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Avoiding ‘the sky is falling’ mentality amid coronavirus pandemic: Saskatoon counsellor

Coping with pandemic-induced anxiety
WATCH: A counsellor recommends people avoid worst-case-scenario thinking amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The World Health Organization held off on declaring a novel coronavirus pandemic to avoid mass panic, but as the virus continues to spread, anxiety continues to grow.

A Saskatoon-based clinical counsellor said some of her clients are “catastrophizing” amid the seemingly endless stream of COVID-19 related developments.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan confirms first presumptive case of novel coronavirus

“People have a tendency to think of worst-case scenario — the sky is falling,” clinical social worker Sherry Tucker told Global News.

“Once you get there, it’s really difficult for people to kind of calm themselves down.”

Coronavirus around the world: March 12, 2020
Coronavirus around the world: March 12, 2020

Many of Tucker’s clients are children, who she said often don’t fully understand the disease and how to protect their health.

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“It becomes a scenario where they just have… rampant anxiety about something that they don’t understand and they can’t control,” she said.

On Thursday in Saskatoon, the province confirmed its first presumptive case of the virus, the Juno Awards were cancelled, and the fire department announced a few of its members are in a precautionary quarantine — all before 11 a.m.

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“People become consumed with gathering information,” Tucker said, noting counsellors observed similar obsessive behaviours following 9/11.

“Be updated about what’s going on, where people have been diagnosed, but yet, not making that your whole life.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Inmates at Saskatoon jail under quarantine after possible link to COVID-19

There are several coping strategies people can adopt to deal with pandemic-induced anxiety, namely knowing when to turn off the TV or phone, Tucker said.

She said feelings of panic can be stopped in their tracks with the help of a strategy called thought blocking.

“As soon as you start to go… down the rabbit hole… stop and actually envision a stop sign that can block those thoughts and then redirect yourself and focus on something that can help to absorb your mind,” she said, noting people may have to repeat the process dozens of times a day.

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“[Remove] yourself from information or media that’s going to cause more anxiety.”

She also suggested getting back to the basics of self-care: exercise, rest, eat well, and yes, wash your hands.

Concerned about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is very low for Canadians, but they caution against travel to affected areas (a list can be found here). If you do travel to these places, they recommend you self-monitor to see whether you develop symptoms and if you do, to contact public health authorities.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing – very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease.

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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

WATCH: As COVID-19 continues to spread, a lot of Canadians are wondering how to protect their children and how to explain the pandemic to them without scaring them. Laurel Gregory went to the experts for answers.

How to explain coronavirus pandemic to children
How to explain coronavirus pandemic to children