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Handling Day-to-Day Stress During the COVID-19 Crisis

Managing Stress During COVID-19 Crisis

Robert Ciampi

May 21, 2020

As we all too painfully know, the Coronavirus pandemic has dominated the news and has altered our lives for more than two months now. This ubiquitous problem has been all encompassing with worry, fear, and anxiety at the forefront of everyone's thoughts and feelings. Many people have contracted the virus and others have succumbed to its insidious attack on the human body and spirit. We are all in this together as we try to do our part in helping to protect our families, neighbors, and ourselves. Good practice is to follow the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) including staying home, social distancing, and the wearing of gloves and masks when outside. We are all uncomfortable in not being able to come and go as we please and many are feeling the negative effects of social isolation in the form of loneliness and depression. The experts say that we have a ways to go before we can safely interact with others again, so how can we endure an uncertain amount of time until we can get back to some kind of normalcy?

Below are some tips on how to manage the day in and day out stress we all are feeling, especially with so many unknowns before us.

First and foremost, I would like to discuss the importance of psychotherapy, especially at a time when stressors are building and the Coronavirus in many respects is thought of as being out of our control. People are out of work and school, financial issues are afflicting many, underlying health issues are worrisome, Personal Protective Equipment is in short supply, healthcare facilities are overwhelmed and short-staffed, and no one has a clear enough timeline as to when we will start to see some normalcy. Some people have indicated that they will contact a therapist when "things get better." Others have indicated that they don't want to do tele-therapy. And some people have said that they will get back into therapy when all the confusion dies down. But isn't this the exact time to contact a therapist when there are so many unknowns, people are worrying about their jobs, their businesses, and their diminishing financials? What about the deep concern for our families, coworkers, our children and our elders?  How about the relationship struggles that were occurring before the virus hit. How are these folks coping now that they are spending everyday together? And what are people doing with their errant thoughts and feeling that are frightening them even more? Now is the time to call a therapist for a tele-therapy session before the stress continues to grow. Call a therapist today!

Since much about the Coronavirus is out of our control, it's important to remember all the things that we can still control:

  • The time we go to bed and get up in the morning
  • Who we choose to speak to during the course of the day
  • What we eat
  • What we choose to watch on TV
  • How and when we will do our work from home
  • How much schoolwork will get accomplished for the day
  • Going for a walk or a jog with adequate protection
  • Going to the store for necessities with adequate protection
  • What to wear
  • How much time we spend on social media

These are just some simple examples to illustrate that although it may feel like we do not have any control in our lives we do in ways we don't always think about. What other areas can we exercise control?

Since many of us are home every day, can we structure our time so the day doesn't feel so disorganized? Adding structure to our mornings, afternoons, and evenings can put in place a more defined sense for time management. For example with work, we may decide to begin the day with calls or an online meeting to connect with colleagues or clients. The afternoon may be spent at the computer, and the evenings may be reserved for family time. Concerning school, classes may be streamed online in the morning which would allow time for homework and projects in the afternoon. After dinner can be reserved for time with friends. Structure is another way of having control of our day and by putting a system in place, it can help guide us with our time.

Paying attention to our basic needs and to identify where our recourses are to meet our needs is very important. Are we watching what we are eating or do we snack throughout the day? Are we remembering to take care of our hygiene even though we don't have anywhere to go? Are we continuing to take our medications and can we get refills if we run low? Is there enough nutritious food in the house? Can we contact our doctors if we need to? Can we reach out to a therapist for tele-counseling if we feel overly depressed or anxious? It's important to help take care of our families and elders, but at the same time, we cannot neglect taking care of ourselves.

Stress Management & Progressive Muscle Relaxation With so much going on "out there" do we sometimes forget about ourselves "in here?" As we watch the news, all the problems in the world seem to be occurring outside of our protected space in our homes. Everything appears to be external and as long as we are safe in our "bunkers" we will be protected from harm. But what about ourselves inside our bodies that we may have lost touch with? One way to get back to "listening" to our bodies may be an exercise called Progressive Muscle Relaxation. This form of exercise is designed to tap into every part of our body from the top of our heads to the bottom of our toes. It goes something like this: While sitting in a chair, we would want to tense our muscles in our brow for approximately 10 seconds and then release the tension and exhale through the nose.

The next step would be to squeeze our eyes shut, count to 10, and then open our eyes and exhale through the nose.

The trick is to go down our body tensing all the muscles in a progressive way from top to bottom remembering to exhale after each set. And when we get to the bottom of our feet, go back up the body the same way you went down. At the end of the exercise, we should feel a lot more relaxed and better in touch with our bodies reminding us that although we are isolating from the rest of the world, we don't have to isolate from ourselves.

We also want to be aware of not only our bodies, but to our thoughts and feelings as well. Can we notice when negative thoughts and feelings surround us? And once we are aware that this is happening, can we make adjustments to a more positive mindset? Having awareness to what we are thinking and feeling is another part of taking care of our well-being during this difficult time.

And finally our social well-being. Luckily, we have at our disposal, many forms of communication we did not have years ago. Many people are being social by having "virtual" get togethers, dinners, happy hours, and family gatherings in the safety of their own homes. We don't have to be without "contact" from others. Having virtual contact is certainly not the same as being in the same room with friends and loved ones, but it does provide a connection that we otherwise wouldn't have. The reaching out to others can also help to manage our anxiety and depression knowing that we can still see and hear those that we care about the most.

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