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How to Control Coronavirus Anxiety

March 11, 2020

Whether it’s wiping out a store’s stock of hand sanitizer and toilet paper to overzealously taking children’s temperatures, people’s fears about the coronavirus are escalating.

The facts bear some concern, according to experts at the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network (BHN). Respiratory symptoms and illnesses, which can be associated with COVID-19 infection, is on all seven continents with no current vaccine or preventative treatment to stop it.

But allowing anxiety to disrupt your life is unproductive and can frighten your children, according to Dr. Laura Saunders, assistant director of psychology and clinical coordinator of Young Adult Services – The Right Track/LGBTQ Specialty Track at the Institute of Living.

“Parents and adults need to be careful not to engage in inflammatory conversations within earshot of children,” said Dr. Saunders. “Providing developmentally-appropriate information to children should help reduce any excess worry.”

“It’s important for people to get the facts in order to reduce hysteria and excess worry.”

Here are some of those facts:

  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates 20,000 to 52,000 people in the United States have died from the common flu since October 2019. That’s compared with 3,500 from coronavirus worldwide.
  • COVID-19 is more concerning for older people or those with preexisting respiratory conditions. Most people who get the virus develop mild symptoms that can be treated at home. Some will have no symptoms.
  • There is no evidence, according to the CDC, that women and children are more susceptible to COVID-19.

“The spread of COVID-19 leaves people feeling out of control, which is uncomfortable and unnerving,” said Dr. James O’Dea, BHN vice president of operations. “We’re driven to protect ourselves and loved ones from perceived threats and the uncertainty surrounding this situation escalates fears.”

The nonprofit group Mental Health America actually noted a 19 percent increase in anxiety screenings in February through its online. Site screenings for disorders like bipolar and psychosis did not increase in the same time period.

“There are a lot of things outside of our control,” said Colleen Mulkerin, Director of Palliative Care and Social Work at Hartford Hospital. “That’s really the hard part right now. So we have to think about the things we can control.  Preplanning, organizing, take a break and get some fresh air, go for a walk, exercise, find some time for meditation or journaling.  Those are really all of the things that will help us in this process.”

The best way to feel in control and quell fears – your own and your children’s – is to practice preventative measures against coronavirus, Dr. Saunders said.


  • Washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds whenever your hands are visibly dirty, you’ve been in a store or other busy public place, after using the bathroom and before eating.
  • Avoiding handshakes. Try bumping elbows to greet friends.
  • Covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the crook of your elbow. Throw used tissues away immediately.
  • Staying away from sick people.
  • Getting the flu vaccine if you haven’t already.
  • Limiting exposure to upsetting news. It’s important to stay informed, but watching endless news shows is bound to heighten anxiety. Understand, too, that information on social media is often wrong or misleading. Look to trusted resources like the CDC and Hartford HealthCare for information.

“If your children are vulnerable to anxiety and worry, validate their fears, reassure them and then focus on fact-based information that will reduce their anxiety,” Dr. Saunders said.

Adults with preexisting anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder — an obsessive fear of germs that can cause people to wash their hands repeatedly — that might be heightened by COVID-19 news should reach out to social connections for support, Dr. O’Dea added.

“Contact your therapist or someone you trust to help you calm down and focus on the facts, someone who will support you and help guide you through this trying time,” he said. “If you’re only focused on the worst that could happen, you’re impacting your ability to enjoy your life.”

Other suggestions include:

  • Writing scary thoughts down to reread later when you feel less anxious.
  • Challenging your thoughts with facts. Statistics indicate you probably won’t get coronavirus so you can reframe negative thoughts.
  • Practicing deep breathing or yoga to relax and ease physical symptoms of anxiety like headaches.
  • Focusing your mind on hobbies like reading or exercising.

For more help with anxiety, click here.

Not feeling well? Call your healthcare provider for guidance and try to avoid going directly to an emergency department or urgent care center, as this could increase the chances of the disease spreading.

Click here to schedule a virtual visit with a Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent care doctor.

Stay with Hartford HealthCare for everything you need to know about the coronavirus threat. Click here for information updated daily.

Questions? Call our 24-hour hotline (860.972.8100 or, toll-free, 833.621.0600). 

Get text alerts by texting 31996 with COVID19 in the message field.