COVID-19 has disrupted standard operations for many people. Consequently, people have COVID-19 distress. Some of the most common complaints are:
- Losing track of the time, day, or date
- Feeling out of control
- Feeling lost
- Anxiety or Uncertainty
- Feeling stressed out
- Loss of sleep or too much sleep
- Feeling confined
- Loss of social interactions
- Frustration or Irritability
- Disruption of routines
- Increased symptoms of chronic health conditions affected by stress
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other substances
- Symptoms of grief especially for individuals over 65 years of age or in at risk groups
Label and Acknowledge Difficult Emotions
You are likely experiencing some combination of the issues listed above. Whether you are single or Sheltering-At-Home with family members, there are things you can do to manage those feelings and your situation. First of all, remember you are not alone. Second identify the particular feeling(s). Are you anxious about your safety or health? Are you anxious about your employment situation and finances. Are you worried about the state of the world or the US? Are you feeling helpless or sad due to shortages in the supermarket? Are you feeling sad about the loss of your previous routine and way of living? Are you having more bouts of frustration and irritability. Have the symptoms of your chronic illness flared recently? Stress can intensify those symptoms.
Manage Stress and Emotional Distress
Limit your media and social media exposure.
Do not keep the news on 24/7. Turn off your notifications for news items if that is going to trigger you to stay tuned in to the news. Limit the news related posts in your news feed on social media. Check in briefly at the beginning or end of the day. You could also limited it to 15 minutes twice a day if that works better for you. It definitely should not be all news all the time. Check trusted information sites such as the CDC Coronavirus site or the World Health Organization Coronavirus site. Lastly, choose a trusted local news authority for information related to your region. This will also help to limit inflammatory and conflicting information.
Limit negativity from your family and friends
We all have those people who love to report, highlight, and dramatize all of the negative things occuring around us and for them personally. You have my permission to tell them to limit it or that you do not want to hear it. You can also tell them they have 10-15 minutes to vent but you are not obligated to long negative conversation. Make it a small fraction of the conversation if need be and encourage him or her to generate some solutions to their problems. Protect your mental health and mindset by doing these things.
Combat the Stress Response
If you are starting to feel like it is harder to problem solve, you’re more forgetful, you are losing things repeatedly, you’re more disorganized, you have more GI symptoms, or you are having more headaches or body aches; then you might be stressed. Note it and do something to flip it. Engage in relaxing activities since you cannot be both relaxed and stressed at the same time. It’s not possible.
- Breathe deeply from your abdomen for 10 breaths
- Listen to calming music
- Move something–walking, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Yoga, swimming, stretching etc.
- Do other repetitive or rhythmic activities–sewing, knitting, crotchet, vacuuming, etc
As time and resources allow, engage in pleasurable activities. Read a book, talk to family and friends in real life or via social media. I heard of one family having a monthly family zoom since the family is spread out geographically. So find those ways to reinforce your connection to others and engage in genuine social interactions.
Often in stressful times, people indulge or over indulge in junk food, sweets, or carb laden foods. These foods do light up the pleasure centers in our brain and give a temporary high similar to some illicit drugs. However, they also come with low moods, irritability, and sometimes physical discomfort. If you have pre-existing metabolic disorders, this is not the time to introduce such foods and it could be medically dangerous for you to do so. Instead, try to be consistent in eating healthy, whole foods that have high nutritional value to help your body be in optimal condition to keep you safe and healthy.
Additional Care Needs
If you have a pre-existing mood disorder, history of alcohol abuse, or substance abuse. Please be sure that you reconnect with your therapist or stay consistent with your treatment. Discuss issues of flare ups of sadness, PTSD triggering events, and anxiety so that they may be properly addressed. Stressful times like these may cause relapse so remain in your support group, talk to your sponsor, and continue to work your treatment if you are in treatment of alcohol or substance abuse individually.
SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline: Toll-Free: 1-800-985-5990
The CDC provides a list of resources for you and there may be a list of local resources through your area information line (e.g., dialing 211 or googling community resources for rent assistance, food assistance, etc.). CDC resource list