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URMC / BHP / BHP Blog / April 2020 / Coping with Stress During COVID-19

Coping with Stress During COVID-19

By George Nasra, M.D.

The recent outbreak of the Coronavirus Disease-2019 (COVID-19) is already causing significant disruption in our daily lives and routines. The stress and anxiety that come with the fluid nature of the ever-evolving events, and the uncertainty associated with them, can be very difficult to manage. These are difficult times for everyone, but it is important to recognize that each person will react differently to the stress of the situation. This is not a matter of strength or weakness. How each of you reacts to stressful events is based on your background, the things that make you different from other people, your set of beliefs, your community, and your level of support. The next few weeks will continue to be difficult to navigate. Things are changing rapidly, and the heightened media attention can add to the fear and anxiety that you may already be experiencing. You hear directives asking you to practice social distancing, stay home whenever possible, wash your hands frequently, and take additional precautions that can easily be perceived as drastic and therefore alarming. These measures can also be very disruptive, especially if you have children in the home. Being asked to work from home is another novelty that you are not used to. Even though we hear that the virus does not affect children in the same way as our elderly, fear extends to adults and children alike. Effectively managing stress and anxiety during these difficult times will be helpful to you and your family.

Some level of stress and anxiety is normal and even expected during difficult times. However, toxic stress and undue panic is never helpful, and it is important to be mindful of its warning signs. Anxiety is very common, and anyone can be affected by it. If you are worried about the situation, feel nervous, on edge, or occasionally fear the worst, that is likely to be normal. On the other hand, if you start having frequent anxiety attacks, are unable to sleep at night, or if you find yourself being angry and irritable with others, your level of anxiety is starting to interfere with your daily life and you need to address it somehow.

5 Tips for Addressing COVID-19 Anxiety

  1. Limit exposure to news and social media
    Of course, this cannot be an all or nothing situation. Some level of information is necessary to keep you and your family safe. However, constantly checking the news and sensationalized stories on social media is never helpful, as you would be exposing yourself to a constant stream of the collective fears of others.
  2. Create a new routine for yourself and family
    School closings, telework, social distancing and the avoidance of crowds or public places are only a partial list of the new living reality we all need to adjust to for the next few weeks until our health officials can be convinced that the spread of the virus is under better control. These new realities cause significant disruption in our daily routine. Our daily schedules add a sense of predictability and therefore, some comfort to our lives. Disrupting this routine can be anxiety provoking to some more than others. One way to manage such anxiety is to re-create a new routine and a new schedule with daily activities for yourself and your family; embrace the new reality and use it to catch up on much needed family time. You can find helpful information and additional tips on managing anxiety and stress from COVID-19 on the CDC website.
  3. Maintain your connection with others
    Use phone contact and video chat to connect with others on a regular basis. Try to avoid commenting on news reports and headlines. Instead, reach out for support and share with each other tips on what has been helpful to you that may also help your friends, your colleagues or your loved ones.
  4. Address the anxiety of the children in your home
    Although children seem to be less affected by the COVID-19 virus, they can be vulnerable to the stress and anxiety present around them. Schools are closed and children no longer have access to their friends. Their routine has been upended as well. They will have questions that need answered in a simple and factual manner. Refer to the COVID-19 CDC webpage for further information.
  5. Use anxiety relieving and distraction strategies
    Some suggestions include:
    • listening to music
    • watching your favorite show
    • reading that book that you never had the time to start
    • create a daily exercise routine that can be done at home

You may also wish to try one of the mindfulness apps available on line such as headspace or calm. Of course, each one of you know of strategies that have helped you during times of stress and it would be important to use those now.

Behavioral Health Partners is brought to you by Well-U, offering eligible individuals mental health services for stress, anxiety, and depression. Our team of mental health professionals can accurately assess your symptoms and make recommendations for treatment. To schedule an intake appointment, give us a call at (585) 276-6900.

Keith Stein | 3/30/2020

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