Covid 19 stress v2

Coping with Coronavirus Stress

Have you been noticing a spike in your stress as a result of COVID-19?  If so, you certainly aren’t alone.  Pandemics are not declared lightly, and an increase in your stress is actually a normal response. However, not only is stress unpleasant, but it can also hinder your immunity.  The World Health Organisation emphasises that preventative care plays a crucial role in fighting the Coronavirus, therefore, it’s helpful to boost your coping in an effort to improve your overall well-being.  Here are four strategies to help you maintain your mental wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recognise your stress

Stress is a normal part of life.  It is a natural response to an external pressure that disrupts your equilibrium.  It often causes symptoms such as:

  • Sadness, confusion, irritability, anger, uneasiness, and suicidal thoughts
  • Reduced concentration, efficiency and productivity
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Interpersonal problems (e.g. lies, defensiveness, communication concerns)
  • Tension (e.g. headaches, jaw clenching, teeth grinding)
  • Body pain (e.g. headaches, muscle spasms)
  • Reduced energy (e.g. tiredness, weakness, fatigue)
  • Sleeping problems (e.g. insomnia, nightmares)

The first important step to managing these symptoms is to recognise that they are related to stress.  According to the Four Branch Model of Emotional Intelligence, the ability to recognise your emotional state is essential in order to understand and manage your emotions.  Therefore, if you skip the phase of acknowledging that you are stressed, you impede your ability to manage your stress.

This notion may seem simple, but it’s often easier said than done.  It’s common to miss the signs of stress early on, preventing your ability to handle them before they grow.  Even if you notice these symptoms, it’s also tempting to think that you can manage them by brushing them under the rug.  The danger in this tactic is that it doesn’t allow you to tackle the problem head-on and the catalyst of time can cause you to miss the crucial moment to intervene before your stress becomes overwhelming.  

If you have been noticing these symptoms since the resurgence of Coronavirus, it is possible that you may be experiencing a normal stress response.  Not only is it natural to be concerned about physical illness, but the uncertainty about a spreading virus can increase your stress level as well.  

Manage what you can, release what you cannot

Once you acknowledge your stress, you are able to trace the stressor and that can help you to tackle the problem at hand.  Understanding the issue can help you to problem-solve.  If used as a signal, your stress can motivate you to manage what you can.  Taking action to combat a part of the problem can help you to reduce your symptoms.

While the current knowledge we have pertaining to the Coronavirus situation in Auckland is increasing, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the virus.  Recognising this, it is important to manage what you can do with the information you are provided but also release the need to control what you cannot.  A key difference between stress and anxiety is the false sense of control that may arise from over worrying and overcompensating.  Try to be mindful of keeping your focus on what you can control.

Know your limits

When you pay attention to your stress management, you will begin to notice a pattern that will signal your threshold of tolerance.  While this may change over time, it is helpful to pay attention to trends of what makes your stress better or worse.  As we have explored, ignoring your signs, overextending yourself, and delving into fictional sources may make your stress worse, therefore, these may be helpful areas to start building boundaries to protect your wellbeing.  For example, perhaps you can benefit from creating a habit of checking in with your emotions in order to avoid overlooking your stress.

Another example is to limit your consumption of news.  You may do this by refining your information to reputable sources, setting a time for when you can check the news, and limiting the number of updates you explore with the individuals in your life.  Your limits may vary based on who you are, how you handle stress, and the level of stress you are experiencing.  It may be a process to attune the boundaries you need, however, creating these limitations are certainly a helpful tactic to reduce the amount of stress you let into your life.

Practice self-care

Self-care is the active process of acknowledging and tending to your needs.  Self-care includes practices that invest in your general wellness.  This can include preventative measures such as eating nutritious foods, staying active, and getting adequate rest.

When you are stressed, you require a specific form of intervention self-care: coping.  Your coping mechanisms are the methods that you use in an effort to moderate your stress.  Therefore, if you pay attention to the symptoms that arise when you are stressed, you may find clues into the right coping mechanisms for you.  Let’s say you are showing signs of confusion, body aches, and fatigue.  From this acknowledgment, you may gather that you may need ample rest.  Then, you may tailor your self-care to include a break, stretching, or sleep in order to meet this need.

Another way to deduce what coping skills work is by reflecting on your past.  Think about another time that you were stressed, what helped to ground you at that time?  Past coping practices that have been deemed successful may be helpful in the present as well.

When it comes to self-care, the more strategies you have in your toolkit, the better.  The coping skills that work for you may vary per context, and having a plethora of options allows you to be better equipped to handle your stress.  Say for example you have learned in the past that going to a yoga class helps you to reduce your level of stress.  If you rely on this sole option and your area experiences a lockdown you may find your coping hindered.

If your go-to coping skills are difficult to use in the context of COVID-19 precautions, be creative.  Take the opportunity to explore related skills.  Using the example above, perhaps you can use a workout app, follow a guided meditation, or practice deep-breathing from your home.

Make the most of the reality that you are in. Instead of focusing on all the things you cannot do due to certain restrictions can you shift your focus to the coping mechanisms that you now have the opportunity to delve into.

Here are some examples:

  • Craft
  • Meditate
  • Clean
  • Play with a pet
  • Read a book
  • Call a loved one
  • Watch your favourite movie
  • Practice gratitude
  • Take an online class
  • Host a virtual gathering

This information is educational in nature and is in no way a substitute for professional help.  Be mindful that stress may also exacerbate underlying mental health conditions.  If you notice that your signs are difficult to manage, please consider seeking professional help.

Source: Psychology Today

References

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (2020). Stress. Retrieved from the World Health Organisation. (2020). Coronavirus Mental Health Considerations. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/mental-health-considerations.pdf?sfvrsn=6d3578af_10

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Lesson One: Epidemiology. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/csels/dsepd/ss1978/lesson1/section11.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Coping with Stress. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/copingwith-stresstips.html