Without question, COVID-19 has altered the world as we know it in ways we’ve never seen before. Whether you’re worried about a loved one, the economic uncertainty that lies ahead, or simply feeling stir crazy working from home or self-quarantining, there’s no denying that these are stressful times. VERY stressful times.
While social distancing, handwashing, and sanitizing can all go a long way towards preventing you from catching the virus, one important and often overlooked key to staying healthy is staying calm.
Dr. Barry Sarvet of Baystate Behavioral Health offers tips for managing stress.
Stress and the immune system
While it’s easy to assume that stress exists solely in our minds, it actually has a huge impact on our bodies.
Dr. Sarvet explains:
“Sometimes stress can be good for us, challenging us to become stronger, to be resourceful, and to bring people together to solve problems. But overwhelming stress and prolonged feelings of helplessness have been clearly shown to be toxic to the body, causing long term health problems and increasing the risk of premature death. The mechanism of this is not fully understood, however we believe that biological mechanisms involving the effect of elevated stress hormones on the cardiovascular system and the immune system are a causal factor. Ineffective coping strategies such as smoking, substance use, and unhealthy eating also contribute to these long term effects. Up to a certain level, the difference between whether stress is healthy or toxic depends upon the support that we are able to get from others around us and the coping strategies we use to manage the stress."
Making an effort to control your stress can not only help boost your immunity, it can do the same for those around you.
Dr. Sarvet notes, “For example, children are strongly influenced by verbal and non-verbal cues from their parents, teachers, and other important adults in their lives. When parents have difficulty managing stress and remaining calm, it can be quite terrifying to their children. Learning how to manage your own anxiety can help not only children but others in your life to to feel calm and allow people to provide support to one another.”
Tips for avoiding COVID-19 panic
If you’re feeling anxious about the coronavirus, consider the following tips to help take control of your stress and your health:
Limit media exposure
When it comes the media, it’s important to limit both your sources and the amount of time you spend taking in information. Restrict yourself to one or two reputable sources and resist the temptation to check in more than once or twice a day.
Reduce your risk
One of the best ways to reduce your anxiety is by reducing your risk of contracting the virus. Follow all suggested precautions and feel confident that you’re doing all that you can to protect yourself.
Get plenty of rest
Instead of staying up watching an endless news cycle of coronavirus reports, make sure you get to bed at a reasonable hour and get 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Regular sleep actually boosts your body’s immune response helping you fight off viruses and other illnesses.
Avoid unhealthy habits
It can be comforting to reach for things like alcohol and junk food when you’re stressed. But unhealthy habits like these are really ineffective coping strategies in the long run, says Dr. Sarvet. Try making other forms of self-care part of your routine.
Whether it’s meditating, exercise, stretching, practicing deep breathing, walking in the woods (safely!), or doing watercolor, take time to do things that feed your soul and allow you to focus on something other than the sources of stress in your life.
Stay virtually connected
Thanks to technology, staying connected at a distance is easier than you might think. Facetime, video conferencing, and even free apps like Marco Polo are easy to use and can help bridge the distance with friends and family.
Maintain a routine
While nothing may feel routine in your world at the moment, maintaining a routine can help you feel a sense of order and purpose. As much as possible, create a daily routine around activities like work, exercise, connecting with others, and self-care (i.e. stretching, meditating, etc.).
Ask for help if you need it
If you’re struggling with your mental health, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Reaching out to your primary care provider is a good first step.
There are also 24/7 resources that can help:
- Crisis Text Line: The Crisis Text Line has resources on their website related to coronavirus and stress. You can text HOME to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA): SAMSA offers trained counselors that are available 24/7 at 1-800-985-5990 (press 2 for Spanish) or via text (TalkWithUS 66746).