Take a deep breath in. Count to 5. Now exhale slowly for the count of 5.
Repeat that process 5 more times.
Really. Repeat those deep breaths in and out 5 more times.
How do you feel?
For the first time in our global memory, the entire world is sharing the unwanted experience of the coronavirus. Navigating a global pandemic is unchartered territory for almost everyone. The severity and impact of the coronavirus look different from one community to another and between and within demographic groups. But everyone is impacted in some way. We are all hurting.
There is no simpler way to state it – these uncertain times are stressful.
So what can we do about this stress? How shall we respond? When this is over, how will we look back upon these days of social distancing, self-isolation, sickness, and economic turmoil?
You are in control of you. And not much else. Here are 10 strategies that will help you manage and reduce your stress in the time of the coronavirus so you can protect your own health and engage with your loved ones. These tips will also help you engage your skillset to do your part to help our global community.
10 Tips to Manage Stress in the Time of the Coronavirus
1. Acknowledge your feelings
This is a stressful time. Say it aloud. Let yourself internalize this reality so that you accept it and then begin to move forward. You do not have to be paralyzed by your stress nor defined by your fears.
People experience and manifest stress in different ways. Any of the following symptoms may indicate heightened stress:
- Physical tension, such as headaches, teeth grinding, jaw clenching
- Body pain, such as headaches or muscle spasms
- Difficulty sleeping
- Social withdrawal (including withdrawal from digital connections)
- Reduced concentration and productivity
- Sadness, irritability, anger, or suicidal thoughts
Take a few moments to identify which of these stress manifestations apply to you.
2. Release what you cannot control
Once you acknowledge your stress, name your feelings, and understand how your stress is showing up in your body or mind or relationships, you are able to let go of the things outside of your control.
You cannot will the virus to cease and you cannot single-handedly boost the stock market. You can follow the prevention recommendations to stop the spread of the virus and you can support the economy in small ways such as buying a gift card or ordering take-out for a restaurant that cannot open its doors to the public.
Focus on what you can control and release what you cannot. You will be amazed at the immediate difference this makes in your sense of wellbeing.
3. Take a break from 24/7 news cycles
It is important to stay informed about the virus and understand the current guidelines for protecting yourself and others. It is not important or helpful to watch the news on repeat for 3 hours, scroll social media for another 2 hours, and read a dozen articles online. You must set limits for yourself and your family around the consumption of information. DO stay informed, but do not spend the majority of your hours every day glued to your screens.
A sample boundary is to check the news 2 or 3 times per day – perhaps you listen to the radio while you prepare breakfast, spend 10-15 minutes on social media on a work break, and watch the evening news for 30 minutes after dinner.
4. Focus on the facts
When you do log on and tune in, be sure to land on the most reputable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. Focus on facts and full stories over sound bites, one-off narratives, and dramatized memes. Social media can be an effective way to share information but it can also be a tool for the spread of misinformation.
5. Know your limits
Each of us has a different threshold for stress. Some of us are well-trained and highly equipped to face very stressful situations for short bursts of time, and some of us are more vulnerable to the stress right now. You may be more vulnerable to stress if you are a first responder for persons with COVID-19, or if you are a person with a recent history of substance abuse. Know your limits.
Do you need to turn off the radio because your mind is spiraling into ‘what if’ scenarios after hearing the latest stock market report? Do you feel an increasing urge to re-engage an old, unhealthy habit? Are you having difficulty sleeping at night? These are signs that you are at or exceeding your stress limit and need to make a change.
6. Practice self-care
The most effective way to manage and reduce stress is to practice self-care. The best things you can do for yourself are:
- Eat a balanced diet
- Exercise every day
- Get enough sleep
Your immune system response may be lowered if you are not getting the nutrients you need or if you are suffering from chronic sleep deprivation. You may have to work harder in these coming weeks to establish or maintain these healthy habits since grocery stores, restaurants, and gyms are not operating at full capacity. If you are a parent now responsible for homeschooling your children while working full-time, you may find it difficult to get enough sleep each night. Try anyway. Prioritize your health to boost your immune system and keep your sanity. You will be a better parent, friend, and worker because of it.
*It’s not always possible to get all the nutrients your body and mind need. Certain supplements, like multivitamins or natural nootropics, are designed to support your immune system and boost your executive functioning skills like memory, attention, and problem-solving. Some nootropics can make a notable difference in your mental clarity throughout these days of disorienting schedules and uncertain times.
7. Don’t take unnecessary risks
Minimize your exposure to the coronavirus by following all the official recommendations. Don’t take unnecessary risks such as traveling or gathering in large groups. You can rest a little easier knowing you are doing absolutely everything you can to protect yourself and your loved ones from getting sick.
8. Manage your time
When you know what needs to get done and when it will get done, your sense of overwhelm decreases significantly and your productivity goes up. Why? Because you don’t waste time fretting about your load or trying to multitask.
You might also try the Pomodoro Technique, a simple time-management tool that guides you to focus for 25 minutes on a single task with no deviations and then take a 5-minute break. The tomato timer is a helpful tool for this.
9. Practice relaxation techniques
Try meditation, deep breathing, prayer, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, or even a simple walk in your backyard woods or along the neighborhood sidewalk. Do this every day, or multiple times per day. And don’t worry if you find yourself distracted by intruding thoughts. Let those thoughts come in, acknowledge them, and then let them pass as you refocus on your relaxing activity.
10. Social distancing does not require social isolation
In today’s era of digital abundance, tools to connect to friends across the street and family across the country are at your fingertips. Take advantage of technology to communicate with your community. Use text or email or video-calls or live-streaming for personal and professional communication when you can’t meet in person. Note: it is important to set some basic boundaries around how much you let yourself be plugged in and online to avoid burnout and exhaustion. Consider putting your phone ‘to bed’ before you go to sleep and don’t check it immediately upon waking up. Instead, try meditation, prayer, exercise, or journaling first. And remember, it is OK to get outside and take a walk!
Thank you for doing your part to stop the spread of the virus, and remember that you are not alone in this battle. Prioritize your health by taking care of yourself: eat a balanced diet, exercising, and getting some sleep. If you do find yourself overwhelmed by debilitating stress, please find someone to talk to to help you through this difficult time.