Coping with stress during an infectious disease outbreak

Prepared for parents by Dr. Elizabeth Paquette, Mental Health Lead, OCSB

It’s normal to feel stressed and anxious when dealing with the uncertainty and questions arising from an infectious disease outbreak such as COVID-19. These feelings will be even stronger if you or your loved one are at high risk of contracting the disease. It is important to monitor your own physical and mental health, to know how to relieve stress and when to seek help.

Signs and Symptoms of stress


  • An increase in your level of irritability and angry outbursts
  • A change in your level of energy (either an increase or decrease)
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Frequent crying for no identifiable reason
  • Isolating yourself socially


  • Headaches or other bodily pains that are not typical for you
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Being edgy or easily startled


  • Feeling depressed, anxious or worried
  • Feeling guilty
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling numb, not caring about things that were important to you before


  • Poor short term memory
  • Having difficulty making regular decisions
  • Having difficulty maintaining focus and concentration

If you or someone you know shows these signs and symptoms for an extended period of time, it may be important to access help from a mental health professional to cope with overwhelming feelings.  

Stress Management Strategies

Keep yourself healthy

  • Eat well, sleep well and maintain physical activity
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Avoid excessive amounts of caffeine, alcohol and tobacco

Keep things in perspective

  • Set limits on how much time you spend watching the news, or on social media
  • Pay attention to the things you can control 

Be informed

  • Rely on reputable sites for information.  In Ottawa, current, accurate information regarding the COVID-19 virus can be found at Ottawa Public Health

Make time for Self-Care

  • Relax your body by doing things that you enjoy- go for a walk, take deep breaths, meditate.  
  • Enjoying a good meal, reading a book, taking a hot bath can all help you to relax
  • Pace yourself and alternate between challenging activities and pleasurable activities
  • Talk to your close connections about your feelings
  • Focus on the positive things, events and people in your life
  • Take time to renew your spirit through prayer or meditation.

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