If you’re feeling anxious about COVID-19, you’re not alone. Nearly half of all Americans say the coronavirus outbreak is harming their mental health, according to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
With so much negative news about COVID-19, it’s not surprising that many people are feeling a sense of stress. Fortunately, there are many coping techniques — such as exercising and video chatting — that you can do at home to help you get through this difficult period.
“You can reduce stress by making changes or adjustments at home and reaching out for help if the stress gets to be too much,” says Leah Welch, PhD, a psychologist at Scripps Health. “Contact your health care provider if coronavirus-related stress is getting in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row.”
Everyone responds differently to stressful events. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says people who may respond more strongly to the coronavirus pandemic include:
- Older people and people with chronic conditions who are at higher risk for COVID-19
- Children and teens
- First responders or people who are helping with the response to COVID-19
- People who have mental conditions, including anxiety disorders and problems with addiction
According to the CDC, stress during a pandemic can cause the following:
- Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
- Changes in sleep or eating pattern
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs
“Taking care of yourself can help you cope with stress. You can do this by maintaining a normal sleep routine, eating healthy and exercising regularly,” Welch says.
The CDC also recommends taking deep breaths, stretching or meditating and avoiding drugs and alcohol.
We know physical activity can help reduce stress. You may be finding it difficult to exercise at this time with gyms and parks and recreation centers closed, but you have many exercise options at home, including yoga, weights and body exercises.
If you’re looking for more structured exercising, many fitness professionals and organizations are offering free online exercise classes that you can take in the comfort of your home.
If you go outside, be very careful. If you’re running look for the least crowded paths and swerve aside if someone coughs or spits ahead of you.
We need to stay informed about COVID-19, but you don’t need to overload on the news, especially if it is repeatedly getting you upset. Be mindful to share only accurate news about COVID-19 and not spreading rumors that could raise anxieties all around.
“Rumors can spread fast, especially on social media. Make sure you’re getting COVID-19 information from reliable sources, such as the CDC and local government authorities,” Welch says.
You don’t have to stay glued to the news to stay informed, she adds.
“Take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news about COVID-19. “Stick to normal activities as much as possible and check for news updates in between breaks.”
We live in a time of global connectedness, where we can shelter at home during a pandemic and still be engaged with the world and socially connect with people we like in real time.
“We should be using our electronic devices to connect with the people we most care about via Skype, Zoom and FaceTime and other social media apps,” Welch says. “You may feel better knowing a loved one is doing well or being able to share your concerns and explain how you’re feeling.”
If you have young children or teens, keep in mind they may be watching how their parents are reacting to the pandemic.
“It may seem hard to stay positive during a pandemic, but it is helpful if you have children who may be worried or fearful,” Welch says. “Be a calming presence. Take time to talk to your young child or teen and share facts about COVID-19 in a way that they can understand.”
Some behavior changes to watch for include excessive crying or irritation in younger children and “acting out” in teens.
Be a role model by taking care of yourself. “Model healthy behavior by eating healthy, exercising and getting good sleep,” Welch says.
Emergency responders, including health care providers, have other sources of stress to consider, such as witnessing human suffering, risk of personal harm, heavy workloads, life-and-death decisions and being away from family.
Stress prevention and management are critical for responders to stay well and continue to help. The CDC recommends steps they should take before, during and after an event.
Self-care techniques recommended include:
- Limiting working hours if possible
- Working in teams and limit amount of time working alone
- Writing in a journal
- Talking to family, friends, supervisors, and teammates about your feelings and experiences
If you have a pre-existing mental health condition, continue with your treatment and monitor for any new or worsening symptoms.
If you’re feeling distressed and it’s affecting your daily life for several days or weeks, contact your health care provider.
The pandemic is also challenging people who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, making outreach more important.
“Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. This is not a time to isolate ourselves completely especially if we need help,” Welch says.
Depending on your condition, you may also contact one of the following:
Hotlines to call for immediate support and referrals include:
• San Diego County Crisis & Access Line: 888-724-7240
• National Suicide Hotline: 800-273-8255
If you need immediate help and intervention, call 911 for safe transportation to an emergency room. Notify operator if you have COVID-19 or think you have been exposed or have symptoms.