It seems like the whole of Kenya is talking about coronavirus (COVID-19). Everybody on social media is an expert, the internet is a blaze with articles and information, supermarkets have long queues, your parents are sending your forwards on WhatsApp and it’s all your co-workers are talking about (if you’re still working in the office and not from home, that is).
The uncertainty about a potentially life-threatening virus and our state of national preparedness or lack thereof has created an environment of public anxiety. So if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed and unprepared at the thought of COVID-19, you are not alone.
“For everything that we don’t know about COVID-19, there’s a lot that we do know,” says Public Health specialist Dr. Noah Akala, MD. “Coronaviruses are a special class of cold viruses – and the good news here is that doctors have understood how to manage people with respiratory viruses for some time.”
Dr. Akala says that when it comes to easing public fear and anxiety around COVID-19, take these two things into consideration:
- Doctors know what to do and have years of training on how to manage respiratory illnesses.
- You can take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones.
“Healthcare providers and hospitals networks in Kenya are working hard in readiness to respond to the spread of COVID-19,” says Dr. Akala. “It is important to understand that managing viral respiratory illnesses is not new in the global medical community. We have confronted SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) in the past. We continuously prepare for outbreaks like this. Guidelines have been in place and they are reviewed and updated as new information becomes available.”
And when it comes to your personal health and safety – you should know what to do to avoid getting sick because it involves the same measures you would take to protect yourself against influenza and lots of other infections. Wash your hands, use a handkerchief to cover your mouth and nose, do not touch your face, avoid those who are ill, avoid large gatherings and stay home if you’re not feeling well.
While this virus is unpredictable and the situation continues to evolve, focus on what you can control at an individual level, says Dr. Akala.
It’s only human to go through a range of emotions as we learn more about COVID-19.
You might experience:
- Insomnia (difficulty sleeping).
- Trouble concentrating.
- Thoughts of helplessness.
- Fear of people who are coughing or appear sick.
- Social withdrawal.
- Anxiety, worry and panic.
- Increased concern about your health and body.
Ways to manage your fears about coronavirus
Dr. Akala urges reasonable precaution regarding COVID-19. She offers a few tips to help you get a handle on the situation:
- Get your facts straight. It’s important to stay current with the latest news from trusted sources regarding coronavirus. Be careful about what you read on the internet, especially comments and articles that are being shared via social media. Rely on established medical institutions and the Ministry of Health official communication platforms.
- Keep things in perspective. Although you’ll want to stay informed about COVID-19, it’s important to focus on what you can personally control. Take a break from media coverage or social media if you find yourself overwhelmed. If the endless talk about coronavirus is upsetting to you, change the topic of conversation.
- Be mindful. Not everyone you come in contact with has been exposed to COVID-19. Although caution and preventative measures are extremely important right now, not everyone who coughs has the virus. Also be sensitive about ethnic stereotypes and racial profiling. Being self-aware is a big component of easing public anxiety. Focus on what you can do.
- Try to maintain some aspects of your routine. It can be hard with so many public events being cancelled, social places being closed in Mombasa and the concept of “social distancing” always at the top of your mind. But it’s important to try to maintain some sort of schedule. Routine makes most people, especially children, feel safe. Try to keep your normal sleep and meal times and focus on activities that make you feel happy – like working out (at home), reading, watching your favorite movie or playing games with your family. Or take a walk, as long as you’re not in quarantine, a little fresh air is always a good idea!
If you find that you just cannot seem to get a grip on your anxiety, seek help from a mental health specialist. He or she can help you identify the things that are triggering you and help you with the tools to practice when you find your worry taking over.
Dr. Noah Akala, MD.
Public Health Specialist
MedLux International Hospital.