Coping with the Stress of an Infectious Disease Outbreak


Coping with the Stress of an Infectious Disease Outbreak like COVID-19

Even if your family is prepared, an outbreak can be very stressful. To help your family cope with this stress, following these recommendations can help:

Information & Communication

Keep updated about what is happening from credible media outlets, local public health authorities, and updates from public health websites (e.g., CDC).

Seek support and continued connections from friends and family by talking to them on the telephone, texting, or communicating through email or social media. Schools may have additional ways to stay in contact with educators and classmates.

Minimize exposure to media outlets or social media that might promote fear or panic. Be particularly aware of (and limit) how much media coverage or social media time your children are exposed to about the outbreak.

E-mail and texting may be the best ways to stay in contact with others during an outbreak, as the Internet may have the most sensational media coverage and may be spreading rumors. Check in regularly with your children about what they have viewed on the Internet and clarify any misinformation.

Focus on supporting children by encouraging questions and helping them understand the current situation. Talk about their feelings and validate these Help them express their feelings through drawing or other activities

Clarify misinformation or misunderstandings about how the virus is spread and that not every respiratory disease is COVID-19 Provide comfort and a bit of extra patience Check back in with your children on a regular basis or when the situation changes

Scheduling & Activities

Developing a routine your children and family can help reduce distress during these stressful days. Besides meal time and bedtime, routine can include learning times as well as play time and time for family activities. Be sure to include calm and quiet time for each member of the family too.

Keep your family’s schedule consistent.

Make time to do things at home that have made you and your family feel better in other stressful situations, such as reading, watching movies, listening to music, games, or exercising.

Even if your family is isolated or quarantined, realize this will be temporary.

Recognize that feelings such as loneliness, boredom, fear of contracting disease, anxiety, stress, and panic are normal reactions to a stressful situation such as a disease outbreak.

Hygiene & Medical Care

Find ways to encourage proper hygiene and health promoting behavior with your children (create drawings to remember family routines. Include them in household jobs or activities so they feel a sense of accomplishment. Provide praise and encouragement for engaging in household jobs and good hygiene.

Reassure your children that you will take them to the pediatrician and get medical care if needed. Explain, however, that not every cough or sneeze means that they or others have COVID-19.

Self-Care & Coping

Modify your daily activities to meet the current reality of the situation and focus on what you can accomplish.

Shift expectations and priorities to focus more on what gives you meaning, purpose, or fulfillment.

Give yourself small breaks from the stress of the situation.

Attempt to control self-defeating statements and replace them with more helpful thoughts.

Remember, you are a role model for your children. How you handle this stressful situation can affect how your children manage their worries.

If your family has experienced a serious illness or the death of a loved one, find ways to support each other, including:  Reach out to your friends and family, talking to them about the death of your loved one. Use telephone, email, or social media to communicate if necessary.

Find ways to honor the death of your loved one. Some activities may be done as a family, while additional activities may done individually.

Seek religious/spiritual help or professional counseling for support. This may be available online or by telephone during an outbreak.