How to Protect Your Mental Health in Middle of the Coronavirus Crisis

Shoppers stock up on food as coronavirus crisis deepens.
Shoppers overwhelm grocery store to stockpile supplies amid coronavirus epidemic. Getty Images

"Things are changing, that is true. But it's not the end of the world," psychologist Mark Reinecke of The Child Mind Institute told

The fear is real, but panic is not a proper response. 

In these chaotic times, as the coronavirus increases its march across the country, mental health experts empathize with the anxiety it creates. But they warn against panicking, and giving in to feelings of helplessness.

"People can become more distressed if they see repeated images or hear repeated reports about the outbreak in the media," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises. 

So tune out for a bit, folks. 

"Take a break from reading about the virus, take a break from media coverage," psychologist Mark Reinecke of The Child Mind Institute told "Believe in trusted sources," he said, such as the CDC, the United Nations' World Health Organization and other established medical experts.

Feelings of despair and impending doom can lead to insomnia, lack of appetite, and increased use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs as self-soothing measures.

To combat such behaviors, and to increase feelings of calm, mental health experts advise adults to step back and have a rational conversation with themselves.

People need to need to remember they do have "a sense of control over what happens in my life," Reinecke said. Instead of staring into the abyss of despair, ask instead, "What can I do?" he said.

There are several answers to that query. "Social distancing. Back off events with large crowds like the shopping mall," Reinecke said. "Just stay home. Wash your hands 20 times a day. There are things that you can do that dramatically reduce the risk," he said.

Most crucial is to take the long view. "We're going to get through this," Reinecke advised. "Every epidemic in the history world has come to an end. We'll get through it. We'll be fine."

Planning a daily schedule is also important to enhance well-being. Stay busy. Exercise daily. Make a list of household chores. Rearrange your closet. Disinfect your bathroom and kitchen. Take a long walk in an uncrowded area.

Having a schedule is doubly important if you have children at home because of school closures. Because children absorb everything they see and hear, parents bear the double burden of keeping themselves and their children calm.

"Be reliable and predictable. You want your children to know that you have their backs. Be nurturing and affectionate," Reinecke said. 

He also emphasized being a sounding board and a voice of reason.

Two youngsters Reinecke recently counseled said "I feel like it's the end of the world" and "There is nothing I can do."

"Dial that back," he recommended. Neither is a statement of fact. "It's not the end of the world. Schools are closing and things are changing, that is true. But it's not the end of the world."

Likewise, tell children there are things they can do. And that medical officials "are working very hard. There is a backstop behind us."

Child experts urge parents who have children whose schools are closed to establish study routines and specific hours for completing school work. And to schedule fun time as well.

"Chat on FaceTime, watch videos together and maintain social relationships," Reinecke counsels children and their parents. Just do it from the comfort of your own home. 

"This situation is evolving and shifting very rapidly," he said.

"They way we look at this, in the next few weeks and months [things will likely be much different]. We have to tolerate uncertainty. ... We know we will be fine."