Stress can be displayed in different ways such as fear, anxiety, or anger. These are all normal emotions to be feeling at this time. Older adults and those with underlying health conditions are encouraged to stay home and avoid contact with others as they are in the high-risk group for COVID-19. However, prolonged isolation, as well as fears about the virus, can lead to increased anxiety and stress (Ianzito, 2020). This increase in anxiety can suppress the body’s immune system and impede the body’s ability to fight infections (Ianzito, 2020). Therefore, it is important to learn how to manage stress effectively.

How Do We Experience Stress?

Stress can manifest in different ways for different people. Some people may experience cognitive symptoms such as memory problems, constant worrying, or lower attention span. Others may experience emotional symptoms like moodiness, anxiety, or feeling overwhelmed. Stress can also be displayed through aches, pains, or dizziness. Behavioral changes such as eating habits, sleeping habits, and withdrawing for others may also be signs of stress (Help Guide, n.d.). Being able to identify stress can be the first step to find ways to manage it. Below are a few different ways we may experience stress.

  • Worries and Fears (Crouch, 2020)
    Worrying about the risk of getting COVID-19 or the fear of the unknown future can be stressful. These feelings can also be expressed by withdrawing from others or not wanting to engage in different everyday tasks.
  • General Anger and Irritability (Westbrook, 2020)
    We may become frustrated with small things that we normally wouldn’t. In addition, many of the activities we typically use for stress relief or socialization may not be accessible at this time.
  • Anger at Others (Crouch, 2020)
    It is normal to be upset or angry with people whose safety practices regarding wearing a mask or staying physically distant are different from yours.
  • Feeling Sad and Alone (Crouch, 2020)
    Being unable to do the things we were able to before may cause sadness. We may feel lost or alone without those sources of social support and friendship we would normally have through gatherings at local community centers, churches, or temples. It is okay to allow ourselves to mourn the things we miss.

Coping with Stress

In the event of feeling overwhelmed by stress, anxiety, or depression, talk to a doctor to see what they recommend to help manage symptoms. Additionally, learning to identify stress and anxiety triggers can lead to better coping skills for those feelings. Here are some tips on coping with different feelings and turning those emotions into positive and resilient actions.

  • Maintain a Schedule
    • Try fill the day with activities to refresh the mind such as meditation, yoga, or calling a friend. Doing this can provide fun events to look forward to throughout the day.
    • Try to get enough sleep each night and do not make a habit of sleeping in.
    • Eat regular meals throughout the day and drink plenty of water.
  • Limit News Consumption (Crouch, 2020).
    • Continuously watching the news or regularly looking for updates is linked to anxiety and stress. If there are feelings of consistent anxiety about various current events, try to limit news and media intake to just 30 minutes a day or check the news once in the morning and once again at night.
    • Be a smart media consumer and use reliable sources to get information.
  • Stay Connected (Javanbakht, 2020)
    • Humans are social beings. During hard times we can find comfort in sharing feelings of fear and uncertainty while also receiving feedback from others.
    • Keep in touch with friends and family to voice concerns and thoughts. This can reduce feelings of loneliness if others are also experiencing increased anxiety.
      • For additional resources on using Zoom to stay connected, click here.
    • Complaining, venting, or sharing feelings can help reduce the intensity of those feelings. However, complaining and venting should not be the only way we cope with our emotions, as this does not fix the problem.
  • Exercise (Ianzito, 2020)
    • Exercising or moving around in some way can be a great way to relieve stress and tension in the mind and body.  This can be as simple as stretching or taking a walk.
    • Spending some time outside can also be beneficial and boost moods.
    • Read more about exercising at home here.
  • Take a Break (Spector, 2019)
    • We can distract ourselves from the news by watching a movie or TV show or start up a hobby or activity we’ve always wanted to do, but never got around to doing it.
    • Do nothing. This is a Dutch concept called niksen and focuses on intentionally doing nothing. This may help us relax, recharge, and destress.
      • This can be mindlessly watching TV, looking out a window, or relaxing in a way that allows the mind to wander and not focus on the present.
      • Niksen can be used as another form of mindfulness to cope with anxiety. 
  • Put Things into Perspective (Crouch, 2020).
    • It is okay to worry or feel angry. However, do not let these emotions take over everyday activities. Manage these emotions by setting aside some time in the day to worry, rant, or even cry.
    • Then, think about all the things we are doing that can ease these emotions.
      • For instance, going to the grocery store may cause anxiety about COVID-19. However, we also know that ways to protect ourselves such as wearing a mask, washing hands, and maintaining distance from others.
    • If you encounter those who do not follow COVID-19 safety rules in public, stay distant. If friends or family are the ones ignoring safety rules, voice your concerns. However, try not to come across as bossy or judgmental, but rather emphasize that safety and health is ensured by following the rules and guidelines. If they are reluctant, do not get angry, as this will not change their behavior. Acknowledge that the only thing we can control is ourselves. 
  • Use a Stress Management App (The American Institute of Stress, 2019)
    • Headspace – This app provides meditations to assist with concentration, stress, anxiety, and more.
    • iSleep Easy – This app can help users fall asleep and stay asleep through a range of guided meditations.
    • Insight Timer – This app includes guided meditations and talks aimed to help reduce anxiety, manage stress, and calm the mind.

Especially during these unprecedented times, we should allow ourselves to feel a range of emotions and learn how to cope with those feelings. Start small by getting enough sleep, eating regular meals, and limiting news intake to manage stress and anxiety (Callaghan, 2020). It’s not helpful to constantly feel these negative emotions. Identifying and addressing them can decrease the intensity of those feelings and boost overall viewpoint on the current situation (Crouch, 2020). If these feelings of stress or anxiety interrupt everyday activities and functions, consider seeking professional help. Many therapists are offering virtual sessions right now.

Published 10/5/2020


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