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

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

Even if your family is prepared, an outbreak can be very stressful. Following are suggestions to help your family cope with this stress:

Keep updated about what is happening with the outbreak and additional recommendations by getting information from credible media outlets, local public health authorities, and updates from public health websites (e.g., CDC). Choose a specific time during the day to update on any new information, but be aware not to become consumed with news.

Seek support and continued connections from friends and family by talking to them on the telephone, texting, or communicating through email or social media. Check your child’s school website for ideas and information to stay active and engaged.

Although you need to stay informed, 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 their feelings through active listening. 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

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

Keep your family’s schedule consistent when it comes to bedtimes, meals, and exercise.

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, playing games, exercising, or engaging in religious activities (prayer, participating in services on the Internet).

Have children participate in distance learning opportunities that may be offered by their schools or other institutions/organizations.

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.

Help your family engage in fun and meaningful activities consistent with your family and cultural values.

Hygiene & Medical Care

Find ways to encourage proper hygiene and health promoting behavior with your children (create drawings to remember family routines; sing a song for length needed to wash hands like the A-B-C or Happy Birthday song, twice). 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. Here’s a helpful checklist for identifying unhealthy thoughts and coping with them:

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.


Your children may respond differently to an outbreak depending on their age. Below are some reactions according to age group and the best ways you can respond:



Fear of being alone, bad dreams

Speech difficulties

Loss of bladder/bowel control,

Constipation and/or bed-wetting

Change in appetite

Increased temper tantrums, whining, or clinging behaviors


Patience and tolerance

Provide reassurance (verbal and physical)

Encourage expression through play

Allow short-term changes in sleep arrangements

Plan calming, comforting activities before bedtime

Maintain regular family routines

Avoid media exposure


Irritability, whining, aggressive behavior

Clinging, nightmares

Sleep/appetite disturbance

Physical symptoms (headaches, stomachaches

Withdrawal from peers, loss of interest

Competition for parents’ attention

Forgetfulness about chores and new information learned at school


Patience, tolerance, and reassurance

Play sessions and staying in touch with friends through telephone and Internet

Regular exercise and stretching

Engage in educational activities (workbooks, educational games)

Participate in structured household chores

Set gentle but firm limits

Discuss the current outbreak and encourage questions. Include what is being done in the family and community

Encourage expression through play and conversation

Help family create ideas for enhancing health promotion behaviors and maintaining family routines

Limit media exposure, talking about what they have seen/heard


Physical symptoms (headaches, rashes, etc.)

Sleep/appetite disturbance

Agitation or decrease in energy, apathy

Ignoring health promotion behaviors

Isolating from peers and loved ones

Concerns about stigma and injustices



Patience, tolerance, and reassurance

Encourage continuation of routines

Encourage discussion of outbreak experience with peers, family (but do not force)

Stay in touch with friends through telephone, Internet, video games

Participate in family routines, including chores, supporting younger siblings, and planning strategies to enhance health promotion behaviors

Limit media exposure, talking about what they have seen/heard including at school

Discuss and address stigma, prejudice and potential injustices occurring during outbreak


If you or a loved one is having a difficult time coping with the outbreak and want to seek help, please reach out to a therapist or medical provider.






Adopted and Modified from The National Child Traumatic Stress Network Guidelines