In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, with cities and even entire countries shutting down, it may feel hard to escape the sense of panic around Covid-19. Stress and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions. It can also have a profound effect on your immune system, so it’s important for both your physical and mental health that you prioritize your self-care. Coping with your own stress will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger.
The CDC states that stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include:
- Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Worsening of mental health conditions
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
Why am I feeling so stressed?
From a basic biological perspective, stress is a sign that our body is trying to keep us safe. Our sympathetic nervous system kicks into “fight or flight” mode when we feel like we may be in harm’s way or are experiencing a real or imagined threat. Physically, this can cause an increase in adrenaline, heart racing, sweating, etc, and mentally keep us hyper-aware, which can make it hard to sleep because of spiraling thoughts. While these symptoms can often be alarming, it is our body’s natural response to a perceived threat. Fortunately, we can reduce our stress and anxiety through some actions we talk about below.
How can I ease my anxiety?
- Get enough rest.
While you may be tempted to stay up following the news, it’s more important to let your body rest. Getting adequate sleep will allow your body to perform at its very best and fend off potential viruses.
- Keep exercising. High levels of cortisol, your body’s stress hormone, can cause your immune system to be less effective. Exercise can help reduce elevated cortisol levels, as well as trigger the release of endorphins, boosting your overall mood and happiness. Head outside for a run, bike ride, or another form of exercise that doesn’t require close contact with others.
- Eat well. It’s easy when stressed to let your diet slide and turn to less nutritious comfort foods. When it comes to managing your anxiety, however, a balanced diet is vital for your health. Focus on eating fresh, unprocessed, whole foods in order to maintain a strong immune system.
- Limiting alcohol and other substances. While having a glass or two of wine might feel like a good way to take the edge off of a stressful day, alcohol in any amount can make it difficult to get restful sleep. This can also be true with other substances, like CBD and marijuana. Alcohol is also a depressant, which might lead to increased anxiety and a poor mood. Additionally, nicotine not only has a negative effect on your lungs, but can also disrupt your sleep.
- Spend time with friends and family. Research shows that quality time with people you care about can boost your happiness level. If you are self-quarantined or even just working remotely, try to still connect with your friends and family through video chat or phone calls. Try not to talk about Covid-19, talk about pleasant things! Find opportunities to laugh. Talk about books, podcasts, or even the last show you watched on Netflix.
- Practice Mindfulness. When we get worried, stressed or anxious, we tend to breathe shallowly. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, take a few minutes to notice your breathing. Slow it down with a series of long deep breaths in through your nose, and out through your mouth. Stress can also cause us to tense up. When you recognize that you are worried, stressed or anxious, try a “body scan”. Start from the top of your head and take note of any stress or tension in your muscles. Is your face pinched? Are you clenching your jaw? Are your shoulders up at your ears? Are you hunched forward? Do you feel any tension in your belly, back, legs, or feet? Go through the body, notice where you are holding your stress, and try to let it go.
- Implement a digital detox. While you will understandably want to keep up-to-date on the latest guidance from health authorities, it’s important to strike a balance between staying informed and consuming everything in your newsfeed. If endless scrolling leaves you feeling anxious and overwhelmed, it may be time to take a break and unplug. Set aside a certain part of the day specifically for news consumption and give yourself a time limit. Some social media platforms even allow you to create those boundaries within their apps.
Can medication help me cope?
Try the above techniques before considering medication, as most medications for anxiety disorders (usually SSRIs) often take 4-6 weeks to take effect, and may not be the best option for temporary stresses, like those caused by Covid-19. Additionally, more short-acting anti-anxiety medications like Xanax are not meant to be taken on a daily basis and can be addictive. Our hope is that by practicing self-care, engaging in activities that bring you joy, and taking a break from the news and social media, you will be able to manage your anxiety without medication. If you’re not finding these approaches to be effective, consider booking a telemedicine appointment with one of our providers for guidance on the best options to further address your mental health.