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How to Deal with the Stress of the COVID-19 Pandemic

March 13, 2020:

The situation in the United States surrounding COVID-19, the condition caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, is rapidly evolving, and lots of information is coming out in rapid-fire fashion. While it’s good to stay up to date on what’s going on, the rapid nature of the events and others’ reactions to them can cause anxiety, fear, and stress.

Signs of Stress over Current Events

Here are some of the symptoms you may notice in yourself that can tell you you’re experiencing too high of a stress load:

  • Sleep pattern changes: not sleeping well at night or sleeping too much
  • Eating changes: not feeling like eating or eating too much
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Increased use of alcohol, smoking, or other substances
  • Thoughts dwelling on fear for your health or that of a loved one to the point where functioning is difficult

Know Yourself

First, you must understand yourself and your reaction to the COVID-19 situation. How people react to a widespread concern like this varies widely among people and can be impacted by their basic personality as well as their individual circumstances.

You must do some self-evaluation to determine how you are feeling about the information you’re consuming and why. If you feel anxious, try to pin down what is bothering you. It could be fear of getting the virus, concern for a loved one, or stress about the economy or your personal financial situation. Once you can pin down the reason you’re feeling anxiety, it should be easier to mitigate it for yourself.

Limit Your Exposure to Social Media

Many people feel more anxiety surrounding situations such as the COVID-19 outbreak when they see others’ reactions about it on social media. That could be because you are getting repeated images of what’s going on or because you disagree with others’ assessments or reactions to the situation.

If you are feeling anxious about COVID-19, it may help to limit your exposure to social media. Try checking in once or twice a day for a few minutes only, and the rest of the time, avoid those sites. You may wish to take the apps off your phone to better resist the urge to look at them.

Limit Your Consumption of News

This one is tricky, and we are not recommending that you don’t stay apprised of the COVID-19 situation. It’s important that all citizens remain educated on what’s going on, so they can make decisions to keep themselves and their families safe and so they know if certain events have been prohibited or closed in their area.

However, watching the news all day or monitoring it online regularly can increase your anxiety. And the odds are high that you’ll be seeing the same information repeated, which can increase stress. Try checking in with a news site or watching the news once or twice a day to keep yourself apprised. The rest of the time, try avoiding the news to see if your anxiety improves.

Be Kind to Yourself and Others

During a time of heightened stress, it’s common for people to expect a lot out of themselves and others. Remember to treat yourself kindly during the COVID-19 outbreak. Permit yourself to be worried and also to let go of the worry and feel happy as much as you can.

Make time for self-care techniques that you know can help you feel calmer and less stressed. Do activities that feel good to you and can help you connect with a sense of normalcy. Reading, listening to music, doing puzzles, exercising, getting outside where it’s safe to do so, and engaging in any hobby that usually helps you unwind can all help.

Connect with others as much as possible. While it may be recommended that people don’t assemble and use social distancing to decrease the virus’ spread, you can connect via phone, text, chat, or video chat. Doing that can make you feel more normal, which helps decrease worry and fear.

Remind yourself as often as possible that being positive is essential. Try meditations focused on hope.

Be sure you eat well. Proper nutrition will help your mental state.

Get exercise. You may need to be more creative about you get it if your normal activities aren’t available, but you should still get plenty of movement into your day. Try dancing or doing inside aerobics or exercise classes or exercise outside while maintaining distance from others.

Do Things That Help You Stay Calmer

If there are some things that can help you stay calm and peaceful during the COVID-19 outbreak, do them. For example, some people will find they feel better with full cupboards and freezer. And, with families largely staying together and inside, many people will find they stay calmer if they keep the house tidy. Make it a family priority to keep up with housekeeping.

If you have kids home from school, try to stick to a loose routine. You can make a chart or picture of the things you’d like them to do each day. Give them some chores too, so they can feel as though they’re pitching in to help the family.

What About COVID-19 Stress in Children?

Children can also feel stress over the COVID-19 situation. It may not be obvious, so here are some ways children show that they have anxiety:

  • Body aches and pains, especially headaches and stomachaches
  • Irritability
  • Regression on previously learned behaviors such as toilet training
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Clinginess
  • Poor attention span

To a large degree, children, especially young ones, react to things based on how the adults around them are reacting. As much as possible, stay calm and confident about COVID-19 in front of your children without lying or telling untruths. Monitor their media intake, so they aren’t seeing things they may not understand and which may upset them on TV or online.

Be honest with your children about the virus outbreak in a manner appropriate for their age. For preschool-age children, focus on illness in general and how hand-washing combats it. For school-age children, consider telling them the basics of this particular virus, including that most people only show mild symptoms. Use language they understand and don’t give more information than they ask for.

For older kids, provide information as they ask for it, including websites health-related authorities such as the CDC, where they can find accurate information. As much as possible, consume the information with your child and be available for questions.

Employ the same stress-relieving techniques for kids as for yourself: engage them in activities they love and provide as much normalcy as possible while schools and other events are closed or postponed.

Model good stress management as outlined above and help your child eat, sleep, and exercise well too.

Get Help When You Need It

If you feel that you are too anxious or stressed about COVID-19 and can’t relieve it yourself, get help. Call your health care provider and ask for their recommendations. If you feel that you aren’t able to lower your child’s stress, call their health care provider.

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