The psychological impact of covid-19 (coronavirus)

Seemingly out of nowhere, we find ourselves in uncertain, unknown and worrying times. An invisible, and unsettling threat has arisen in the form of COVID-19. This has prompted fear, worry and anxiety in many of us, and caused chaos, confusion and disruption to our lives, the communities, cities and the world in which we live. There has been an increased sense of needing to survive, and ensuring we have enough provisions. This has been indicated by the empty shelves in supermarkets and the increased demand for ordinary household items as mundane as toilet paper or baked beans.


It is my intention in this article to consider the psychological impact this pandemic has had and may continue to have on us. I will explore how to manage the anxiety and panic generated during this crisis and offer some tips for managing self-isolation.

Managing anxiety and panic

Much like the virus itself, the escalation of anxiety and panic has spread quickly. There are near-constant developments, figures, predictions and often alarmist responses, which further escalate our unease. So, in these uncertain and unknown times, how can we manage anxiety and panic and try to hold onto a semblance of normalcy?

Remain in reality

  • Read official statistics, familiarise yourself with the risk to you personally.
  • This is not the apocalypse! Whilst it may feel that way, preparing for the end of the world and stocking up and panic buying may mean others lose out on what they need. There will be more toilet paper...
  • Find internal stability and make conscious attempts at clear and balanced thinking.
  • Reassure yourself that surviving COVID-19 is highly likely for most of us.

Talk and share

  • Confide in a friend, partner or family member about your anxious thoughts. You may be surprised they feel similarly to you.
  • Finding the humour in these experiences can ease panic and anxiety.
  • Share useful information about support available.

Try to shift your focus

  • Even a momentary distraction can be a relief.
  • If required to self-isolate, use your newfound time at home as an opportunity to learn something new.
  • Think about how you might be able to help others during this time.

Try reassuring yourself

  • It can be helpful to tell yourself that the anxiety and panic you feel is understandable, and like all else, it too shall pass.
  • Remain vigilant to hygiene and handwashing and remember by doing this you are doing what is required to reduce the risk of infection.

Managing self-isolation

The government advice seems to be heading towards advising that we all, where possible, self-isolate. However, humans need relatedness, intimacy, interconnectedness, closeness, communication and interaction. How then, are we to manage when we must remove ourselves from these important and meaningful parts of our lives?

Keep connected and in contact with others

During this difficult time, it is important we keep in touch with the rest of the world in some form.

  • Contact your friends or colleagues for moral support and remember they will likely be worried too.
  • Consider those people you know who might be finding these times particularly difficult and offer them whatever support you feel reasonably able to give, but be aware of needing to look after yourself.
  • A telephone call or messaging conversation can be hugely important and can boost our mental health and wellbeing.

Use the internet to your advantage

During this crisis, the internet will be filled with hope and support and fear and dread in equal measure. In a time when we need each other more than ever, the internet and online communities can offer meaningful and real forms of support.

  • Develop online links and communities.
  • Share ideas or experiences and provide your knowledge and support.
  • Post, comment, and share news or updates responsibly to reduce further panic.
  • Use trusted news sources.
  • Consider the wider impact of spreading or sharing ‘fake news’ during a time when people’s experience of anxiety and fear is already heightened.

Talk to your family

Keeping up connections with family, even if there is or has been difficulty in these relationships, is crucial.

  • Make your family aware of government guidelines as they develop, particularly those who may have limited access to the internet.
  • Be open about your concerns and fears.
  • If you have children, then speak to them openly about what they might think or have heard about COVID-19. It is crucial to engage in these discussions, but doing so without raising unnecessary alarm or concern.

Be prepared for increased worry or distress

It is understandable to feel anxious, worried or fearful during this crisis, especially if for any reason you already feel vulnerable either physically or due to your mental health.

  • Be open and acknowledge your feelings, no matter if you may feel they are reactionary or invalid.
  • Remember that you are not the only one feeling concerned, and that given the circumstances worry is legitimate.
  • Be attuned to the idea that the landscape will continue to shift, and it may be that further or more difficult experiences and times lie ahead.

Implement structure

Perhaps most important in self-isolation is the keeping together of a daily routine or structure, even if this is one that is new to you.

  • If you are working from home, then try to retain your daily schedule, such as showering, getting up and working by a certain time.
  • Allow for time in the day for rest and relaxation.

In closing

COVID-19 has tapped into, at a global level, primitive parts of us focused on the need for individual survival, and the mistrust or worry about what others might transmit to us or take from us when we are vulnerable. Yes, we must take precautions and prevent the spread of infection at a viral level, but we cannot allow the spread of viral anxiety and panic to prevent us from contact with each other. The reality is that the world still exists, and we do not, and cannot, live without each other.

If you feel you need some support coping with any mental health issues during this time, there is online and telephone help available. Professional counsellors and other therapists are now moving their work online - the Counselling Directory website offers the ability to search easily for a therapist that will suit you.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London N6 & NW5
Written by Joshua Miles, BA, MSc, BPC, BACP Accredited Psychodynamic Psychotherapist
London N6 & NW5

Joshua is an experienced and accredited psychotherapist with extensive experience working with people with a wide range of mental health difficulties. He has a particular interest in themes of mass anxiety and panic and what happens to cities or countries in times of crisis. He works with adults of all ages in Shoreditch, East London.

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