anxiety.
In addition to anxiety, people can develop obsessions. In a situation like this one, it is easy to become obsessive about disease prevention, especially for those with OCD who already experience contamination obsession which is “unwanted, intrusive worry that one is dirty and in need of washing, cleaning or sterilizing.” Washing until your skin is chapped and peeling, disinfecting household items several times a day, or watching news on COVID-19 all day may be signs that an obsession has formed.
Another serious issue is loneliness. Social distancing is considered critical to slowing the spread of the coronavirus. However, it can understandably lead to loneliness. Working from home, suspended religious services, separation from family can all contribute to an existential feeling of aloneness. Numerous studies have shown the adverse mental health and physical impacts of loneliness, including the potential to trigger a depressive episode.
And during this time of self-isolation, individuals may also experience traumatic stress. A survey of people subject to quarantine during the SARS outbreak in 2003 found that nearly 29% experienced traumatic stress. Traumatic stress is a normal reaction to a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, an accident, or violent crime among other things. The emotional toll from a traumatic event can cause intense, confusing, and frightening emotions that can last from days to years past the initial event. Traumatic stress can result in feelings of shock and disbelief, fear, sadness, helplessness, guilt, anger, and shame.
This is where business owners and leaders can step in to help employees cope with anxiety, stress, loneliness, and depression. Cheril Clarke, of PhenomenalWriting.com, has written an entire blog post on how businesses can assist with their employee’s mental health. She says that businesses now have an opportunity to make their employees feel like they matter. Cheril notes that the main message businesses need to convey to their employees is:
“Things will get better. Even though the economy is now contracting, at some point, it will expand again. In the meantime, we are here for you. Retaining employees and supporting them during this difficult time is our top priority. After all, there is no business without people. COVID-19 may have caught us off guard, but we are dedicating every resource at our disposal to respond to this unexpected challenge.”
Making a person feel like part of a community can help with feelings of loneliness and worry. Sharing accurate information about COVID-19, can help make people feel less stressed and make a connection with them. Informing employees of mental health resources that may be available to them can provide a sense of relief. Humans like a sense of certainty, so letting employees know exactly where the business stands in terms of benefits, employment, knowledge, and compassion can fill that need of certainty in a very uncertain time.