Managing the Stress of COVID-19
Aside from doing what you can do wash your hands frequently, disinfect your surroundings and check in with your loved ones, it’s important to keep an eye on your emotional health as days turn into weeks turn into months.
If you are not living alone, you need to find effective mechanisms to self-regulate not only for your own well-being but the well-being of those around you; partners, kids, roommates or other family. Remember, that emotions can be contagious too.
12 Ways to Stay Calm when Things are Not Calm
1- Breathe. Your breath is an excellent anchor to the present and oxygen is an antidote to the stress hormone, cortisol. When you notice yourself feeling worried, take 5 slow and deep breaths in through your nose and out through pursed lips. This could be a good time to start a mindfulness practice to help train your brain to more effectively drop into the now.
2- Name your emotions. Denying your emotions isn’t helpful as they find other unhelpful ways of showing themselves, (blowing up at a loved one when you’ve been holding anger, feeling angst-filled and tense when worry is ignored or minimized, etc.) In fact, naming your emotion can tame your emotion.
3- Help. Redirect your angst to reaching out to help. Are there vulnerable people in your neighborhood who need assistance getting food to them? Can you support your local restaurant by ordering takeout? Studies show that altruism reduces stress and fosters happiness.
4- Find some structure. For many, making lists and organizing what needs to happen can be soothing. Do things in manageable pieces until you feel at ease. Create a loose schedule for containment.
5- Watch for cognitive distortions. COVID-19 is clearly a very serious situation with a lot of unknowns. Yet try your best not to leap ahead to the future imagining the worst possible scenarios when they haven’t happened…and perhaps they will not. There are many “cognitive distortions” to be aware of but the few that come to mind here are jumping to conclusions and catastrophizing.
6- Cuddle with your canine or feline pet. Our furry friends can provide incredible amounts of unconditional love. Did you know that gazing into your dog’s eyes can generate the love hormone, oxytocin?
7- Take a media break. Don’t allow yourself to be inundated by the media which can lead further preoccupation. Despite the rapid-fire changing of events, try to limit your exposure and to reliable sources such as the CDC (or your country’s equivalent).
8- Talk it out. Find a friend or family member who tends to be emotionally balanced and practical to share your concerns. Sometimes just talking it out with feedback and suggestions can reduce the impact. If your community is practicing social distancing, use technology to connect.
9- Get distracted. What do you like to do? Dig into the things that serve as welcome distractions like art, baking, a new tv series or a home project.
10- Take care of your body. Now more than ever it’s important to try get enough rest, eat healthy and move your body. Avoid drinking too much alcohol. If your physical body is functioning optimally, it will be better equipped to stave off the impact of stress on your immune system.
11- Create a calm environment. Put some TLC into the nest you call your home, making it feel as grounding as possible. For many it will mean keeping it clean, for others it might be with music or lighting
12- Get out into nature. If you have parks, trails, bodies of water, countryside or even areas where greenery is planted in a city, make a habit of getting outside into that environment. Studies have shown that time in nature can lower blood pressure and stress hormones, decrease anxiety, enhance immune function and reduce nervous system arousal.
These times are particularly challenging for those with a tendency for anxiety in normal times. It can feel very out of control and in many ways, it is. If this is you, it’s even more important to learn to self-regulate. If you need some help, there are many therapists now working online offering support.
Be well and remember we’re in this together.
If you live outside of California, I’m not legally permitted to work with you but see the Psychology Today Therapist Directory for other possible closer therapist.
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