Coping during Covid Controlling worry and solving problems

You might be thinking that things are changing very fast at the moment, and that is because as everyone moves to an online world we are being inundated with news about problems and many of these are beyond our control. This fast pace can leave us feeling out of control, overwhelmed and this can increase our stress and anxiety.

Sometimes problems outside of our control cause us to worry and it can be hard to figure out what to do when we get stuck in a worry loop. This was true even in a pre-COVID life. The trick is to take the time to notice what we are thinking, feeling or doing about these problems and focus our attention on problems that are in our control. One way this has been described is shown below;

Outer circle: is the Circle of Concern and contains all the problems that concern us.
Middle circle: is the Circle of Influence and contains all the actions we can take to influence people/events to address our concerns.
Inner circle: is the Circle of Control and contains all the actions directly within our control that we can take to address our concerns.

If you want to map these things you could try writing them down. For example you can list the factors in the three columns below (see example and/or try your own).

How about problem solving?

Another way to help us with our worry is to figure out what is a worry and what is something we can problem solve. You may have once thought that worrying and problem-solving are one and the same. However worrying and problem-solving are two very different things.

Worrying is a negative thought process. When we worry, thoughts involving worst case scenarios and all the possible problems that might happen go around and round in our heads. We are so anxious that we can’t think clearly and can’t find any solutions. Worrying makes us fearful and leaves us without a plan. It can impact our sleep and make it hard to maintain healthy life balance.

Problem-solving is different. It is a constructive thought process focused on how we can deal with a problem by identifying what the problem is and thinking of possible solutions. We then examine the pros and cons for each solution and develop a plan. Then we put this plan into place with actions and behaviours. At the end, we reflect and evaluate whether our solution helped us solve our problem.

The first thing to check though is if there is a problem that requires solving. Head back to your Circle of Control. Is this a worry or a problem that requires solving? Ask yourself:

Is it a likely problem I am concerned about?
Is the problem something happening now?
Is the problem something I have some control over?

If the problem you are worried about is an unrealistic and unlikely prediction of the future, of which you have little control over, then although it might appear that the problem is “real”, it is not an actual problem that requires action. In these cases try a postponing strategy, such as a designated worry time, or mindfulness to assist you in ‘letting go’ of the worry.

However, if it is a real problem in the here-and-now that you can do something about, then using problem-solving strategies may be a useful way to deal with the problem.

Step 1: Identify/Define Problem

Try to state the problem as clearly as possible. Be objective and specific about the behaviour, situation, timing, and circumstances that make it a problem. Describe the problem in terms of what you can observe rather than subjective feelings.

Example Problem: I need toilet paper and the news says the shops don’t have any and every time I have gone there is none

Step 2: Generate Possible Solutions/Options

List all the possible solutions. Be creative and forget about the quality of the solutions. If you allow yourself to be creative, you may come up with some new options that surprise you.

Now eliminate the less desirable or unreasonable alternatives only after as many possible solutions have been listed. Then, list the remaining options in order of preference.

  • Solution 1
  • Solution 2
  • Solution 3
  • Solution 4
  • Solution 5
  • Solution 6

Step 3: Evaluate Alternatives

Evaluate the top 3 or 4 plans in terms of their advantages and disadvantages

Step 4: Decide On A Plan

Decide on one, two or more of the plans. Specify who will take action, when the plan will be implemented and how the plan will be implemented.

Step 5: Implement Plan

Try not to evaluate as you go just follow your action steps. If you start to get caught in a worry cycle use grounding techniques to help you reconnect with the physical world and support effective problem solving.

Step 6: Evaluate the Outcome

• Does the existing plan need to be revised or would a new plan be needed to better address the problem?
• If you are not pleased with the outcome, return to Step 2 to select a new option or revise the existing plan, and repeat Steps 3 to 6.
But I am still stressed..

Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children--this includes stress. Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. How you respond to COVID can depend on your background, the things that make you different from other people, and the community you live in.

People who may respond more strongly to the stress of a crisis include;

  • Older people and people with chronic diseases who are at higher risk for COVID-19
  • Children and teens
  • People who are helping with the response to COVID, like doctors and other health care providers, or first responders
  • People who have mental health conditions including problems with substance use

Keeping our stress levels down can be helped by using accurate and reliable information. The University is keeping you up to date with all of the facts on their website and you can also find out how your studies are impacted by COVID at the same time.

Can I talk to someone?
The University of Newcastle's Counselling and Psychological Services is open and you can contact for individual appointments either face to face, phone or online.

Appointments can be booked via in person, or by phone or email

The University's Online Drop In is running with 6 sessions a week. Drop-in for a chat (via Skype text) and get advice and support – no appointment is necessary.
  • Monday 1 to 2pm
  • Tuesday 8 to 9pm
  • Wednesday 3.30 to 4.30pm
  • Thursday 2.30 to 3.30pm and 8 to 9pm
  • Friday 10 to 11am

To use Online Drop In, send a request to add UoNonlinecounsellor to your Skype contacts. Once this has been accepted, you can chat during the session times.

The University's After-hours Crisis Support Line can assist with support and advice outside of business hours.

Ph: 1300 653 007 or SMS: 0488 884 165

  • 5pm-9am weekdays,
  • 24 hours on weekends and public holidays
Where can I get more help?

Webinars and Online Groups:

Support group for parents who are studying - University of Newcastle's Counselling & Psychological Services runs a 4-week long online support group to support students who are juggling demands of parenting. Topics discussed include self-care and self-compassion, expectations, routine and communication.

Check out the website for details on how to register for 2021 workshops and seminars.

  • Daily live meditation and support on Zoom via the Mindful Leader
  • Black Dog Institute offers lots of different online support groups that offer a safe place to connect with others
  • Beyond Blue provides an online community to support Australians with their mental health


  • Coping with COVID: is a video by the University of Newcastle Counselling and Psychological Services team to give you some tips to help minimise how COVID is impacting your life
  • FACE COVID: is a video from ACT therapist Russ Harris that will help you manage the fear and crisis in the face of COVID
  • Australian Government: COVID-19 and Staying Connected

Free Apps and Online Tools:

Free Online Courses:


More places for mental health support:

  • Life in Mind has collated an extensive list of services that can be accessed to support the mental health of everyone impacted by COVID.
  • Lifeline has both chat and phone support
  • Mental Health Line (NSW) offers professional help and advice, as well as referrals to local mental health service
  • Suicide Callback Service is a nationwide service that provides professional 24/7 telephone and online counselling to people who are are thinking about suicide, worried about someone or impacted by suicide.
Last updated 14 May 2021

Contact helen.scobie@newcastle.edu.au


Created with images by Fusion Medical Animation - "New visualisation of the Covid-19 virus" • Diego PH - "Hands" • sydney Rae - "untitled image" • Jon Tyson - "untitled image" • Jametlene Reskp - "buoy launched at the sea"