The outbreak of a global health crisis, such as COVID-19, can result in stress, fear and strong emotions that might result in feeling overwhelmed. According to the Centers for Disease Control, these feelings, though unpleasant, are often a normal response under the current circumstances.
Per the CDC, signs of stress during a global health crisis can include:
- Fear and worry about your own health and the health of loved ones.
- Anger or short temper.
- Changes in sleep and/or eating patterns.
- Difficulty sleeping and/or concentrating.
- Physical reactions such as headache, stomach problems, etc.
- Worsening of chronic health problems.
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.
Not every person will respond the same under stressful circumstances. However, acknowledging these signs and developing plan to cope with this new and/or increased stress can assist us in adjusting to this life changing situation. The strategies listed below, may be helpful in reducing and preventing stress.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, being mindful of what is in your control and what you can do to reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19 can assist in reducing stress.
Know the Facts
- Obtain education pertaining to COVID-19 from reliable sources such as a medical provider, medical staff or from resources that have been provided by the facility. Information can help us understand the situation and educate us on the steps we need to take to take care of ourselves.
- Avoid rumors; misinformation can skew facts causing unnecessary stress.
Incorporate Preventative Measures
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
Implement Self Care Strategies
Daily practices that can reduce stress and improve mood include:
Establish/Revise Your Daily Routine
- Reduce daily news intake such as television news, newspaper, etc. Ongoing exposure to upsetting images or repetitive information can unnecessarily increase stress.
- Exercises to consider include yoga, stretching, walking, push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, and lunges and squats.
Practice Good Sleeping Habits
- Limit caffeine intake; don’t consume caffeine in the late afternoon/early evening.
- Don’t nap during the day.
- Exercise in the morning.
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning is best.
Connect with Support
- Stay connected with family/friends/community/spiritual supports: write letters or make a call.
- Change the topic: focusing on other topics, that don’t include COVID-19, can be a helpful distraction.
- Be supportive of others, this helps build relationships.
- Not connected, consider reaching out to a potential support.
- Don’t want to reconnect, talk with a trusted peer on your unit.
Engage in Relaxation Techniques
Meditation can help an anxious mind become more relaxed. Per the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, National Institutes of Health, most common meditations focus on four elements:
- A quiet location or a location with the least distractions.
- A comfortable position that should promote good posture (sitting, lying down, walking, etc.).
- A focus of attention on breath, a positive intention/affirmation, sound or object.
- An open attitude, acknowledging distractions and letting them go without judging them.
- Breathe from your stomach instead of from your chest. Imagine your breath going into and out of your stomach.
- Count down slowly from 10 to 0. With each number, take one complete breath, inhaling and exhaling. For example, breathe in deeply, saying “10” to yourself. Breathe out slowly. On your next breath, say “nine”, and so on. If you feel lightheaded, count down more slowly to space your breaths further apart. When you reach zero, you should feel more relaxed. If not, go through the exercise again.
- Close your eyes and picture a place that is peaceful and calming to you. This can be anywhere and it does not have to be a place that you have already been, it could be where you would like to go.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
- From head to toe or the opposite direction: tighten one muscle group at a time and hold for 5 seconds, then loosen that muscle group until it is limp.
Revitalizing our Thought Process
Our perspective of the situation can impact our emotions. We can’t change the event but we can change how we see and respond to the situation. According to the American Psychological Association, balancing our thoughts can reduce stress.
- Be aware of negative thoughts. These thoughts can be easy to pinpoint as they often include keywords such as “always”, “never” and “should” and can place blame with “they”. These words can imply a belief of truth that is not realistic.
- Acknowledge and try to alter/challenge the thoughts that contain these keywords and create a more neutral thought by using facts. An example of this is, “they are never going to figure this out” can be changed to “in time this situation will be worked out as we have overcome similar circumstances”
Keep a Journal
- As you log your thoughts, try to be aware of and counter each negative thought with a neutral thought about the situation.
- Make a goal to recognize and record positive experiences, no matter how small. This can help to improve mood.
The challenges that arise during a global health crisis are often unknown until they are directly placed upon us. To reduce the stress that can accompany the challenges it is essential to take the time to take care of our well-being.
- American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2017). Healthy Sleep Habits. Retrieved from http://sleepeducation.org/essentials-in-sleep/healthy-sleep-habits
- American Psychological Association. (2020, February 1). Building your resilience. http://www.apa.org/topics/resilience
- Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). Mini-relaxation exercises: A quick fix in stressful moments. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/mini-relaxation-exercises-a-quick-fix-in-stressful-moments
- National Alliance on Mental Illness. (n.d.). COVID-19 Resource and Information Guide. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/getattachment/About-NAMI/NAMI-News/2020/NAMI-Updates-on-the-Coronavirus/COVID-19-Updated-Guide-1.pdf
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020a). How to protect yourself. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fprepare%2Fprevention.html
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020b). Stress and Coping. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, National Institutes of Health. (2016). Meditation: In Dept
h. Retrieved from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation-in-depth
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019). Tips for survivors: Coping with anger after a disaster or other traumatic event (PEP19-01-01-002). Retrieved from https://store.samhsa.gov/product/tips-survivors-coping-anger-after-disaster-or-other-traumatic-event/pep19-01-01-002