Stress & Coping in the Time of Coronavirus

woman-hugging-jack-russell-terrier-hands No one needs to tell us that we are stressed about the COVID-19 pandemic. We are all suffering from chronic stress – fatigue, irritability, changes in our eating habits, problems sleeping, difficulty concentrating – because of the uncertainty that this illness brings. And because it has gone on so long, the constant stress disrupts our ability to remember things and pay attention. Just yesterday, a friend put her milk in the freezer instead of in the refrigerator. Another friend called me, sure that she had COVID-19 because she felt short of breath, light-headed, and her chest felt tight. She didn’t realize stress can cause shallow breathing, leading directly to those symptoms.

Along with our anxiety about getting sick, however, come different kinds of stresses, the kind caused by social distancing and staying at home. These stressors are not unusual taken individually, but they pack a wallop when they hit us all at once.

Even though for most of us, we have the ability to connect virtually with friends and family, there is a pervasive loneliness that comes from being cut off from our human support system. We miss being able to touch, and hug, and sit close to our family, friends, and colleagues. And with that loneliness comes a kind of boredom, even though we are surrounded by all manner of things to distract us like movies, books, puzzles, and computer games.

Money is on our minds in a way we have never experienced before. Whether we are making less, worrying about our businesses, or facing retirement with fewer funds, financial stress is difficult to escape.

Food stress is a new one for most of us. We are not used to dealing with scarcity. How and when to shop, keeping supplies on hand, searching for masks and hand gel and the Big one, FOMTP – fear of missing toilet paper! For those immune-compromised, elderly, or at risk, these tasks can become overwhelming.

Mom stress or parental overload is not new but never has it looked like this. Many of my clients are struggling to balance school work for multiple children who get assignments at different times. They are now teachers, as well as entertainers and exercise coaches for their children, not to mention being CEO of the household.

How many times have you said to yourself, “If only I had a large block of time, I would clean out the garage” or finish knitting that sweater, or paint the bedroom? And here you are feeling less productive than ever. Even those of us with blocks of time available don’t seem to be using them well. We are just not able to go on as usual.

Many of us are also struggling with grief because someone we know has been sick with COVID-19, while others may know someone who has died. But there is a greater grief – a collective grief – that we are feeling. We are all in this together, all sad, fearful, and facing the unknown. We may feel that our usual coping mechanisms and problem-solving skills are not up to the task of dealing with this virus.

So, what can we do to deal with all of these stressors? First, go easy on yourself; there is no way you could be an expert at this. These circumstances are new to all of us. But there are ways to cope with them.

Help others. By giving social support to others, you help yourself and feel better. This is a time to reach out to friends and acquaintances in what David Brooks of the New York Times calls “aggressive friendship.” Reach out, and reach out some more. Shop for someone, drop off or sew masks, volunteer.

Take time for self-care. Try to eat well, walk, exercise, and get some sleep to help your body. For your mind, try meditation, mindfulness exercises, deep breathing. Pet your dog or cat. Even letting yourself cry can be a method of self-care.

It is hard to focus when we are feeling so unsettled. But by establishing a routine, adhering to a schedule, and creating a separate workspace, we can find new ways of focusing. Keep your sleep schedule consistent, and try to avoid screen time before bedtime.

We are used to managing our households in certain ways. This may be a time to reset our relationships. Evaluate what needs to be done and reallocate tasks. Partners and children may be able to pitch in to balance the load.

We usually give time-outs to children, but now give yourself a time-out from the news. It is important to get your news from reliable sources but you don’t need to get it 24/7. An overload of pandemic news isn’t going to inform, and it may actually be traumatizing. Try accessing your preferred news source only twice a day for no more than 30 minutes.

Never before have we discovered so many ways to see the world virtually. We can tour our national parks, listen to concerts, take college classes, and visits museums worldwide. It is a great way to distract and de-stress.

Try to reset your perspective and pay attention to what you can control. Make realistic to-do lists see putting on a mask and gloves as something you are doing because it is consistent with your values of staying healthy. Do what you can do with purpose, instead of railing against the virus.

Although our grief is collective, it is also important to make time for your personal grief and sadness. Check-in with yourself and acknowledge your emotions. You will feel better for naming them instead of trying to suppress them.

We hope that this helps. Please reach out and let us know what you have found helpful during this difficult time. You can reach me at www.dralisonblock.com or 732-933-1333.

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