Six Steps for Coping With Stress and Anxiety During a Pandemic

If you’re finding yourself with increased levels of stress and anxiety in the past few weeks as the coronavirus has taken its hold on our world, then you’re not alone. Recent research suggests many people experienced moderate to severe psychological impacts during the initial COVID-19 outbreak in China. This is a very normal response and one we can take some practical steps to manage effectively. It’s important that we do this for a number of reasons. 

First and foremost, managing our stress levels has a significant and positive impact on our immune system and the World Health Organization has emphasized that boosting our immune system and taking adequate preventative care plays a crucial role in fighting the Coronavirus Improving our ability to cope with the situation will therefore also improve our overall well-being and the likelihood of fighting the virus. It’s also likely that this situation will continue and possibly worsen in the weeks to come; it’s important that we put strategies in place to deal with stress now so it doesn’t overwhelm us, and we can continue to be there for our families, our friends and our colleagues. Here are six science-based tips to help you maintain your mental wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Know how you’re feeling

The first step to dealing with heightened stress and anxiety is recognizing that you’re dealing with it in the first place. Stress can manifest itself in many ways including sadness, confusion, irritability, procrastination, physical tension and body pain, lack of energy and even problems sleeping. We all have a different response to stress, and it’s important to know ourselves and check in with ourselves physically and mentally on a daily basis to know how we’re feeling and to recognize the symptoms of stress. Skipping this step and ignoring how we are feeling impedes our ability to be able to manage our stress.

2. Making sense

It’s tempting to try and dismiss our feelings especially at a time like this when we’re all trying to cope and stay strong for those around us. But the reality is that stress responses are our bodies’ way of protecting us, and early warning signs such as feeling angry or tired can be crucial indicators that we need to intervene before the stress becomes overwhelming. The human body has adapted over many centuries to be able to react and protect itself from external threats such as a global health pandemic, so it’s perfectly normal to experience a stress response at this time. Create a habit of making time for yourself every day to notice this in yourself and make sense of the situation in order to avoid overlooking your stress.

3. Small changes, big impacts

The good news with dealing with the early signs of stress is that often small changes to our daily routine can often make a big difference. These daily rituals and routines will differ for everyone and will depend on your typical stress response. For example, if you typically experience stress in a physical way such as feeling tired or tense in your body you may decide to go to bed 30 minutes earlier than usual or take time for a relaxing bath.

4. Avoid the common thinking traps

An important element to building these strategies it to recognize what you can control and release the need to control what you cannot. There are practical things we can all do in the current situation to protect ourselves and our loved ones. This includes good personal hygiene and practicing social distancing, but there is also a lot we have no control over. It sounds simple; but ruminating on these things won’t help. So take a moment to acknowledge those things, and then let them go. Try to be mindful of the many myths that are out there that may be misleading and stopping us from focusing on what is in our control. Avoid catastrophizing and blowing situations out of proportion; or the other common thinking trap which is where we predict a future state that is based on our biggest fears versus the facts of the situation.

5. One small step

Increasing our level of exercise can be one of the easiest and most effective ways of boosting our mental wellness and strengthen our immune system. While it may not be possible to get outside and go for a brisk walk, there are lots of routines we can do in our own homes to help get us moving. And, even better if you can have a family member or friend join you either in person or virtually.

6. The human connection

While we all practice social distancing, it’s important not to overlook the need for human connection at this time. A more useful way to think about it could be physical distancing so that we don’t neglect the need for social connection with our friends and family – as this is another important building block in combating stress. Checking in with others through a phone call or video chat can also serve a dual purpose as it could be that the other person may also be in need of a friendly human connection. 

Now more than ever, we must prioritize our individual health – and that includes our mental well-being. Leverage these six tips to recognize your feelings and maintain your overall mental health as we navigate COVID-19 together.

These tips are designed to be educational in nature and in no way a substitute for professional clinical support. If you notice that your signs are difficult to manage, please consider seeking professional help.

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