Coping With Stress During COVID-19

When COVID-19 was first identified in the United States in the early days of 2020, few people realized the immense impact this pandemic would have on our daily lives. Certainly, the majority of us have lived through major disease outbreaks before with little to no change to our lives.

We have been lucky enough to regard diseases like the AIDS outbreak of the 1980s, or the H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic in 2009, or the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014, as merely news stories. We were also lucky with those diseases to continue to live our lives as usual, by and large, going to work, sending our children to school, going shopping, out to dinner, to church and synagogue, exercising at the gym, and taking vacations.

As COVID-19 spread across the country, local governments began shutting down businesses and schools in mid-March 2020, and the new inconveniences became a major shock to our collective system.

It is completely normal to still feel stressed, to feel nervous about getting back out there into the world.

Suddenly, a task as simple as going to a grocery store was full of stress and even potential danger. Food products were (and, in some cases, continue to be) out-of-stock. People were hoarding previously plentiful items such as cleaning supplies and toilet paper, quickly turning around to sell them online for hundreds of dollars. We were told to disinfect our groceries, wear masks, maintain six feet of distance between ourselves and others, carry hand sanitizer and wipes, and, above all, stay home.

Through it all, we watched the endless news broadcasts of the number of people infected and a continuously increasing death count. We learned that hospitals did not have enough beds, enough ventilators, enough masks and PPE for their essential employees. We heard through the grapevine about young, otherwise healthy, individuals who were not able to recover from COVID-19, and about how this has perplexed the medical community. Spring holidays were celebrated without families, and we began to wonder if there was any end in sight.

Is it any wonder, then, that our stress levels went through the roof during the first half of the year?

Fast forward to July 2020 and, in the New York City area, things are trying to return closer to normal. Malls reopened, people are hitting the beach, and we can see people congregating to celebrate graduations, attend political events, and just reconnect after months apart. But while the area has hopefully seen its worst days behind it, other areas of the country are experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases, making everyone worried about this continuing pandemic.

Had enough? Don’t worry.

It is completely normal to still feel stressed, to feel nervous about getting back out there into the world, and to worry about establishing a “new normal” that might only be temporary.

It can be a real pick-me-up to talk to a family member or a friend, even if only for a few minutes

Stress can be overwhelming and debilitating. It can affect everything from how we take care of ourselves to how well we sleep to how we cope with everyday life, and can cause or contribute to countless serious medical complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that during these times, the people who are most at risk for stress include (but are not limited to):

  • People who are caring for family members or loved ones.
  • People who are at a high risk for serious illness.
  • Frontline and essential workers, such as healthcare providers and first responders.
  • People who are socially isolated from others, including those who live alone.

There are a number of tips to keep in mind and incorporate into your daily routine to keep you stress levels down. We’ve jotted down a few of these here for you:

  • Stay connected with friends and loved ones through regular phone calls, video chats, email, and Facebook. It can be a real pick-me-up to talk to a family member or a friend, even if only for a few minutes.
  • Take a break from watching and reading the news. It can be overwhelming and bleak, and while it’s important to stay informed, everything should be consumed in moderation, even information.
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals; consider using https://www.choosemyplate.gov/, a government-sponsored website to help you understand what healthy meals consist of, and to assist you in meal planning.
  • Get plenty of sleep. One of the most important things anyone can do is get a restful 7-8 hours of sleep every night. The health benefits cannot be overstated.
  • Exercise, stretch, and stay active. Even a simple walk around the block will help you.
  • Avoid alcohol and drug use.
  • Occupy your time with hobbies, books, music, etc.
  • Stay connected to religious and community groups through social media channels and video chat platforms.

If stress becomes unmanageable, the CDC’s website (www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-copong/managing-stress-anxiety.html) also lists many valuable resources and phone numbers to help you through it.

Also, please remember to reach out to others whenever you feel completely overwhelmed. You are not alone. Professionals are available to help guide and advise you. Taking care of stress and mental health is so important, especially during times of isolation and widespread illness. We are all truly in this together.

If you or a loved one needs someone to talk to, don’t hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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