COVID-19 Pandemic Making You Anxious? Ateneo Psychologist Gives Us Advice

We talked to Dr. Karina Galang Fernandez, Executive Director of Ateneo Bulatao Center, about how to manage fear and panic during situations like the COVID-19 pandemic.
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On March 11, COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). The Philippines has since been put under Code Red Sublevel 2 and class suspensions as well as community quarantines have been enforced in Metro Manila for 30 days.

While we take all measures to protect ourselves from the virus, there's also another thing that might be crucial even in a health crisis like the global COVID-19 situation: our mental health. Many of us might be experiencing anxiety or worry over the situation without even realizing how severe these feelings are becoming and how serious their impact is on how we go about our everyday lives and how we respond in times of crises.

We talked to Dr. Karina Galang Fernandez, Executive Director of Ateneo Bulatao Center, about how to manage fear and panic during cases like the COVID-19 pandemic.

How to know if our actions are already signs of panic

Dr. Fernandez points out the familiar, more common expressions of panic like: becoming more hyperactive than usual, being very restless, or doing lots of big movements. However, she also points out, “We have to realize that while these are the common manifestations, we also have to understand that the stress from this and other problematic situations might also manifest in the totally opposite way.” Being more quiet or withdrawn and isolating yourself are also signs to watch out for.

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At the end of day, Dr. Fernandez emphasizes that we should observe any significant changes in our usual habits. “Are we noticing changes in their everyday behavior and how they usually respond to different stimuli? We want to watch out for certain changes in behavior and emotional state.”

How to stay level-headed when you’re stuck at home

Given the extended class suspension, community quarantine, and social distancing measures imposed in Metro Manila in response to the community transmission of COVID-19, individuals are highly encouraged to stay at home. Having limited exposure to what has been happening outside our homes aside from what we see or read from media outlets and on the Internet, many may feel helpless or uneasy.

Dr. Fernandez advises that maintaining certain parts of your routines as much as possible will help ease your feelings of restlessness and give you a sense of control in situations we cannot regulate. “What’s good in a way is that students are still required to do work, so we have online assessment and online lectures,” she says. “Trying to still have some semblance of your everyday life is good. Having a sort of routine, a sense of productivity, can really help you contain any sense of panic or distress because your mind is still focused on things you can do and can control.”


How to manage feelings of anxiety or panic

Dr. Fernandez shares a few guidelines on managing our fears and anxieties in times like this:

  • Take a breath. Practicing breathing exercises helps us calm down.
  • Limit your daily news intake. To avoid being overwhelmed, don’t listen to or read the news all the time. Choose a certain period in the day when you look up news updates instead of constantly refreshing your feeds.
  • More importantly, choose where you get your news—refer to media news outlets instead of reading every Viber and Facebook message that comes out that’s not connected to credible sources.
  • If you start to feel overwhelmed, shift your attention to something else, like listening to music or watching your favorite YouTubers’ vlogs. Dr. Fernandez advises, “If you like or enjoy a certain hobby, engage in those. It’s really about not drowning yourself with information that would only make your feelings worse.”
  • Find a support system. Fernandez says, “If you notice yourself spiraling, call someone, text someone, Messenger someone, because we know that with any kind of stress, talking to someone is helpful.” 

How to handle other people’s feelings of anxiety or panic

Managing our own stress is one thing, but in cases like the COVID-19 pandemic, we aren’t the only ones who may be feeling stressed or panicked by the situation. The people close to us—our parents, siblings, friends—may also be under a similar sense of distress.


If any of your family members express feelings of fear or anxiety, Dr. Fernandez’ first advice is to exercise compassion. “We know that empathy can be very, very helpful. Allow them to bring it out. Validate, respect, and empathize with what they are thinking. Share with them the tips mentioned above.”

For younger children, Dr. Fernandez says that affirming the correct actions will help. “For younger children, validate what they’re doing right, like washing their hands and staying at home.”

For our parents, Dr. Fernandez says that, “a lot of patience is important. Contradicting them or raising your voice to them will only agitate them further.”

Instead, maybe having an exchange of ideas with them might help. “Discuss with them, ‘What else pa kaya can we do, mom?’ or ‘How did you handle stress before? What helped you handle them?’ Trying to bring up other stories of when they were able to rise of to adversity or how they managed and remained resilient in the past can also be helpful.”


While empathy is very important (Wouldn’t you want someone else to identify with and validate your concerns as well?), we are not obligated to manage someone else’s distress if we are not in a proper disposition to help. If you feel that you are unable to aid someone else handle their worries, Dr. Fernandez’ advice is to respectfully inform them without being dismissive of their worries. “You can say, ‘I’m hearing your worries about this; I’m also panicking in my own internal state.’ I think rather than brush them off immediately, allow them to say it for a while and echo their thoughts.”

At the end of the day, Dr. Fernandez emphasizes the importance of caring for our mental health, even during a crisis that predominantly affects physical health. For her last piece of advice, Dr. Fernandez says, “By taking care of your mental health, you become more physically resilient; your psychological well-being can affect your physical well-being.”










About the author
Mylene Mendoza
Candy Staff Writer

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Serene Fae 13 hours ago

"The paradoxical idea of attaining a happier life and how to withstand these beliefs."

The Revolting Truth About Happiness by Theserenefae

If people ask you about your vision of a happier life we automatically envision ourselves having more money, true love, a better job, Instagram-worthy vacations, etc. But let me break this to you this, According to Dr. Laurie Santos, Professor of Psychology at Yale University and the voice behind The Happiness Lab podcast, "Most of the goals we think would make us happy do not really make us happy." And why is that? Simple, being happy is all in our minds. The human mind ploys us with these lenses on how we envision ourselves and our lives to be happy. The perception of "having" or "gaining" is the exact opposite of what will truly make our lives better. So how can we really be "happy"?

• Seek happiness inside you. This is a quintessential reason for our vision of happiness: misconceptions about having a lot of money would make me happy; owning this and that would make me happy; entering a relationship would make me happy. This is not the case, if you want to be truly happy with your relationship, you have to be already happy on your own. If you want satisfaction from others, you have to be satisfied with yourself. And so on.

• Fill that hole righteously We all have that tiny hole inside our hearts, tampering it with temporary band-aids. Fill this hole with purpose. Have you ever heard about The Three "M's"— Master, Mission, and Mate? Define who will be your Master, is it God? If that's so, your Mission could be following his words and will. Mate would be the last for they will be the best companion to fulfill your mission. Now hear me out, it is important to do this accordingly. We often times jumble it or invert it which can lead to failures.

• Give gifts to others. The wonderful grace in giving. There’s nothing like the rush of pure joy when you get a chance to give. However, this may not be something that we're used to. But apparently, openhandedness is our soul's true shape. As Eugene Peterson put it, "Giving is what we do best. It is the air into which we were born." This doesn't necessarily mean we have to give away our stuff but we can also present love, kindness, gratefulness, etc. in our own simplest ways to anyone such as giving time, encouragement, helping hand, or even forgiveness. Try giving and you'll receive inconceivable gifts in return.

• Savor moments. Savoring deeply intensifies our positive emotions while doing something that we love the most by simply stepping outside of the experience to review and appreciate the moment. You can practice this by having a delicious meal, reading a good book, or any activity that you enjoy and love. It can also be enhanced by sharing these experiences with others, appreciating such amazing moments, or staying present the entire time.

• Choose to Love Deeper Today's society relentlessly pressures all of us to have this "perfect" lifestyle such as pursuing careers that drain you, finding value through virtual world and purchases, letting achievements become your whole identity, and yet after all that you still feel empty and failure inside. Consumption is just skin deep—a shallow perception of happiness. Deep life brings the best out of us and others. It is about nourishing what you already have, focusing on the relationships than material wealth, becoming vulnerable at times, and being self-aware.

• Understand that Sufferings and Pain are part of Human Being. Always remember that loneliness and sufferings are inevitable. That is completely how life goes. You may be happy for a moment or a month but sooner or later great tribulation will start to kick in. Combat despair with graciousness. Count all the blessings that you have (and will have in near future, claim it!) by writing it down on a piece of paper or typing on your phone. Viola! an instant boost for happiness. We all know the fact that this superficial happiness won't work, but why do I keep on wanting? I already have all this wisdom about how to be happy for ages, but why can't I apply it to my own life?

First, you have to understand that simply knowing doesn't change your behavior. Care to realize that all the tips that I have mentioned are all verbs? Because at the end of the day, it is all about how you choose to be happy and initiate actions towards success. Know, reflect, visualize, believe, and do something about it. All of these are Actions! This is the secret of all the happiest and most influential people in the world—actions. Furthermore, do know that some of these tips do not work instantly most of the time. It requires a lot of time, motivation, consistency, and effort. I do know it's easier said than done. Take each of them slowly, one step at a time.

If it wasn’t for pain, I wouldn’t be alive. It may sound contradictory, but it’s true. Pain reminds me that I can feel, along with other emotions. Pain reminds me that I can heal, just like how I did in the past. Pain reminds me that I am strong and I can do better. It reminds me that life can be bitter, and it is up to us to make it a little sweeter (or saltier, depending on what the person wants).

With this epiphany, I take pain in a positive light. It’s normal that it can break me and make me want to stay in bed all day, but having someone or something remind me that there is hope is enough. It’s normal that I cry my heart out, but it’s important to remember that there’s a calm after the storm. If it wasn’t for pain, I wouldn’t be who I am now. It has shaped me and how I look at things. It has changed the way I approach circumstances that can challenge me and my beliefs.

Pain, back then, made me cower in the dark. Pain used to be my biggest fear, and I used to do my best to avoid pain. However, I realized that avoiding pain is like avoiding life. Because of how I wanted to protect myself, I closed myself off to people and opportunities. I used to tell myself that “this will end badly”, or “this is going to hurt in the end”. I always focused on how much pain I might endure in the end that I forgot to enjoy the process.

It’s inevitable, you see? Endings, most of the time, may hurt. It’s natural for us to grow attached to someone or something, and their disappearance might bring us a lot of pain. However, one should always remember that the pain is a reminder of how close you became, how many memories you had. If it wasn’t for pain, life would be pointless. If it wasn’t for pain, we would be nothing.

margaux marie 13 hours ago

19 year old pharmacy student-businesswoman from Pampanga. I, Kimberly Chaile D. Ocampo, started planning my own business back when I was 18 years old. Despite being a student, that did not stop me to work and start up something for me to earn my own money. I was also influenced by my parents who are both hands on when it comes to the marketing world. I have decided to start my own mini restaurant/fast food restaurant recently (Feb 2020) and it was named as “Hungry Hubb”. From the word itself which is “Hungry” we thought of something that would give people the biggest hint that we sell food.

Because of the sudden quarantine, every store was forced to close for our own safety that is why there was a sudden decrease on our sales. But Hungry Hubb managed to survive by focusing on online selling and social media promotion. Our best seller would be Shawarma salad which is mediterranean style. We add authentic Garlic sauce to our shawarma (Which is available in Wrap, Salad, & Rice). Every product that we sell are very affordable and delicious. Our starting price is only 50php. (Shawarma Wrap). For Shawarma Salad (70php). We also have Milktea (60php) and Rice meals such as Lechon Kawali, Chicken barbecue, and Pork Barbecue for only 120 pesos.

And of course, I wouldn’t make it up this far without the help of my family and friends who have supported be from the very start. This is an open letter and inspirational especially to students that want to earn their own money. Nothing is impossible. You just have to be determined enough to turn your plans into reality.

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