• Kim May

Stress and the coronavirus

Updated: May 27


I don’t know anyone whose stress has not increased over the past few weeks. At this point, it would be nearly impossible to not have some increased stress, panic or worry during these times. Covid-19 is called the novel coronavirus since it has not been previously identified in humans. I think it is reasonable to say that we are collectively having a novel stress experience. Only a novel stress experience such as this could make even the lack of Austin traffic seem depressing.


So, the bad news is that stress is running rampant. The good news is that stress during a time like this is normal and you aren’t in it alone. While stress is normal and there is probably little to be done to make it go away, there are things we can do to lessen it.


Set limits around news and get accurate information


Finding trusted sources for news and information can go a long way. There are so many false claims and unverified stories. Without even trying, news about the coronavirus can be the only thing on our TV, our phone, our social media, etc. Select just a few media outlets for information and check in once or twice a day for updates. Being exposed to all the information (and misinformation) all day won’t benefit your mental or your physical health.


Take care of your body


Make sure you move around in whatever way is logistically possible and pleasurable. Go for a walk, stretch, do push-ups in your living room, dance around your house, participate in an online exercise group, whatever. Moving your body will make you feel better and can help reduce your stress. Eat as well as is possible—I know options are limited and sometimes random at the grocery store these days. However, eat as well as you can and make sure you drink plenty of water.


Maintain routines and normal activities as much as you can


When things are scary and chaotic, having some structure can be good for our mental well-being. Granted, your routines and activities won’t be the same as they were a few weeks ago. However, work toward sticking to some sort of schedule, consistency in sleep/wake times, mealtimes, etc. Combat unhelpful emotions by using distraction or staying busy—both mentally and physically. This can also help with the tendency to engage in unhealthy or impulsive behaviors during times of stress.


Find the benefits in all of this


I know this is a big ask. For most of us, there are very few benefits to anything that is happening right now. They might not be huge benefits but try to find them. Maybe you have more time for certain things you enjoy. Maybe you re-connect over the phone with someone. Get creative in finding your silver lining in this experience.


Modify your expectations


Our lives simply do not look like what they did a month ago. So, we can’t expect things to be like they were a month ago. A good day today will look different today than it did before the covid-19 pandemic. Figure out what makes a good day for you under these circumstances. Accept we cannot change our current circumstances and focus on what you can alter or impact positively.


Remain hopeful


Celebrate successes, even small ones. (I won’t lie, dusting all the pictures and art on my walls wasn’t fun, but I did feel a sense of accomplishment afterward…). Be kind and patient with yourself and those you may be living in (very) close proximity with. Find new ways to take care of yourself and each other. Perhaps, most important, try to keep a long-term perspective. Things may be forever altered after this, but it won’t always be this way. This level of business closures and social distancing is an extreme measure for the short-term.


How do I know if my stress is distress?


Although everyone’s stress has increased, you may wonder if your stress has become too high. Too much stress could be putting you in distress. Here are some things to look for. If you find yourself experiencing any of these, you may want to consider reaching out for help.

· Persistent feelings of numbness, anxiety or fear

· Your stress/worry is impacting your daily activities for several days in a row

· Difficulty concentrating

· Difficulty sleeping/nightmares

· Increased anger or short temper

· Increase in your use of alcohol and drugs


Sources:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html

https://emergency.cdc.gov/coping/selfcare.asp

https://www.ptsd.va.gov/covid/COVID_managing_stress.asp



About the Author:

Kimberly May, LPC, LMFT is a therapist at Substance Use Therapy in Austin, TX. Kimberly works with individuals, couples and families whose lives have been affected by substance use. By utilizing a harm reduction framework, Kimberly works effectively with people in any stage of use. In addition to substance use, she works with other issues such as anger, burn-out, anxiety and grief. Contact today to schedule a no-charge, 30 minute, in-person consultation. *Note: telephone and telehealth sessions are currently available.


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