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Pandemic panic: Understanding what's normal in abnormal times

While most of us are worried to some degree about Covid-19, for those living with chronic anxiety, like writer Julia Molony, it presents a unique challenge

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South Korean soldiers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 at a shopping district in Seoul. Photo: Getty Images

South Korean soldiers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 at a shopping district in Seoul. Photo: Getty Images

AFP via Getty Images

South Korean soldiers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 at a shopping district in Seoul. Photo: Getty Images

It was surely only a matter of time before the slogan 'Keep Calm and Wash Your Hands' became a meme. A timely reminder to keep a level-head in the face of rising panic, the slogan has been circulating on social media for the last week or so, as the numbers of infections and deaths from Coronavirus continue, apparently inexorably, to climb and even the most phlegmatic amongst us struggle not to get carried away in a growing atmosphere of alarm.

We are all, it's fair to say, pretty concerned. But what about those of us who are already predisposed to excessive worry? Almost one in five people, for example, have an anxiety disorder. For those with mental health problems, hours of any ordinary day can be spent fire-fighting panic and dread. So how does a catastrophist keep perspective at a time when the threat is increasingly real?

For as long as I can remember, I've worried, sometimes to the point of obsession, about health. Both my own and the health of those I love. In 2014, I did a course of cognitive behavioural therapy which helped me recognise that my habit of losing hours searching symptoms on Google and rushing to the doctor at the slightest ache or pain was only compounding the problem. It would be better to try to tune out health news updates and think about something else instead.