Coping with Stress During a Pandemic

by | Mar 16, 2020 | Time Out For You

By Susan Jerrell, TOFT Founder

No matter how calm you try to appear on the outside, many people are experiencing stress as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone reacts to stress differently, so how are you coping with stress during the pandemic?

Worry caused by news reports, fear about the impact the pandemic might have on family members with suppressed immune systems or underlying health conditions, and uncertainty about financial stability are some of the concerns that may lead to stress. 

Teachers have added concerns

With the added concerns about how to best serve students, worry for students whose main security comes from schools that are shut down, calming your own children, and the lack of toilet paper and other basic needs your anxiety and stress may be at an all time high. 

As schools close and social distancing is emphasized, these symptoms may increase as people are more isolated. Boredom, loneliness, lack of purpose, and little social interaction can take its toll on people who are used to being on the go, active, and busy. The quick run to the mall, taking in a movie, or eating at your favorite restaurant, normal pastimes, may be on hold for a while. 

Boredom, loneliness, lack of purpose, and little social interaction can take its toll on people who are used to being on the go, active, and busy.

During this spring break season, many people are also finding their plans changed. Vacations they were looking forward to have been cancelled and the thought of being confined at home has them anxious. Legions of basketball fans are mourning the loss of the NCAA tournament. Students are crying over the loss of spring sports seasons and senior activities. 

Add to that the stress of creating meaningful online plans for students and waiting for the day-by-day decisions, many educators have reached their breaking point.

What can you do to cope with the stress or to help those you love?

Concentrate on what you can control

One thing to do is put your situation into perspective and realize what you can and cannot control. I know for control freaks this is incredibly hard. Day-to-day decision making is not your specialty, but take a deep breath and only worry about what you can control. 

If you know that you are off for a week, then plan your routine for that week. Many teachers are on duty with online school, so pencil those hours in and then plan some activities for the other hours.

Maybe you have a room you want to paint, a garden you want to plan, or a sewing project you have wanted to do. Creating some kind of routine will help you feel more productive and in control of your life.

Enjoy family time

If you and your family are healthy, then be thankful for that. Since you will be spending more time with your family than normal, make a list of activities you would like to do together while you are home. 

When I was in sixth grade, we missed school for over a month due to a blizzard, and those are some terrific memories. My parents both worked at school, and we were housebound for weeks, but I remember staying up late to watch movies, playing board games, building tents inside, making caramel corn, and doing a lot of simple activities with my family. 

This was before VCRs, cell phones, computers, or Netflix. We found things to do without being around other people or activities, so you can too. Maybe this is a good time to take up a hobby or learn something new. Take advantage of this bonus family time and make some memories.

Help others

Realize that you are doing your small part to slow down a virus that could greatly disrupt our health system. Just by staying home, you are being helpful. Another thing you could do would be to call some elderly neighbors or elderly people from your church and check up on them. See if they need groceries and offer to deliver some to them. Helping others will also help you and your outlook. 

Virtually connect 

Just because you have to be socially isolated, doesn’t mean you have to be alone. Face-time, text, call or contact people you care about through social media. Stay in touch with people who are supportive and also provide support to them. Back during our snowstorm, we were literally shut off from the world, but with today’s technology, it’s the next best thing to being there. 

Limit media consumption

It is important to know facts and to understand what is going on, but non-stop media consumption can increase your stress. It would be possible to watch or read coverage on COVID-19 24 hours a day everyday, but it also would not be healthy. It’s like chocolate cake. It’s good, but consuming only chocolate cake would be very bad for you. 

Try to limit your news and time reading negative posts on social media. Instead, choose a few reputable sources, read those and go about your day. For the COVID-19 pandemic, the Center for Disease Control and World Health Organization can provide you with information about the disease. Your state health department can give you information about the impact on your state and its response. 

Take time for you

Use some of the time to take care of yourself. Play some happy music, read a good book, bake some brownies, take your dog for a walk, meditate, take a bubble bath, exercise, watch your favorite movie. The list of possibilities is endless. The important thing is to do something that soothes your soul. Allow yourself some “me time.”

Get outside

Take your kids or pet outside and run around, kick a soccer ball, play Frisbee, shoot some hoops or go for a walk. Depending on the weather, now is a good time to get a start on cleaning out your landscaping and preparing flower beds. The exercise and fresh air will do wonders for your spirit and also help you sleep better.. 

Seek professional help

It is not uncommon for stress and anxiety to increase when an infectious disease disrupts your life. If you find you or loved ones are having trouble coping with stress during the pandemic, it’s important for you to reach out for help. 

According to the CDC, you may notice changes in your body, thinking, or emotions. Some signs of stress may include:

  • Fear or worry about your health or that of a loved one
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Worsening or chronic health problems
  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

Other symptoms according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration may include:

  • Outbursts of anger or arguing
  • Crying
  • Excessive worry
  • Wanting to be aloneƒ 
  • Blaming others for everything ƒ 
  • Difficulty communicating or listening ƒ 
  • Difficulty giving or accepting help ƒ 
  • Inability to feel pleasure or have fun

If these symptoms persist, make an appointment to talk to a mental health professional. 

Helpful resources

Keeping Your Distance to Stay Safe- American Psychological Association

Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19- Center for Disease Control

Coping With Stress During Infectious Disease Outbreaks- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Toll-Free: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

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