Coronavirus > Coronavirus information and support > Managing worries & anxiety

How to cope with worry, stress and anxiety

Understanding worry

Worry is a very normal response to unexpected events. A certain amount of worry is helpful because it makes us think ahead and plan what we need to do. We worry more when things happen that:

  • we do not expect
  • we have little control over
  • make us feel uncertain about the future
  • we haven’t experienced before, so we have no previous knowledge to help us know what to do or how things will turn out.

This is all relevant to coronavirus and it is normal and OK to feel worried, stressed or anxious right now. You may feel particularly worried if you have a condition that puts you at higher risk from the virus, or if you care for someone who has. However, it is important that we don’t let this worry, stress or anxiety take over. The good news is that there are lots of things you can do to prevent this from happening and look after yourself as much as possible.

How worry affects our health

Spending a lot of time worrying can have a big impact on our lives. It can affect both our physical and mental health. For example, you may start to:

  • feel hopeless, lost or anxious
  • have trouble sleeping
  • feel unhappy a lot of the time
  • lose interest in doing things or speaking to people
  • feel tired and have difficulty concentrating.

Over time, worrying or stress can have an impact on our blood pressure, our digestive system and our immune system. How we try to cope with worry can also lead us to develop bad habits or unhealthy behaviours, such as comfort eating, drinking alcohol or smoking more.

For these reasons, it is really important that we try to manage our worry as best we can.

Different types of worry

To help manage, it is important to try to figure out what ‘type’ of worrying we are doing.

Some things we worry about we have some control over. These are sometimes called ‘practical’ worries. For example, you might be worrying about catching coronavirus. Things within our control to help with this include practicing physical distancing, washing our hands more often and trying to keep ourselves as healthy as possible in case we do catch it.

The other type of worrying is ‘hypothetical’ or ‘unhelpful’ worrying. This is when we worry over things we have little or no control over. Unhelpful worries often focus on the future, worst-case scenarios and ‘what ifs’. For example, ‘I’m never going to see my family again’, ‘what if I lose my job?’ or ‘what will happen if I get sick?’.

When we take a moment to think about what ‘type’ of worrying we are doing, it can help us to do something about it.

Taking action

If we are worrying about things we have some control over (practical worries), we can make a plan for what we can do about them and take some action.

If we are worrying about the future or what ifs (hypothetical or unhelpful worrying), we can recognise that worrying about these things will not help the situation and can try to let the worries go. The tips below can help you do this.

The tips also provide information on how to manage worries when they do arise and how to reduce how much time we spend worrying.

How to help manage worry

Focus on the ‘here and now’

Worry can make us focus too much on the future, the unknown and the ‘what ifs’, especially with what is happening in the world right now. Being more aware of the ‘here and now’ can help with this. This is sometimes called mindfulness.

Mindfulness is all about focusing on the present moment instead of thinking about the past or the future. It is about being aware of your thoughts and emotions, how your body feels and what is happening around you.

If you find you are spending a lot of time worrying about the future, there are simple mindfulness activities you can do to bring you back to the present moment like:

  • Paying attention to your breathing – with your eyes open or closed, slowly and gently breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Continue to do this, thinking about how your breath feels as you breathe in and out.
  • Doing a ‘body scan’ – slowly tensing and relaxing the muscles in your body. Start at your toes and slowly work your way up to your head.
  • Focusing on your five senses – notice what you can see, hear, touch, taste and smell around you.

Anyone can practice mindfulness and the more you try, the better you will get at it. There are lots of books and websites on mindfulness. Smartphone apps like Headspace and Insight Timer have free meditations and are a great way to get started. Headspace also have a free collection of meditations called ‘weathering the storm’ to help with how you might be feeling right now.

Write down how you are feeling

Writing down how you feel can help to interrupt the cycle of the worries going around in your head. For each worry you write down, think about if it is a practical worry that you can do something about, or if it is a hypothetical or unhelpful worry. For each one, write down more helpful or realistic ways of thinking.

It can also help to write down the situation that made you start worrying in the first place, for example, watching too much news. Then write down if there is something you can do differently next time. For example, “I’m going to stop watching so much news and put a film on instead”.

If you don’t want to do any of the above, you can even just write down how you are feeling on a piece of paper then put the paper away in a drawer or even in the bin. This can help us to let go of the worry.


Stay connected to others

It is important to try to stay in touch as much as possible with family and friends. It is also important that we talk about how we are feeling about what’s going on right now. If we are feeling it is all getting too much and you are worrying a lot of the time, telling someone can help us feel better.

Sometimes however, it can be hard to speak to family or friends about how we are feeling when we know they are worrying too. Or perhaps you don’t know many people to speak to. Instead, you may want to contact a helpline for emotional support. There are many organisations that have people to talk to, for free, about how you are feeling. For example, Samaritans and Breathing Space.

Look for the good things happening around you – practicing gratitude

When we spend a lot of time worrying, we can forget or ignore any good or nice things happening around us. Making an effort to notice these things and feeling ‘gratitude’ (being thankful) for them, even if they are only small, has been found to have many benefits for both our mental and physical health.

There are lots of different ways to practice gratitude. For example, keeping a gratitude journal where you write down 3 things that you are thankful for each day, no matter how big or small. For example, noticing the flowers outside your window, making the perfect cup of tea or watching a film that made you laugh. Later, you can go back through the notes to remember good things that have happened.

You could even try keeping a ‘Gratitude Jar’, write down one thing you are grateful for each day, add it to the jar, and watch the jar fill up.

Gratitude helps us to see the positive things in our lives and helps us cope better with difficult situations that are happening right now. Try to remember that while we are all living a different way of life for just now, that doesn’t mean it has to be bad.

Limit how much news you see each day

It is important that we keep up to date with government guidance about what we need to do to keep ourselves safe and well.  We may also want to keep up to date with any other developments around coronavirus. However, spending lots of timing watching or reading the news is not helpful. It can become too much and feed into our hypothetical or unhelpful worries.

Try to limit how much news you are watching or reading to once or twice a day.

Good quality information is important, and it can also be helpful to think about where you are getting your news from. Make sure that the information you are getting is from good sources with balanced reporting. Avoid reading things from sources that may be incorrect or try to shock or scare you. You can find the latest information on coronavirus and how to stay safe from NHS Inform or the Scottish Government website.

Think about how you’re using social media

Think about how much time you spend on social media and if it is making you feel better or worse. Fill your social media feed with positive accounts and try to unfollow the negative ones that make you worry more.

A lot of what we see in the news and our social media focuses on what other people are doing. Try to avoid making assumptions or judging others and their behaviour. Most of us are feeling anxious and worried right now. Even if we don’t agree with how other people are behaving, we can still try to think of them with kindness as they are finding this time difficult too.

Further support and advice

Looking for more ideas to help your mental health during this challenging time? Read our blog for more practical tips and how to get extra support if you need it.

For free, confidential support and information, call our Advice Line nurses on 0808 801 0899, email or text NURSE to 66777.