Managing stress and anxiety in normal times can be difficult enough. With additional stressors suddenly part of many of our lives — the coronavirus outbreak, participating in social distancing, closures across the U.S., and mounting financial concerns — it’s normal and expected to have an increase in your stress and anxiety. Because of these changes, it’s important to take care of yourself and your mental health during this time. Many people are experiencing changes in routines, schedules, and social interactions, which may make it more difficult to engage in activities or strategies that normally help them cope with stress or anxiety. Here are some things you can do to help manage stress and anxiety during this challenging time:
Talking to friends and family members can be helpful. However, it can sometimes increase our own anxiety. Use your judgement here, try to stay connected to them and stay informed, but not overly engage in conversations that make you feel anxious.
If you are currently seeing a mental health provider, ask if they are seeing people virtually and schedule an extra session if needed. Many therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals, are attempting to move to teletherapy during this time. In addition, insurance companies have been allowing for teletherapy even when this may have been denied prior. It’s worth asking your therapist about it or calling your insurance company to advocate for this service if it’s not currently covered by your plan.
And if you haven’t been seeing a mental health provider, it could be a helpful time to do so. Many people have been seeking out the help of a mental health provider at this time to help them manage their stress and anxiety. This is a unique time, and so it might be a good idea for you too.
News stories are everywhere you look right now, on TV, social media, at the grocery stores — everywhere. While it’s important to be informed, it is also important to not be constantly flooded by information related to the Coronavirus. Find one reliable, primary, official source — such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website — and a local news source to rely on, and check the news and commit to engaging in reading about these updates just one time each day for 10-15 minutes. Asking a friend or family member to contact you if there is a major update can be helpful in knowing that if there is something of immediate importance that you should to know, you can know that you’ll be updated but don’t have to continuously check other sources to stay up-to-date.
Continue to get up at the same time you normally would, get dressed and ready for the day (even if it’s in comfy clothes), and eat meals at normal times during the day. Consistency and routine are important in a time where we may not have much control of other things that are going on in the world right now. This can also be helpful if you have others, particularly children, who live with you. As important as it is to stick to a schedule, it’s also important to have some down time. If you are working from home, it might be tempting to continue to work all hours of the day and night to increase your productivity to the level it was at before the outbreak. If you are homeschooling children, it might be tempting to try to catch up on work after they have gone to bed. But these aren’t normal times, and you need to give yourself a break. Engaging in unstructured down time is helpful to be able to meet your needs and the needs of others.
Exercise is a great way to relieve stress. But since many gyms and group exercise classes have closed, you may not have access to some of your normal activities right now. However, there are many fitness organizations that are offering free or low cost classes, sessions, or online instruction, like the YouTube channel Yoga with Adriene (always free), the Peloton App (free for 90 days), the Class Pass exercise video library (free with membership), and a wealth of other app and YouTube offerings.
Not into exercising? Caring for your body in other ways is helpful too. Going on a walk around the block (while you continue to engage in social distancing and stay 6 feet away from others), putting on your favorite music and dancing around the house, stretching, breathing, meditating, practicing mindfulness, eating well, and avoiding alcohol and drugs are all helpful right now. There are also several apps that are offering free or low cost services right now to assist people with breathing, mindfulness, and meditation during this time, including Headspace (a number of free offerings), Ten Percent Happier (many free offerings), and the app Breathe2Relax (free and found in mobile stores).
Social distancing is a great way to keep yourself and others healthy and safe right now. But it does not mean that you need to disengage completely from other people. In fact, isolating yourself can often increase your anxiety. Humans are social beings — even introverts — and continuing to foster a sense of community and connection with others can help us get through this time. Do what you can right now to stay connected to people. So check in with family, friends, and colleagues with a phone call, text, or video chat.
Self-care looks different for everyone, and what works for one person may not work for another. It’s important to know what self care looks like for you during this time and to know that just because you may not be able to engage in what self care usually means for you, that doesn’t mean something else won’t work. Some ideas for self care can include meditation, mindfulness, or taking a bath. You can also watch your favorite movie or a new show, listen to a podcast or audiobook, soak in a favorite album, read a book, or journal. You can make time to play board games, cards, or another activity with loved ones. You can even set aside a planned time to worry — “It makes sense that I am worried right now, but I am focusing on being present with my family. I will think about this worry again later at 2pm.” The list could do on. Find a few things that work for you.
Again, its entirely normal to feel stressed during this difficult time. Many of us are doing our best to adjust to this new normal, but it isn’t easy. Take the steps you can to help manage your own stress and anxiety to stay as healthy and happy as can be. You’ll get through this.
Updated March 20, 2020