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The Ongoing Covid-19 Pandemic: Fear and Health

It might seem like a lifetime ago where a simple errand was…simple. Going to the grocery store or heading to the mall was a quick decision for and involved little thought or deliberation. But for the third year now, Canadians have been dealing with changing mandates, rules, and restrictions in order to limit the spread of covid-19. During these unsettling times, we’ve had to adjust: wearing masks, remote learning, and doing constant risk assessments.
The quarantines and lockdowns have been a necessary and important part of protecting people and the healthcare system. Now that mandates are lifted across Ontario, people are faced with more choices to dine out, dine in, socialize with others, or choose self-imposed mandates. The constant adjusting and risk assessments have created exhaustion and burnout in many Canadians. As mandates lift and we enter our third year of the pandemic, it is perhaps wise to consider our psychological health and what we can do to mitigate this ongoing burden.


Effect of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Mental Health

Studies have shown that covid-19 has caused universal suffering. In China, evidence exists that covid-19 increased psychological issues such as panic disorder, anxiety and depression. In the US, some researchers found that the more someone feared the coronavirus, the worse their mental health was. Overall, more symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress have been found across the world.
What is it about covid-19 that is causing fear?
We do not need to look at the research to answer this question: covid-19 has impacted people in all areas of their lives. We have had to deal with many unknowns, changes to our routines, coping with illness, and navigating a burdened health care system. The covid-19 virus came into the world suddenly, spread quickly, and we had limited information regarding how dangerous it was towards human life. We are still learning about it. For these reasons, the fear of covid-19 is understandable and expected.
Some people fear being infected and dying, others fear long-term issues after infection, some fear for their children who remain unvaccinated, and others fear changes to their employment or schooling.
So, what do all these fears have in common? Researchers suspect that since we cannot predict the future, it’s the lack of control and coping with the unknown.


Intolerance of Uncertainty

Many people do not want to feel future threats in the present moment. It’s uncomfortable to think about what covid-19 might do, how we might get infected, and what that would look like. Intolerance of uncertainty is the perception that future negative events occurring are unacceptable. Nothing is safe when people are unable to tolerate uncertainty. Intolerance of uncertainty is considered a core component of anxiety disorders and also heightens people’s anxiety. So, intolerance of uncertainty may underly some of the fears we have about covid-19. As well, individual differences in our ability to handle uncertainty may cause some people to be less fearful.
Tolerating uncertainty is part of being human and we all have different degrees of this trait. So, where do you think you’d score? Do you have strong negative reactions when you think about something bad happening in the future? Perhaps you avoid information about covid-19 to protect yourself, or maybe the opposite: you research everything to the point of exhaustion.


Coping during the covid-19 Pandemic

The ability to tolerate negative events that might occur in the future is a skill that can be learned and unlearned. A CBT therapist might help you work through some of your fears about the pandemic and its impact on your health and daily life through having you track your thoughts, how they made you feel, and what you did as a result. A therapist might walk through your day with yo

u. Perhaps the first thing you do in the morning is to check how many new cases there are, or read news about deaths associated with covid-19. This is important to you, as you feel you must consume as much information as possible, in order to make educated decisions about your day and your family. A CBT therapist might help break down this thought and behaviour.

CBT therapists are interested in how your CURRENT behaviour is influencing your ability to function. What do you notice about this person’s daily ritual of checking for information? How might their behaviour be influencing the quality of the rest of their day and their mental health?


What Happens Next?

Being intolerant of uncertainty and fearing covid-19 is not always negative. Indeed, anxiety and fear can keep us safe. As well, everyone is intolerant of negative events in some way. You might consider therapy when your intolerance of uncertainty and fear of covid-19 is negatively influencing your ability to function and thrive in the world. Although these are unsettling times, there are still things you can do to increase hope and become more resilient:

-Increase self-compassion: the way we talk to ourselves is important. Negatively evaluating yourself can breed negative emotions and over time, becomes exhausting. One way to increase self-compassion is through mindfulness. In fact, mindfulness therapy was shown to increase people’s ability to cope with uncertainty about the future.

-Write a list of coping behaviours you used to engage in, consider how often you are using them, and schedule it into your agenda
Track your emotions and thoughts when you find yourself thinking about covid-19 and becoming fearful: how helpful and proactive are your behaviours?

-Ask a friend about how much they fear covid-19 and compare notes

-Experiment with having a dedicated window where you read news and limit your information about covid-19

Living through a pandemic is an historical event. My hope is that people can learn how to balance their need for safety and information, with the need for mental and physical rest. If you want to learn more about tolerating uncertainty and fear, talk to one of our practitioners today.


About the Author 

Victoria Howarth is one of our qualifying registered psychotherapists {RP (Q)} and a therapist under supervision at CMAP Health. She is completing the last year of her Master’s Degree in Counselling Psychology at Yorkville University. Victoria holds a Master’s Certificate in Addictions and Mental Health from Durham College and has spent the last 5 years working the frontlines of the opioid epidemic. She has experience coaching and counselling adults with substance use disorders with an emphasis on harm reduction. To find out more about Victoria you can view her profile.


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