How to Cope With the Stress of Coronavirus and Social Distancing

Mar 23 • 2020

Managing Stress and Anxiety Around Coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic is stressful for many people — from health care professionals and service industry workers to educators, students, retirees and others. The topic is on every television channel and part of every conversation. Information about the disease can start to feel overwhelming.

As you take steps to prioritize your physical health and safety, including practicing diligent handwashing and social distancing, you may feel mentally and emotionally drained. Here are some ways to help you stay calm, connected and less stressed during this uncertain time.

Recognize Your Symptoms and Find Support

The first step to managing stress is to recognize your symptoms.

According to Dr. Tracey Johnson, assistant director of the CONCERN Employee Assistance Program, an always-on, heightened level of stress can lead to a range of negative health effects, including changes in sleep or eating patterns, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, worsening of chronic health problems and increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.

Dr. Tracey Johnson

“At CONCERN, we have received many calls related to stress about the coronavirus and the illness it causes, called COVID-19,” said Johnson.

CONCERN provides unlimited, free and confidential counseling for Baptist’s team members and anyone living with them. CONCERN also provides training, crisis response and conflict resolution.

“People feel very uncertain right now,” said Johnson. “Work stress is an issue for many people. However, it’s good that they are reaching out to us instead of struggling without help.”

Unfortunately, stress can be worse for people who are at a higher risk of getting COVID-19, including people who are 60 years old and older and people with pre-existing conditions, such as patients with cancer or a weakened immune system.

“High-risk populations, especially, must practice social distancing,” said Johnson. “However, we do not want total isolation for these individuals. They should not cut themselves off from interacting with people in other ways — such as through phone calls and video chats.”

Johnson said health care professionals must also take steps to recognize and manage their stress.

“While they are used to responding during crisis situations, it is still critical for health care professionals to prevent excessively long shifts, maintain breaks for meals and snacks, and find mental health support when they need it,” said Johnson.

Let Go of What You Cannot Control

You may unknowingly add to your stress by trying to control elements that are beyond your grasp. While it may be easy to slip into a worst-case scenario mindset, Johnson encourages people to stay in the present moment.

“Address what is right in front of you,” said Johnson. “If you are a health care worker, continue to follow strategic plans that allow you to care for patients while you are at work. When you are away from work, make time for self-care. One is not more important than the other — in fact, if one is lacking, the other suffers.”

There are many things you can control during a public health crisis, such as how you advise loved ones about safety precautions, how you practice social distancing and how you spend your free time.

“These things may seem minor, but during a stressful time, everything we do matters,” said Johnson. “You can’t control how long this will last, so take it one day at a time. Use wisdom and stay prayerful.”

Set a Good Example

Many parents and guardians wonder how to talk to children and teenagers about the coronavirus pandemic.

“Your children will follow your lead,” said Johnson. “If you are overly anxious, they may be anxious, too. If you minimize or brush off this ordeal, they may not take it as seriously. Both of those reactions are two extremes. As a parent or guardian, you want to land somewhere in the middle.”

Johnson recommends specific ways to reassure children without worrying them.

“Start by believing what is true and sharing that truth with your child if they are old enough to understand,” said Johnson. “COVID-19 is a virus that we don’t know much about. However, we do know that if we wash our hands, practice social distancing and limit traveling outside the home — except for work, exercise and food — we minimize our risk greatly.”

It is also important to monitor and limit access to news and social media. Too much information or misinformation can be harmful to children.

“This is a time when adults and children need to be rule followers — not rebels,” said Johnson.

Follow a Routine

Our bodies feel comforted when we engage in routine activities.

“You may not be able to go to the gym, but you can find a safe, low-traffic area to walk, jog or run,” said Johnson. “You can find a place inside your home to do planks or yoga.”

Just as you create routines with exercise for your physical body, do the same for your mental health. Calm your thoughts by setting aside time for thinking, meditating or journaling.

“Listen to some relaxing music, draw or paint,” said Johnson. “Laughter is another great way to reduce stress. Watch your favorite comedy show or movie.”

Remember That This Will Not Last Forever

The coronavirus pandemic may change how we work, exercise and care for each other for now. Social distancing is a current necessity — but it will not last forever.

“There is a difference between being alone and being lonely,” said Johnson. “Think of your time at home now as healthy alone time.”

Read the book you have been putting off, download educational podcasts, catch up on recorded shows on your DVR or pull out board games for family fun.

“Reconnect with yourself and loved ones,” said Johnson. “Look at social distancing as an opportunity to spend time with people who matter most in your life — and that includes you.”

To learn more about COVID-19 and get Mid-South coronavirus updates, visit our Coronavirus Resource Center. Visit our website to learn more about CONCERN Employee Assistance Program services or to find support.