Coronaphobia: The Emotional Effects of COVID-19 and Mrs. Michelle Obama

Joseph R. Anticaglia MD
Medical Advisory Board

Former First Lady Michelle Obama announced in her podcast on August 5 that she’s suffering from “low-grade” depression. She said it this way: “I know I’m dealing with some form of low-grade depression because of the quarantine, because of the racial strife.” It’s “dispiriting” watching the day-in and day-out hypocrisy of this administration. She had difficulty sleeping and there were periods “where I’ve felt too low” and “where you just don’t feel yourself.”

Mrs. Obama is not alone coping with feelings of depression and difficulty sleeping, The U. S. Census Bureau, in a recent survey, reported that more than 1 in 3 Americans complained of symptoms of depression or anxiety during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Evelyn, a sixth grade elementary teacher, stopped working in March of this year because of the pandemic. She loved taking children on class trips to museums and on nature walks. Away from work she enjoyed going to the gym to keep fit and being active in Bible studies in her church.

Her work and activities came to a full stop because of the coronavirus. She felt as if she was under house arrest without the ankle bracelet. No gym, no church, no nature walks and for two months she didn’t leave the apartment terrified of getting sick from COVID. Her emotions seesawed up and down form anxiety to depression. She fell into a black hole and her future seemed darker. The only things that were progressing were her isolation, anxiety and depression.


The fear of becoming infected or dying on account of COVID-19 has poisoned the psyche of people rich and poor, young and old. The picture of you or a loved one being alone, gasping for air, needing oxygen or a ventilator to survive are terrifying images that can stamp sickness and death on our thoughts.

In the current environment, many parents will not send their child off to elementary school or allow their youngster to attend high school or college because of the coronavirus. The idea of the child sitting in a classroom, congregating between classes in hallways, participating in sports, acting in a school play, singing in the choir or any such group activity without adequate safeguards is simply unacceptable. Parents want in-person education that is safe for their children, teachers and school workers.

University of Washington’s model of August 6 predicted that if things continue — ‘unsteady’ as she goes — nearly 300,000 Americans could die of COVID-19 by December of this year! That’s a damning statistic. What is especially heart-wrenching is the needless loss of thousands of lives because of the inept management of this health crisis.

The economic fallout from the coronavirus has devastated millions of families in America. The unemployment claims as of August 1, 2020 have impacted roughly 55 million Americans! How can one process the angst of a single parent being out of work, small business owners becoming bankrupt, families getting an eviction notice, the “burnout” of frontline workers or the humiliation of individuals filing for unemployment relief for the first time in their lives?

Coping With Depression and Anxiety

Being at home and spending more TV time watching the coronavirus or political news are, for many, recipes for stress and depression. What follows are some coping suggestions:

  • Get accurate information from experts about COVID-19. “Thumbs down” the hyperbole from non-medical people.
  • Limit your time listening to COVID-19 news.
  • Exercise, eat well, sleep well
  • Keep in touch with friends and family
  • Keep in touch with yourself: Take the time to be aware of your thoughts, feelings, speech and your behavior
  • Consider adopting a pet
  • Share your feelings with people you trust
  • Help children express their feelings of insecurity and sadness.
  • Keep to familiar routines as much as possible
  • Try relaxation techniques
  • Be grateful for family, friends and frontline workers
  • Know where to get treatment or counseling

Mrs. Obama took the first step by becoming more attuned to her emotions and was confident enough to share her feelings with the rest of us. If you need help, seek it out.

Reach out to your primary care physician, family, friends, spiritual leader, health insurer or organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Also, there’s a national helpline that offers 24/7 treatment referral and information for individuals and families facing mental or substance use disorders: 800-662-HELP (4357).


  1. Michele Obama; The Michelle Obama Podcast, August 5, 2020
  2. World Health Organization; Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak, 2020
  3. CDC; Coping With Stress; July 1, 2020
  4. New York State, Department of Health; Protect Yourself and Your Family from Coronavirus (COVID-19, August 8, 2020
  5. Sherman, A. Lee, et al; Incremental validity of coronaphobia: J Anxiety Disord. 2020 Aug
  6. National Alliance on Mental Illness

This article is intended solely as a learning experience. Please consult your physician for diagnostic and treatment options.