Helpful Tips on Managing Anxiety and Stress during the COVID-19 Crisis

COVID-19, Mental Health, Stress Steward Health Care

Steward Health Care Psychiatrist Chitra Malur, MD provides tips on how to manage anxiety and stress during a pandemic.

Stress and anxiety are feelings that can occur during difficult times such as the current worldwide pandemic. While it is normal to be worried and feel anxious during a pandemic, it is important to recognize overwhelming anxiety and fear which can negatively your health. There are several coping mechanisms to help decrease stress and anxiety and improve general wellbeing. This is especially true now of “social distancing” as this concept should not be mistaken for “social isolation,” which can worsen a sense of stress and anxiety. Social distancing is the minimum distance that one needs to maintain when in face-to-face contact with another individual to minimize the spread of the virus. This does not mean no interaction with other people.

Some of the signs of anxiety and stress can include an excessive or constant amount of worry and fear about you and your loved one’s health and the chances of falling ill.  Biological functions such as sleep, appetite or energy levels can change as well. This heightened sense of awareness can also worsen pre-existing chronic health problems such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Sometimes, high levels of stress and anxiety can increase the use of alcohol or illicit drugs. If not managed appropriately, chronic stress can lead to depression and a decrease in one’s ability to function in professional and personal settings.

While it is common for everyone to experience some level of stress, people with preexisting mental health issues are more vulnerable to severe and maladaptive stress.  Senior citizens and people with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, immunocompromised states are especially vulnerable. Another specific group of people to screen for stress are children and teenagers as stress manifests itself in this subgroup differently with more pronounced behavioral issues. First responders who are on the frontlines can experience increased levels of stress and anxiety as well.

There are several simple steps that one can take to decrease stress. While it is important to know what is going on in the world, it is more important to take breaks from watching news coverage of the pandemic as hearing about this repeatedly over prolonged periods of time can be anxiety-provoking.

It is important to create a routine for yourself. Time tested strategies to decrease stress include meditation and exercise. Paying attention to your diet and adding energy-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables is important in fighting stress.

Remember “social distancing” does not mean “social isolation”. It is very important to connect with other people and especially people you care about and enjoy being with. The use of technology such as videoconferencing, phone calls and texts can help decrease a sense of isolation. If you feel that you are having difficulty controlling or managing your anxiety, do not hesitate to reach out to a mental health provider. There are effective treatments for anxiety including medication and non-medication options which include several forms of talk therapy.

If you feel you need to speak to your doctor, contact their office, or if you need a doctor, visit Steward DoctorFinder™.