Managing Stress Brought on by COVID-19

Anxious Woman Sitting on Bed

There is no denying that our lives have been upended: jobs, routines, school, holidays, trips, friendships, housing, and time spent with loved ones.

People are experiencing a range of emotions during this period: anxiety, worry, fear, sadness, frustration, anger, stress, and loss or grief. If you are experiencing any of these feelings, be assured you are not alone and that these emotions are normal reactions to the situation we’re in now. So what can we do to manage these feelings?

The first thing is to understand that “we each have our own stressors to manage depending on our context,” said Dr. Kendea Oliver, a clinical psychologist at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center.

Some stressors may be financial concerns or balancing working from home with young children. There may be sudden shifts to our routine, or we may now find ourselves having to work in high-risk environments. For children, it’s hard when they can’t see their friends or, in some cases, forgo a milestone like prom or a graduation ceremony.

“Some of the main strategies we’ve been focused on are things that allow us, to the best of our abilities, to maintain our physical health and take care of our emotional well-being,” Dr. Oliver said.

Try to focus on what you can control, she said. Create a daily routine for yourself.

“This should include going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, if you’re able to do so,” Dr. Oliver said. “Keep consistent meal times, as well as daily habits like showering and getting dressed, and on some, if not most days, getting in some form of exercise.”

You may need to get creative with your new routine—read every day or chat online with a friend or family member and make time away from the news. Also note that alcohol or recreational drugs can exacerbate stress. So, while a daily happy hour may sound fun, try to limit your intake.

“It’s important to build in time to engage in healthy, distracting activities, something unrelated to COVID-19,” Dr. Oliver said. Finding ways to stay socially distanced while not becoming isolated is key.

Of course, as the pandemic draws on if you are finding these emotions very difficult, you should reach out to friends, family and consider meeting with a trained therapist. People in extreme duress should reach out to anyone they feel safe with and work with their health care provider to find the best treatment and management methods.

It’s most important to stay connected to others. “Remember you are not alone,” Dr. Oliver said. “This is an extraordinary time in our history and we are all trying our best to cope in whatever way we can. Sometimes we just need a little more support than what we have.”