The Coronavirus has landed in my beloved hometown of Washington, DC. A handful of high schools have closed today, while others are limiting visits from international students. Hand sanitizer and other cleaning supplies are out of stock online.
As a mental health expert, my primary concern is how this pandemic is affecting the emotional wellbeing of our community — and the world.
Rising Stress Levels
The majority of people I’ve come into contact with over the past few weeks have shown signs of major stress over COVID-19. They’ve described stocking up on groceries and refusing to take public transportation. In many cases, this stress is affecting their day-to-day wellbeing.
This makes total sense; pandemics are stressful, as is the prospect of staying home during social isolation periods. The question is how we can manage this stress in a healthy way.
What Makes Coronavirus Stress Worse
Sickness can cause anyone to feel anxious, but a number of factors can make anxiety worse. These include:
- Constant Media Reporting
Many media outlets thrive on the sensational and increase anxiety by reporting on potential catastrophes
- Herd Mentality
The neighbors are running out to stock up on toilet paper, rice, and Clorox wipes, and the fear of being left with nothing becomes all-consuming
- Current Stressful Realities
Everyday stress can become exaggerated when surrounded by fear and panic. Situations that were mostly under control can become undone when a new stressor is introduced
- Prior Trauma History
Past experiences where your safety was out of your control can easily be triggered by today’s current events with COVID-19
- Pre-Existing Vulnerabilities Whether physical or mental, preexisting vulnerabilities can make this new threat appear even more dangerous
It could be chemical (drugs/alcohol), it could be behavioral (eating, gambling, work); regardless, when something like COVID-19 is introduced, those vulnerable to avoidance tactics may find their sobriety at risk or their addictive behavior on the rise
What You Can Do About It
It does not have to be this way, and you have options to manage your stress.
Here are some things you can do to get your mental health on track.
- Focus On What You Can Control
For example, follow social distancing and sanitation recommendations from trusted sources, like the CDC. If your attention is drawn frequently to things you can’t control, anxiety is soon to follow
- Limit Media Consumption
It’s important to be aware of COVID-19, but too much exposure to sensational media reporting will heighten anxiety
- Use Grounding Tools
Things like deep breathing, mindfulness, and meditation can help counteract any stress you are feeling. Check out the “Stress” section of the Resilient Brain Project for free apps and information to guide you
- Engage in Fun Activities
Watch your favorite comedy show on Netflix, practice mindfulness, or bake something you’ve always aspired to bake. If you love it, and you do it, any stress you are carrying will go down
- Plan Self-Care
People define self-care differently. Some people love a gentle yoga class, while others recharge with a walk in the woods or snuggling their doggies. Whatever recharges you, make a little time for it daily. There are some non-negotiables that fall into this category: sleep, nutrition, exercise. Boost those and you will better be able to handle any stress better (coronavirus or otherwise)
- Get Support
If the above tips aren’t enough, professionals can use their wisdom and experience to help you find a solution that fits your needs. We’ve compiled a number of free and low-cost resources, including experiential videos, blogs, and gatherings, here.
We are all in this together. Listen to what your body needs and the rest is sure to follow. As always, you are encouraged to reach out to us with any questions or concerns.
Viva is now offering virtual therapy options and opening up time slots to take on additional clients. No matter your state of mind, we are here for you.
Her clinical specialty is working with implicit memory by using brain-based therapies.
Over the years, Dr. Julie has been cited as a trauma and addictions expert and has been featured on Associated Press, Fox News, Telemundo and a host of other print and broadcast publications.