Sleep, uncertainty and social media: Dr Doireann O'Leary explains how to reduce Coronavirus anxiety

During these very uncertain times, we asked Cork-based GP Dr. Doireann O'Leary to advise on how to tackle Coronavirus anxiety


By now, we're all familiar with the symptoms. We know how it gets picked up, the danger areas, and when to call our GP's. We're as well informed as we can be — but that doesn't mean that we're as calm as we can be.

The outbreak of Covid-19 has put us all in unprecedented territory, and for those of us that suffer with anxiety (and even those of us who normally don't), it can be very difficult to keep our panic levels in check. It's just as important to look after your mental health in these times as it is to look after your physical health.

Dr. Doireann O'Leary, a Cork-based GP, has gotten great attention over recent weeks for her balanced and prompt response to the Coronavirus outbreak. Answering any and all questions from followers via her Stories, Dr. Doireann practices a purely fact-based approach to the virus. Here, we asked her about how best to manage panic levels during the outbreak.

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Are there a lot of people struggling with anxiety around the outbreak?

Yes, there is a lot of anxiety about it at the moment, which is really understandable — this isn't something that has never happened in our lifetime. People are worried about their health, their children, elderly relatives, and that's not including economic worries. There's a huge amount of uncertainty at the moment, so it's natural that people are worried.

Is there a balance between staying informed and switching off from the constant news cycle?

Yes, definitely. Consuming straight facts, even when they're 100% correct, it's still information that is psychologically overwhelming. The thing about this is that information changes on it constantly.

I think it's helpful to designate a time for yourself to read or watch the news and update yourself, and then switch off afterwards completely. I'd recommend the morning — I start my day by informing myself of any updates, and try not to consume anything past 6 pm. If you start reading into things in the evenings, it may affect your sleep, if you're up and thinking about something all night.

What are some ways you would recommend someone suffering with Coronavirus anxiety to manage it?

It comes back to the basics, but the basics are very important right now. Make sure you're getting a good night's sleep — sleep is vitally important to not only your physical health but mental health too. Prioritise sleep, but I would not advise taking a drink in the evening to try and wind down — alcohol actually disrupts your sleep and makes it harder to get good rest.

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As I've mentioned, don't go looking up information close to bed time. Try to avoid too much tea or coffee and drink water.

Exercise is very important, even though the ways we can do it might be a bit restricted now — you may be unable to attend the gym, but getting outside to exercise, even for a 20 minute walk, is great.

We have to become comfortable with a certain level of uncertainty at the moment. This is all so new and information changes so rapidly, but we as a country will get through it. Try and be as optimistic as you can.

What are some facts that your patients have been most reassured by since the beginning of the outbreak?

I find that patients are reassured by the fact that, for the majority of people who will get this virus, it will be a minor illness, and they will get better.

Pregnant women don't seem to be more vulnerable to the virus than others, from what we have seen so far, and it doesn't seem to affect developing babies, which is reassuring.

Our hospitals have plans in place to increase capacity, and are doing their best to prepare for new cases, so they are ready for that.

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This does not seem to be a serious illness for children — children can carry it to others, so we still need to be careful. These are the facts that I tell people that they seem to be reassured by.

How can we avoid getting sucked into false information and rumours on social media?

Stick to the reputable sources for your information. There is so much correct information online if you look in the right places.

In Ireland, you can go to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre or the HSE.  You can also look at the Department of Foreign Affairs for anything related to travel.

Beyond that, you can look at the World Health Organisation or the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. I'd recommend just keeping an eye on those websites and keeping up to date with their advice.

How is coronavirus impacting your life? If you want to be featured anonymously in our Coronavirus Diaries series, contact [email protected]


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