COVID19: Have Empathy for Excessive Anxiety During Pandemic

If you have been to a grocery store within the past week you’ve seen the empty shelves and panic buying that has been occurring everywhere. 

I was the opposite and one of those people who did not feel the panic of getting food.  I was doing my part to avoid crowds and listening to the advice of government officials and media experts explaining that there is no supply shortage of food or toilet paper and that shelves will continue to be restocked.   

In all honesty I initially judged those with this more panicked behaviour. I couldn’t make sense of people buying more than the recommended two weeks of food, and not being mindful of others needs. How could they not see that if they take everything, then others will have nothing leaving vulnerable populations in a more vulnerable position?

However, I recognized that I needed to take a step back and remember a core value of what I teach when it comes to helping those with mental illnesses – have empathy.  While even though I didn’t feel the grocery panic, others did. It’s moments like this that we need to try to put ourselves in another person’s shoes.  We need to try and understand that we don’t know what else has happened to a person in their life, or what their current situation is.  Many people could have come from poverty and are terrified of not having food; others have a very large family to feed; or maybe even others were buying for their neighbors or people who needed help.  Of course, there are many reasons for peoples’ behaviours during this unsettling time. I started to recognize that many of these people could also be living with diagnosed or undiagnosed anxiety disorders.  And for people with anxiety disorders they are going to feel even more anxiety than they were previously feeling. While my last blog talked about healthy anxiety during times of stress, what is unhealthy anxiety and how can you be aware if you or someone you know is experiencing it?

According to the DSM-V (Diagnostic Statistical Manual Fifth Edition) Anxiety Disorders are described as having excessive anxiety and worry occurring for most days over the period of six months.  Excessive anxiety includes worrying about problems when no problem exists. Typically, people with anxiety disorders will worry about money, family, health, school but even when these areas in their life are functioning normally.  However, what is excessive when there is actually a problem that exists such as our current global predicament? 

Signs of excessive unhealthy anxiety could include:

  • Watching too much news to the point of it disrupting time needed for daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning, working, or child caring duties
  • Overstocking food and supplies obsessively that could lead to waste
  • Seeking out constant reassurance several times a day from external sources
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs
  • Changes in sleep and eating patterns
  • Decreased ability to focus, pay attention and concentrate on day to day tasks
  • Increased anger, agitation, or short temperedness

The key difference here between healthy versus unhealthy anxiety is recognizing if this worry is mild and helping us stay motivated during this time of stress?

Or is it excessive causing behaviours that could hurt people and others around them? Once we’ve recognized possible symptoms we need to be empathetic, putting ourselves in the best position to help a person.

Next time I’ll be discussing ways to better cope with anxiety.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Christine Fuda is the Mental Health First Aid Coordinator at Ontario Shores. During the pandemic, she will be blogging regularly around the impact of COVID-19 from a mental health perspective. Send your suggestions for topics to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..