Stressed Out About COVID-19? You’re Not Alone

By Selma Pierce with Dr. Satya Chandragiri, a Salem-area psychiatrist

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing stress for all of us.  The disruptions of our daily lives, workplace, and community is evident everywhere. We have never faced anything like this before, and it can be overwhelming and scary.  It is perfectly normal to feel stressed.

Stress related symptoms

One may feel hopeless about the future, have trouble concentrating or making decisions, feel on guard, have trouble working or doing schoolwork.  One may have stomach problems, trouble eating or sleeping, feeling tired or edgy, fail to exercise, overdo it with smoking, alcohol, drugs, or food.  One may also feel nervous, helpless, fearful or sad, be excessively irritable or angry, or be upset or agitated.  Stress is a normal human reaction to something new and different.

Dealing with stress

Increase a sense of safety

To reduce stress, it is critical that one is mindful of the amount of time we are spending on news reports, as well as the source of the information. Do something proactive – such as learning the whys of social distancing, proper hand washing techniques, making masks to help prevent the spread of disease, or help some of your less mobile relatives, friends, and neighbors.  Get back into things that you enjoyed before such as cooking, gardening, sewing, games, crafts, or home projects.

Cultivate ways to calm oneself

Calming techniques including abdominal breathing exercises, physical exercise, yoga, listening to calming music, reflective journaling, taking a break, or attention to routine.   Regular sleep, walking outdoors, singing, painting are coping techniques that help us stay grounded and can help reduce the stress reaction.  One can engage in rewarding activities such as reading with children or spending time with our pets.  Reduce or avoid unhelpful strategies such as the use of alcohol or drugs, excessive eating, prolonged exposure to news, or working long hours.  Your family will appreciate your developing a better work/life balance.

Staying socially connected while maintaining physical distancing

Social support is a strong protection from the emotional aspects of the pandemic.  Stay connected with each other by phone, text, email, video chats, and social media.  Focus on how we can make our future lives better and more balanced.  Keep in mind what is really worthwhile and valuable.

Remain Hopeful

Focus on hope.  Be optimistic about ways we can heal from the impact of this pandemic. It may require focusing on our faith, spirituality, positive support system, gratitude, refocus our values, or practicing compassion and kindness. Focus on ways our community healed in the past from unfortunate events.

When to seek help

Self-blame, guilt and shame

Sometimes in trying to make sense of an unusual event, you may blame yourself in some way. You may think you are responsible for bad things that happened. You may feel guilty for what you did or did not do. Remember, we tend to be our own worst critics. Most of the time, that guilt, shame, or self-blame is not justified.

Depression

Depression involves feeling down or sad more days than not. If you are depressed, you may lose interest in activities that used to be enjoyable. You may feel low in energy and be overly tired. You may feel hopeless or in despair, and you may think that things will never get better. If you are depressed, sometimes you might think about hurting or killing yourself.  For this reason, getting help for depression is very important.

Anger or aggressive behavior

Trauma can be connected with anger in many ways. You might think that what happened to you was unfair. You might not understand why the event happened, and why it happened to you. These thoughts can result in intense anger. Although anger is a natural and healthy emotion, intense feelings of anger and aggressive behavior can cause problems with family, friends, or co-workers. If you become violent when angry, you just make the situation worse. Violence can lead to people being injured, and there may be legal consequences.

Alcohol/Drug abuse

Drinking or “self-medicating” with drugs is a common and unhealthy way of coping with upsetting events. You may drink too much or use drugs to numb yourself and to try to deal with difficult thoughts, feelings, and memories. While using alcohol or drugs may offer a quick solution, it can actually lead to more problems. If someone close to you begins to lose control of drinking or drug use, you should get them to see a health care provider about managing their drinking or drug use.

Suicidal thoughts

Trauma and personal loss can lead a depressed person to think about hurting or killing themselves. If you think someone you know may be feeling suicidal, you should directly ask them. You will NOT put the idea in their head. If someone is thinking about killing themselves, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. You can also call a counselor, doctor, or 911.

Remember, we are not alone in today’s pandemic.  Everyone is going through this at the same time.  We are all trying to come to terms with what is happening, and we will slowly adjust.  Our society has gone through pandemics before.  We can and will come out of this.  We also will have the opportunity to make things better than before.