Stress is a major part of people’s lives, with about 77% of people experiencing stress that affects their physical health and 73% with stress impacting their negative health, according to the American Institute of Stress. 
Then the coronavirus pandemic began. With schools and establishments closing down, people are losing their income and are unsure of how to pay rent or buy groceries. Others must work from home along with all of the distractions and frustrations. Citizens have been thrust out of their comfortable routines into the dark and scary unknown.
As we try to cope with this new reality, we are concerned about the virus that brought us here. What if we have it? A slight headache or a runny nose that wouldn’t have been noticeable previously can cause turmoil. What if someone in our family catches the virus? Will treatments improve? When will this all end?
Many people are stuck with these thoughts whirring around their heads as they try to function as if everything is normal.
The Stress of a Pandemic
Here’s the thing: Outbreaks are stressful. There’s no getting around that and it’s okay to feel stressed during this precarious time. We can be experiencing this stress in multiple ways including:
- Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
- Difficulty concentrating or sleeping
- Symptoms of chronic health problems worsening
- Mental health conditions worsening
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
- Fear about one’s personal health and the health of his loved ones 
“People often don’t realize that their difficulties with focus, memory, sleep, and relationships can all be related to anxiety,” said Amelia Aldao, a clinical psychologist and founder of Together CBT in New York City. 
Everyone reacts to stress differently and this can depend on a person’s background, personality, and community. The people at high risk of feeling the stress of this crisis include:
- People at high risk for contracting the coronavirus, such as older individuals and people with chronic health conditions
- Children and teenagers
- People with mental health conditions, such as substance abuse
- Health care providers, doctors, first responders, and anyone helping fight the virus on the forefront 
Tips for Coping with Pandemic Stress
Take breaks from the news
Many people have had extra free time during this quarantine, which can be a good and bad thing, depending on how the time is spent. Avoid spending hours on the news and social media. Busy yourself with activities that make you feel calm, and when you feel an urge to check the news, fight it for about 10 minutes and see if the urge lessens. Although it’s important to stay updated, if you’re safe at home, there’s no news that can’t wait for a few hours or until the next day. Often the news will only include stressful updates, like a new case of the virus in your area or the death of a coronavirus patient. You don’t need to know all this. Take a break. 
Additionally, be sure you are consuming accurate information about the virus, whether through official pages or websites that use reputable sources. Chain messages on WhatsApp or Facebook are not good references since they can be written and sent by anyone. Check their claims before forwarding and sharing.
Take care of yourself
You may not be able to hit the gym but there are still many ways you can take care of your body in quarantine. How you feel physically will affect how you feel emotionally and mentally, so be sure to:
- Eat healthy, well-balanced meals
- Get plenty of sleep
- Avoid alcohol and drugs
- Stretch, breath, and meditate
- Exercise regularly – There are many online classes available for free on yoga, Pilates, and other home workouts.
- Unwind with activities you enjoy
- Connect with others, whether it’s talking to the people you are quarantined with or connecting over the phone. Talk about your concerns and air out your feelings. 
Get more sleep
“Sleep is your life support system. It helps every cell in your body and brain to renew and to be ready again for another day,” says Max Kirsten, a hypnotherapist and found of The Sleep Coach. “Sleep is your secret weapon increasing your immunity to the coronavirus, with sleep scientists recommending eight hours a night to optimize your body’s immune system.” 
There’s a cruel cycle of getting less sleep and becoming more anxious and repeat. Fortunately, there are ways to improve one’s sleep and thereby one’s anxiety.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine intake before bed
- Remove visible alarm clocks from the bedside table
- Exercise during the day
- Getting sunlight exposure if possible
- Keeping the bedroom cool, dark, and quiet
- Avoid reading the news while getting ready for bed 
Don’t worry about being productive
There has been a push toward productivity on social media as people cite that William Shakespeare wrote “King Lear and Sir Isaac Newton discovered calculus while they were in quarantine during the plague. This is meant to motivate people to use their extra time wisely, but it may have created the wrong kind of pressure.“
As one Twitter user, Haley Nahman, wrote, “You don’t need to ‘make the most’ of a global pandemic.”
For some people, throwing themselves into work or personal projects is their way of coping; for others, this can create even more stress. Keep in mind what people show on social media is a rose-colored filter of their actual lives, so don’t beat yourself up comparing yourself to others. If you need to, go on social media less.
“Some individuals are going to feel very overwhelmed by all of it, very anxious about what the future holds. Other people may compartmentalize it completely and turn it off and focus on tasks in front of them,” says Lynn Bufka, a clinical psychologist and senior director at the American Psychological Association. “But it will take each person time to figure out what works best for them and how they’re going to do that.
“It really is important right now for people to realize that this is new for everyone. There’s no road map on how you manage a pandemic.” 
If you or someone you love are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like anxiety, sadness, and depression, or feeling like harming yourself or others, call 911 or the Disaster Distress Helpline call 1-800-985-5990, or text TalkWithUs to 66746.
- The American Institute of Stress. What is Stress. https://www.stress.org/daily-life
- Kirstie Brewer. Coronavirus: How to protect your mental health. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/health-51873799 March 16, 2020
- CDC. Coronavirus Disease 2019. Stress and Coping. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html April 1, 2020
- Sarah Young. Coronavirus: How to get a better night’s sleep if you’re feeling anxious during the pandemic. Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/coronavirus-sleep-insomnia-health-anxiety-stress-tips-calm-bed-a9438471.html April 5, 2020
- Jelena Kecmanovic. Pandemic anxiety is making us sleepless, forgetful, and angry. Here are tips for coping. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/anxiety-coronavirus-sleep-memory-anger-focus/2020/04/03/61dab1b0-75b9-11ea-85cb-8670579b863d_story.html April 3, 2020
- Taylor Locke. How to deal with productivity-related anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to experts. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/23/how-to-deal-with-productivity-related-anxiety-during-covid-19.html March 23, 2020
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