Coping with COVID-19 and Anxiety: Actionable Tools for the Care Team

Discussion with Martin Hsia, Psy.D.

For patients suffering from anxiety, OCD and other mental disorders, every day can be fraught with uncertainty, stress and panic. During an infectious disease pandemic outbreak such as the current COVID-19 crisis, it can be even more challenging to remain calm, focused and productive — both for patients and their care providers.

In this timely and insightful discussion, Martia Hsia, Psy.D., Licensed Psychologist, PSY22978, Clinical Director, Cognitive Behavior Therapy Center of Southern California, delivers a clear-minded, clinical analysis of the mental health aspects of the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. In his approximately 23-minute interview, Dr. Hsia assists physicians, healthcare professionals and patients alike by addressing a wide range of subjects.

COVID-19 and Anxiety: Actionable Tools for the Care Team

Martin Hsia, Psy.D.
Licensed Psychologist, PSY22978, Clinical Director, Cognitive Behavior Therapy Center of Southern California

Dr. Hsia stated that around two-thirds of the patients he treats in his practice are dealing with “some sort of anxiety disorder” — and normally, much of the treatment he provides to these patients would be direct, action-oriented and “hands-on” in nature.

Now that we’re living under the daily threat of COVID-19 infection and being asked to adhere to severe preventative measures such as “sheltering in place”, “social distancing” and diligent hand-washing, different approaches must be implemented. Of course, anxiety levels are ramped up for everyone around the world right now, and for many patients living with severe OCD, compulsive and aggressive hand-washing is already a concern. Dr. Hsia sees this as a true challenge and uniquely unusual time for both mental health patients and their care providers.

“it’s a difficult, stressful and inconvenient time for everybody,” explains Dr. Hsia.” Everything I’m reading, hearing, talking about with colleagues — this is really unique, uncharted territory for our lifetime, especially in the era of social media, where there’s so much information on both ends of the spectrum. Physicians and healthcare providers are people too, and are dealing with the fallout of this in their own personal lives and professionally. We want to provide accurate information and helpful treatment, to the best that we’re being informed on this, but not adding to anxiety. They’re looking to us for health, for treatment and for comfort at a very tricky time.”

Dr. Hsia noted that for many patients who live with anxiety, depression and OCD, activities like frequent hand-washing, isolating and avoiding contact with other people may already be ingrained behaviors. Normally, he and his colleagues would work to convince patients to reconsider these behaviors — and expand their horizons by doing things such as venturing out more. But even while such people may be accustomed to the “new normal” brought about by COVID-19, the high degree of uncertainty (and threat of fatality) we’re all facing now can further exacerbate stress, anxiety and depression.

“It may be validating for some, but may also be elevating for some,” says Dr. Hsia. “Typically, they operate at an already elevated level of anxiety, and now they’re being told there’s a global disease pandemic to worry about. For anyone who has a history of or has been dealing with any mental health issues, you’re adding something to their daily life that really heightens things.”

Patients aren’t the only ones affected by a pandemic and its resultant stress, uncertainty and panic, of course. Care providers themselves must guard against high levels of anxiety and burnout — especially if they’re being counted on to assist higher-risk people during such stressful times.

“They tell you on the plane to put the mask on yourself first,” explains Dr. Hsiu. “We need to emphasize self-care and recognize our own limitations. We have to be finely tuned instruments ourselves in order to help the people sitting across from us. We need to take care of ourselves, get enough sleep, practice social distancing. I hope that goes without saying under non-pandemic circumstances, but it never hurts to remind. It’s a very tricky time and we’re crossing our fingers.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold all across the world, it’s only natural that levels of anxiety, stress and panic would also continue to rise right alongside the number of confirmed cases. According to Dr. Hsiu, there’s a lot to be learned from the treatment and advice he typically gives to patients suffering from anxiety, OCD and other mental health challenges.

“One thing I would say to anyone here, just as in any situation that involves anxiety, is we need to do the best that we can — but at the same time, all we can do is the best that we can,” explains Dr. Hsiu. “Working with people with OCD, the tendency is to feel hyper-responsible for things that aren’t really accurate or realistic. This may be a time where that line gets blurred. Let’s do the best for patients, loved ones, the greater good. We can only do the best we can and hope for the best, and hope the measures and precautions we take do have the intended effect of flattening the curve and getting us back to life as usual.”


Facing COVID-19: Lessons Learned from Italy ⟶

The WHIP COVID-19 Study: The Use of Hydroxychloroquine as Prophylaxis for COVID-19 ⟶

Coding in the World of COVID-19: Non-Face-to-Face Evaluation and Management Care ⟶ 

What is Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) and What Doctors Need to Know ⟶ 


For more Coronavirus Resources & Tools from UpToDate and Ovid


The World Health Organization (WHO) ⟶ 

WHO Daily Updates on Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak ⟶

*This single lecture is not a CME activity.