COVID-19 Guide: Coping with Stress
Every day, Americans are facing unforeseen and unexpected changes due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. In particular, adults are suddenly expected to play the role of both parent and teacher for their kids, not to mention IT expert, chef and housekeeper. Managing these new expectations on top of worrying about loved ones, losing sleep and feeling anxious can naturally lead to intense stress. If we ignore these feelings and let them affect our moods, it can have negative consequences on relationships, wellbeing and general health.
We should all be taking care of our mental health for our own good and for those around us. Here are a few strategies you can use to help adjust your mindset and boost your mood when you’re feeling stressed.
1. When you feel yourself getting anxious, stop what you’re doing and change your pace.
Setting aside time in your day to do something that lifts your mood is important right now — even if it’s just ten minutes. Your break can involve anything, as long as that activity brings you joy. Some ideas are dancing to a great playlist, playing with your kids or pets, watching funny videos on YouTube or taking a walk around your neighborhood. If you can incorporate movement, even better. Getting your heart rate up increases your energy and circulation, and movement releases endorphins, which can improve your mood.
2. Clearly define your workday and take breaks.
Creating and sticking to a work-from-home routine will give you the needed structure many of us need right now — and it will give your kids a sense of stability as well. Send your family to bed and wake them up at the same times as usual. Likewise, get dressed, eat breakfast and continue with your regular daily routine.
Designate a certain area of your house for work-only activities, and do the same for your kids and their schoolwork. When you take a work break, leave the room where you typically work. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by what’s in front of you, like a full email inbox. Instead of sitting in a state of stress, change your scenery.
3. Stay in touch with friends and family.
Connecting with your community, even while you social distance, can help you feel less lonely and isolated and give you a sense of normalcy. Set up virtual dates with your friends, family and loved ones. Use tools like FaceTime or other group video chat apps to see groups of people at once. Look for websites where you can video chat and play games with your friends at the same time.
4. Take a break from all forms of media, and listen only to the experts.
With round-the-clock TV coverage and other forms of media always at your fingertips, the subject of the pandemic can feel suffocating. And it can be hard to tell what’s true. Limit how much time you spend watching the news and listen only to medical experts, like those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. Take time each day to unplug and give your brain an information break.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Remember that right now, it is normal to feel heightened negative emotions. People with pre-existing mental health conditions should stick to their care routine. If you experience new feelings of increased stress, anxiety or depression, don’t be afraid to seek help. Most medical services, including counseling and specialist appointments, are available via telehealth conferencing, which many insurance providers are covering right now.
Remember: the world is dealing with a pandemic. You don’t have to be perfect! Remind yourself (and your kids, while you’re at it) that we are all doing the best we can. We’re all learning to adjust to this new normal.
Lubna Maruf, M.D., medical director at QualChoice Health Insurance, is a graduate of Aga Khan Medical University in Pakistan and completed her residency at Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center, affiliated with the University of Illinois at Chicago.
She has over 20 years of experience in internal medicine and health care administration.